September 30, 2012

Plant of the month:
Dwarf Flowering Almond

Why on earth would I feature a "plant of the month" on the last day of the month? Believe me, that wasn't the plan, but September sped by so fast, I nearly missed it. Soon PlantPostings will celebrate its second blogoversary, and I've only missed featuring a "plant of the month" one month out of the 24 since PlantPostings was born.

This month, I've chosen to highlight the Dwarf Flowering Almond (Prunus glandulosa), a small shrub that grows to a height of 4 ft. to 5 ft., and a width of 3 ft. to 4 ft. (All sources for information here are listed at the end of this post.)

Second question: Why would I feature a plant that is best known for its soft, dewy pink, mid-spring blooms? Well, several reasons. The first being that autumn is a great time to plant one.

The second reason is that it's pretty in the fall, too. Most sources describe the autumn foliage of Flowering Almond as "not ornamentally important" or simply "green." But mine usually turns variegated shades of peach, yellow, and green. And I'm partial to variegated foliage, even when it looks a little mottled and messy.

Here are some handy stats on Dwarf Flowering Almond:
  • Hardy in zones 4-9 (some say 10);
  • Prefers full sun to part shade; 
  • Prefers moist, well-drained soil, but tolerates minor drought;
  • Effective in mass, single foundation, patio, or container plantings; and
  • Can be short-lived (10 or fewer years) because of susceptibility to fireblight, root rot, and other diseases.
My personal experience is that it:
  • Grows just fine in dappled shade at the edge of a deciduous forest (presuming it gets plenty of winter and early spring sun);
  • Flowers in mid-spring in my zone 5 shade garden;
  • Performs better in the season following a moderate pruning;
  • Prefers lightly watered soil over saturated soil (mine was healthier during this drought year than in extremely rainy seasons);
  • Can survive more than 13 years (I don't know how old mine is, but it's at least 13 years old, and with a heavy pruning, in a drought year when the bugs weren't much of a problem, it's actually looking better than it has in the past few years).
  • Requires very little maintenance beyond regular, light watering and moderate pruning.
Plus, it's one of the prettiest shrubs in my garden.

Dwarf Flowering Almond has been a featured ornamental shrub in the American landscape at least since the days of Thomas Jefferson. He planted it at Monticello in 1794 when he noted "dble blossd almond" in a list of "objects for the garden this year."

Diana at Elephant's Eye asks us to recommend plants for her Dozen for Diana meme. Dwarf Flowering Almond is definitely on my "favorites" list.

Sources for this post:

(Last call for input to the Italy garden tours survey. We'll be compiling the responses in the next few weeks, and we'll share the results soon. Even if it's unlikely you can join us, please share your suggestions/wish lists. Thanks!)

September 26, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday:
Chance encounters

When bad luck strikes, do you curse the moment and stew about your predicament? Or do you search for something positive in the situation?

I must admit, while I try to be a glass-half-full kind of person, too often I waste time complaining and crabbing when things go wrong.

Last weekend, we spent two days at our lake property north of our home. While driving on one of the country roads, we had a flat tire. It wasn't a little thing--it was a big puncture. (Can you see it in the photo?)

The fishman and the son got to work right away removing the flat and mounting the spare. And I had a choice: I could sit in the car and stew, I could "help" them with the tires, or I could take a walk and investigate my countryside surroundings.

Guess what I chose to do?

Yes, you are right!

I had my new handy-dandy smartphone along, with its decent camera, so I set off down the country road to capture the local plant life. Knowing Gail's Wildflower Wednesday was coming up provided extra fodder for my excursion.

Having unplanned time to capture wildflowers--on a country road on a crisp, clear autumn day--that is pure pleasure for a plant-lover. And later sleuthing to identify said wildflowers is fun, too, although I might need your help with a few of these. (My folio paperback "Wildflowers of America" and were helpful, but please correct me if any of these are wrong.)

The pollinators were going crazy over all the roadside wildflowers. But especially on this Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides). I figured this was an Aster, but it took me a while to track down the variety because of the unique growth pattern.

Many of the plants were storing up seeds to disperse for next year's wildflowers. Just think of all the little Milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) that will result from this productive plant.

I'm unsure about this one, but I think it was Milkvetch (Astragalus striatus or agrestis). The purple blooms really popped in the oblique September light.

Identifying this white columnar wildflower as a variety of Ladies Tresses seemed correct, but I guessed on the species. (Spiranthes cernua?) Or maybe it's White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba) per A.L.'s comment.

The Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) also was distinctive, with its needle-like foliage and pointy seed heads.

The grasses, too, are incredible this time of year.

Can anyone venture a guess on the name of this rainbow-colored grass?

This Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia porteri?) created a purple haze of loveliness.

Back at the lake house, along the shore another grass species was in its full glory, with pinkish filaments extending from the flower heads. I thought maybe this was Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), but on closer study I think I'm wrong on this one. It sure is pretty, though. A.L. (see comments) says it's Barnyard Grass (Echinocloa crus-galli). Thanks!

I don't recall seeing Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate (Polygonum orientalis) at the lake before. Either I didn't notice it, or it volunteered from a neighbor's garden. This variety of Knotweed, while lovely, is not native to the U.S.

These little jewels were thriving just where the water met the shore. I thought they were a variety of Tickseed (Coreopsis). A.L. reports they are Nodding Bur-Marigolds (Bidens cernua), and same for the Sunflowers later in this post.

The old standby Cattails (Typha latifolia) were just beginning to break apart and disperse their seeds.

These fading Sunflowers (Helianthus hirsutus?) captured the mood of the waning summer.

OK, I'm cheating with these next three shots--they were taken up at the lake in the springtime. But I'm throwing them in so we all have something to look forward to for the next growing season:

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum);

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca); and

Spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata?).

We won't be spending much more time up at the lake this season.

But there's always so much to look forward to for the next season.

Oh, and by the way, can anyone help me ID this fading wildflower? I think it's beautiful even at this stage.

Thanks to Gail at Clay and Limestone for hosting Wildflower Wednesdays on the fourth Wednesday of each month!

September 22, 2012

So, what have we learned?

Summer is definitely done here in the northern Midwest. Not just the season as marked by a date on the calendar, but also by the shifting temperatures and the changes in plant life. Patchy frost, stress from the drought, and high winds have combined to send many perennials into dormancy and some annuals to rest for good.

But this post is about "Lessons Learned" by gardeners in all locales. So let's celebrate this past growing season and reflect on what we've learned. (Note: The photos aren't intended to match the text.)

1. Karin at Southern Meadows shares how adding rocks of various sizes to her bird bath provides a perching spot for pollinators, and prevents their accidental drowning. She also shares lessons about Eggplant pollination that she plans to put into practice next year. In addition, she also learned that toad tadpoles that hatch in springtime take months to mature. Check out the cute little toad photo on her blog.

2. Sheila at Green Place has 15 Crepe Myrtles on her new property! She also has Hibiscus plants, which she says are excellent in pots. But beware, she warns: Squirrels apparently find Hibiscus leaves and buds a tasty treat! Sheila is feeling grateful for the plentiful rain North Carolina had this summer, while much of the rest of the country struggled with drought conditions.

3. Jen of Muddy Boot Dreams has learned to live with a brown lawn, as a water-wise gardener during a drought. She admits sometimes inexpensive sources for garden supplies are the best ones. A dollar-store Dahlia she purchased for $2, for example, outperformed her other Dahlias this summer. Jen is thinking she's not a "Rose whisperer"--at least not this growing season. But she has had luck with Marigold seeds, and plans to plant them, along with other seeds, next spring.

4. For Holley at Roses & Other Gardening Joys, many of her lessons came from planting raised garden beds. Sometimes, she says, the best way to do something in the garden (for example, installing edging) is the right way--because it truly is the easiest way. Holley planted Roses, companion plants, shrubs, and even a fig around the perimeter of her raised bed, and it looks pretty impressive!

5. Karen, The Hortiholic, effectively describes the pure joy of a good soaking rain after a long stretch of drought. "You can water and water until the nozzle of your hose seems like it has become a permanent part of your hand, but there's nothing like a really good rain to revive your garden," she says. I second that! Just the smell of rain lately, followed by thunderstorms or dripping showers, is a similar high for me.

6. Donna at Gardens Eye View went all out with the veggies this year--wow! She learned about  pollinator friends, planting in the right place under the right conditions, and reusing grow bags for a late-season harvest. Experiments can be fun, she says. But heat without rain is not. She used plenty of fresh organic soil, Epsom salts, and fertilizer--yet she still had to water the vegetable garden every day to keep it going. Donna's words of garden wisdom: "You can plan for anything and everything, and it still won't be enough."

7. Michelle of The Sage Butterfly sings the praises of Yarrow, which she learned firsthand thrives "with the fluctuations of weather and conditions as if they were only something happening outside of its needs." When her Tomatoes were suffering from a fungal disease, treatment with sulphur powder brought them back in full force. And Michelle also shares some incredible shots of black swallowtail larvae and butterflies in her post.

8. Rose at Prairie Rose's Garden had to put heavy garden lifting on hold during the height of the summer like many of us did, because of record heat and drought. She learned to: Recognize her limitations; mulch early and plentifully; add more heat-loving, drought-tolerant plants; enjoy the Zinnias, Coleus, and volunteers; and remember that nothing lasts forever--even drought. She also recognizes that as tiresome and frustrating as the lack of rainfall was for gardeners, it didn't compare to the effects on farmers "whose livelihoods depend on a good growing season."

9. Claudia of Gardening Naturally With Claudia offers tips on planting trees and native shrubs, and how to renovate a lawn--helpful advice to many of us whose lawns suffered terribly this hot, dry summer.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this Lessons Learned meme! These little tidbits of knowledge we share with each other are priceless, and help us all to become better gardeners. Please let me know if I missed your Lessons Learned link and I'll add it in.

(All photos included with this post were captured in New Orleans--in the Garden District, the botanical garden, and in various neighborhoods. The diversity of the plant life seemed like a fitting backdrop for a post about Lessons Learned from around the world.)

September 15, 2012

GBBD: Transitioning to autumn

It's always a little unsettling when summer doesn't want to fade away, while autumn impatiently waits in the wings to take over. The temperatures swing from near 90 one day to 60s the next, and sometimes the nighttime lows flirt with the 30s. It makes us humans a little dizzy, so I imagine the animals are confused, too.

But it's still warm enough to maintain lots of bright color in the garden, and some plants are at their peak of beauty.

Zinnia elegans

The Zinnias are coming on strong. The hot, bright light of August and September amplifies their vibrant colors and strong structure.

Hylotelephium spectabile

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is just beginning to display its deeper hues, and actually I think this is the prettiest stage--when the delicate pinks and lavenders dominate.

Hydrangea macrophylla

The water-hogging Hydrangea is taking on its autumn colors. And I'm forgiving it for being such a baby--the rose, pink, and lime variegated hues of its blooms make me swoon.

Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia is definitely fading, but the deeper orange shades of the fading petals play up the autumn theme.

Echinacea purpurea

I leave the seed heads of Rudbeckia and Echinacea standing through the winter for the birds. So I don't deadhead and don't expect to see new blooms, but this bright one was peeking out from under its faded neighbors.

Lamium maculatum

Lamium keeps right on blooming from early spring through the first frost--and sometimes even afterward. This little perennial is so hardy I could post about it just about any time of the year.

Hosta aequinoctiiantha

Hosta of the Equinox is chock full of pollinators--bees and hummingbirds, alike. But none of my "action shots" came out well. (One of these days I'll capture them with my lens.)

Lablab purpureus

Hyacinth Bean really took off after the rain, and is now forming seeds--I can see this vine will be a winner next summer if I get it in the ground earlier.

Impatiens walleriana

My potted plants are liking this mild, moister weather. The Impatiens, in particular are huge and healthy!

But the plant surprising me the most is this unidentified Rose. I really need to figure out the cultivar.

It usually blooms in May or June, and then it gets very straggly and bug-ridden. I trim it back liberally every summer and often get a few more small blooms later in the summer. But I've never seen blooms this pretty on this particular Rose before. What a pleasant surprise!

I'm joining Carol at May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I can't wait to check out the other entries in her wonderful meme!

(Oh, and please add your thoughts to our Italy Garden Tours survey before Sept. 30--even if you don't think you can join us. Pretend money isn't an object, and let us know what you'd like to do on a garden tour of Italy. Thanks!)