Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Growing From Seed, Taking Cuttings, Recycling, Fall Planting

Cutting from Aronia arbutifolia - Red Chokeberry

One of the best shrubs for brilliant fall color intense, shiny, raspberry to crimson, with purplish highlights. Can also have some orange mixed in, especially in shady sites.
Native throughout most of the eastern United States and into parts of southern Canada zone 4 found in various conditions from dry hillsides to wet, almost swampy areas may serve as a fine native substitute for the invasive, exotic Euonymus alata (burning bush).


There are now many growers of native plants for the habitat gardener to find those plants which will thrive in our area and feed the local wildlife. Potted or bare-root plants can give an immediate presence that seedlings can not. But growing from seed or taking cuttings can be enjoyable and teach us much about the these exciting plants and their requirements.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis)

Seeds must be watered for their entire first growing season, and more mature transplants until they take root.Unlike other prairie grasses such as big bluestem and Indian grass, dropseed generally takes a long time — up to five years — to mature from seed.Plant prairie dropseed in full sun, as shaded dropseed slouches in a sort of lugubrious flop rather than the attractive proud fountain seen in thriving specimens. favors moist to drier soils, is drought-resistant, and is not found in wetlands.

Chicago Wilderness magazine

I have 4 home made milk carton containers of prairie dropseed that were wintersown this February. No seed germination until the weather was very warm, if I remember correctly in late may early June. At that time I removed the top half of the milk carton that had kept moisture levels higher inside the container. Next year I'm starting more so will try to keep better records.

Echinacea pallida (Nutt.) Nutt. - pale purple coneflower

missouri plants.com
The plant grows fine from seed so there is no need to collect the entire plant, just get some seeds!
Habitat - Drier areas of prairies, glades, roadsides, railroads.

Distribution maps


This coneflower is very pretty with its droop petals. The leaves are more narrow as well giving the seedling a different look from the other coneflowers we grow. Wintersowing in milk cartons helps protect the seed from seed eater and lets me get a good look at what the seedlings will look like when they begin to self seed.

Baptisia australis - Blue Wild Indigo


Native to river banks from Vermont south to the Shenandoah Valley, B. australis is one of the larger species, making a 3' tall x 5-6' wide mound of glaucous blue-green foliage. The flower spikes emerge intact atop the newly emerging foliage in mid-April. By late April, the flowers begin to open, ranging from a good blue to purple color, with each seed grown plant being different.

Plant distribution maps

Notice the recycled red Folgers coffee cans used to make home made containers. I am not too proud to scavenge from neighboring recycling bins.
Since there was Baptisia Alba and 'Prairie Smoke' in the area where these seeds were taken there is no telling what the mature plants will look like for sure. But since bio-diversity is important and the use to wildlife is not hampered it does not matter if all are of a similar shade of blue.

We may have to resort to covering the young plants for the winter to protect until established.
I will be planting ,hopefully this weekend, to give all a chance to spread out their feet while the weather is pleasant.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

SEPTEMBER 15th Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Check May Dreams Gardens for all the many participants.

Late again but with good excuse. I volunteered for the annual County Fair at the Garfield Conservatory. Normally working in the organic demonstration garden, this time some extra help in the children's activity area was needed. I can do that right? Corn husk dolls, paper quilt squares, farm animals,pony rides. HA!!! They needed someone to help out in the bubble pools.
I had a great time but could not move for hours after returning home.

Well, here is a look at this months garden. I didn't get a picture of the Chocolate eupatorium with it's white flowers and chocolate leaves but maybe next time.

One of several late planted sunflowers that look pretty in the panicum.

Asters bloom in many sized groups throughout the garden.

Sedum is such a well behaved plant and draws many pollinators during bloom. I leave the dried flower heads up all winter and sometimes even allow new growth to form up around the old in spring.

Clouds of wild panicum allow a veiled look at blooms behind. We have two types of panicum one is billowy the other more erect in habit and stays looking nice even through winter.

Grew small ornamental gourds this summer. The foliage is big and looks nice through summer. When it starts to look ratty we pull all of it and harvest the gourds. Next year I would like to try a large birdhouse gourd.

The Autumn Clematis has finished blooming and has begun to form the pretty seed heads. It is growing on a metal arch fastened to the garage for support. This blank white wall looks better covered in the vine but I must keep an eye on the vine. I do not want it behind the gutter or on the roof. What a lot of growth in one season.

A close-up.

Now this is what some would call a weed. Normally all I get in the wild garden is the pink Lady's Thumb or Pennsylvania smartweed. With all the rain in August this damp loving wildflower got a start. Read up on it's wildlife value at the Illinois site.
Persicaria lapathifolium pale smartweed

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Yesterday, in the afternoon before the showers, it was warm and humid with the sun showing through on occasion. It seemed as if all the insect world knew that soon cool weather would be here and the days of plenty would be past. So all were busy loading up as if it were their last chance.

Wasps, caterpillars, skippers,solitary native bees and even a few honey bees covered the many flowers. It seems New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) has done well in the heat and plentiful rain of this years late summer. Tall plants full of small flowers whose purple rays fan out to surround a delectable creamy yellow center. Come one, come all there is plenty for everyone.

All this abundance started with a single seedhead winter sown three years ago as an experiment. Wanting to start with plants known to grow easily from seed I could then judge any failure or success on the method itself. Asters can adapt to fluctuations in rain and soil nutrients by staying small to conserve or growing enormous when circumstance is in favor.

Most years,like the yellow coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata) that bloom earlier, aster is kept low and caused to branch out by foraging rabbits. Preferring the young tender shoots, as the summer wears on the rabbits move to other tastier tidbits. This always leaves plenty of time for the aster to grow tall enough to produce an abundance of flower and seed. After the fall insect frenzy finches and sparrows like to dine on the seeds. So overall this New England Aster supplies an amazing amount of food to a diverse crowd in the wildlife habitat.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Do You Love A Tree Against The Advise Of All Those Who Know Better?

I love many trees and am fond of all trees. My favorites are often old or misshapen trees with more character than grace. Peeling bark, gnarly leaning trunks, odd growth patterns, and sheer size all engage my tendency to think of trees as living entities.

My favorite tree of all time was an old cottonwood that was taller than any other tree I have ever seen in the city and the trunk would need two adults stretching arms to encircle. It grew in a tiny square between house and garage that is typical of an inner city backyard. The huge branches grew out over the house, garage,neighbors yard and the ally posing a hazard to all during each heavy storm. Have you ever seen the cotton storm put out by such an old tree. I'm telling you very few loved that tree.

Luckily there are such tree lovers about in most areas so that a few interesting old/ugly trees find sanctuary even in urban areas. The neat trim and safety first crowd do not always triumph.

Trees die slowly over many years. Even the straight tall beauty will stoop with age, lose a few limbs,acquire scars and someday must go.

I can not help feeling we miss much if we never get to experience the end of the cycle as it was meant to be.

From seedling to the decaying stumps of the fallen, a tree sustains a great diversity of life and deserves what protection we can afford.