Seven reasons to grow Agastache

by Sandy Swegel

Agastache

The number one reason of course is because hummingbirds love Agastache.  I was trying to pull a few weeds yesterday and at least three different hummingbirds were dining on the agastache blooms…with one dive-bombing me to get me out of “their” territory.

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun amid the buzzing I thought six more reasons I REALLY love agastache.

Startling beautiful flowers

Complex blossoms in multi colors with long tubes.  Mine are orange and red.  Agastaches come in several colors in red-orange-apricot sunset colors.  Another agastache (Lavender Hyssop) is blue. The agastache stems make for an interesting addition in a cut flower arrangement.

Interesting Foliage

This agastache (Agastache rupestris) has thin airy leaves that look quite blue.  An interesting texture when planted en masse.

Pnik Agastache

Divine Fragrance

My little patch smells like root beer.  There’s a whole series of Agastaches named after the bubble gums they smell like.

Great in a Mixed Border

This little patch grows in the lavender bed.  When the lavender is in full display, the Agastaches are still small.  Then as the agastache come into play, the lavenders are still putting out a few complementary purple flowers.  Orange butterfly weed is planted next to the agastache making both look more interesting.  The agastache reseed gently throughout the border.

Attract bees and all kinds of pollinators

Yesterday I saw hummingbird moths, native bees, honey bees, a huge bumblebee and some tiny flies…in addition to the hummingbirds.  Butterflies were there earlier in the day.

 

 

 

Photo credits

Sandy Swegel

monarchbutterflygarden.net/5-butterfly-flowers-attract-monarchs-and-hummingbirds/

 

 

Crickets in the Garden

by Sandy SwegelCrickets

The garden crickets have begun their mating calls.  Their singing melodies are the universal announcement that the end of summer is coming.  We also become aware that they have been living in our yards and gardens all year and we mostly didn’t even notice. They are just another part of the entire ecosystem of insects that we share our gardens with. In most gardens, crickets don’t do much damage and their summer’s end song calls up pleasant memories of summers past.  But what role do crickets play in our little garden ecosystem?

 

Crickets are detritivores.  The live in the leaf litter of the forest floor or your back yard, or in my case the area behind the shed, breaking down the leaves and plant debris that gather.  They eat the leaves and leave behind tiny little cricket manure that helps fertilize the soil.  There are even companies that sell organic fertilizers:  Cricket Poo and KricketKrap!

Crickets

What garden crickets eat:

Crickets are omnivores.  They love their meat meals like small insects, eggs, pupae, scale and aphids. Some feed primarily on plant material. Other balance their diet with pollen and nectar. Crickets are also known to eat a lot of weed seeds.  Mostly they eat decaying plant material and fungi.

 

What eats garden crickets:

Crickets are an important part of the food chain.  (Another good reason not to use insecticides.)  The  list of who eats crickets is long: birds, mice, shrews, bats, rats, toads, frogs, small snakes, and salamanders. Other known predators of crickets are lizards, mantids, spiders, wasps, ground beetles and ants. And of course, people in some cuisines.  This is one reason you hear crickets at night…they are hiding during the day!

Garden Crickets

Be sure to leave a home for crickets:

The most important thing you can do in your garden and yard for crickets and for all of the beneficial insects is not to cleanup very well.  You can pick up lots of leaves, but leave some leaves scattered throughout the garden and in out-of-sight areas to give the crickets and ladybugs and lacewings and lots of other creatures a safe place to overwinter or lay eggs.

 

Photo-credit

http://animalstime.com/what-crickets-eat/

http://disneyprincess.wikia.com/wiki/Jiminy_Cricket

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2013/10/13/weekend-diversion-is-this-an-amazing-chorus-of-slowed-down-crickets/

 

Bunnies in the Garden…What Works, What Doesn’t

by Sandy Swegel

Bunnies in the garden

Rabbit in your yard

We’ve had a bunny explosion the last few years. Population growth has been so pronounced that just walking around the neighborhood in the morning I see at least two bunnies per front yard. The problem with bunnies is that they make babies like crazy and each bunny eats a lot of plants. They particularly like young tender plants and flowers which is devastating for the garden.

If you are serious about protecting your garden from rabbits, you must be vigilant.

Strategies that Work

GET the rabbits out of your garden.

KEEP the rabbits out of your garden.

Bunnies in the garden

This is the only strategy that really works. And it takes a lot of vigilance to build an effective barrier and perseverance to get every bunny that comes into the yard out of there.

First, you have to have a really good fence that goes all the way into the ground. Wood is just another food for bunnies so you’re going to need supplemental chicken wire or a stone barrier at the base. Every time there is another rabbit in your garden you have to figure out how it got in and close that opening. And you have to remember to always keep the gate closed. I can remember the sneaky bunny that waited while I rolled the garbage can out to sneak in the yard.

Second, for the rabbits already in your garden, you have to trap them or dispatch them or even get the dog to chase them out an open gate which you quickly shut behind them.

I know people who live-trap the rabbits and bring them to rescue places, and I know people who sit in their gazebo in the evening with a beer and a shotgun. You have to determine your level of lethality. But you have to get rid of the bunnies.

Strategies that sorta work but don’t solve the problemOwl in the garden

Repellents
A otherwise intelligent friend has strung soap across her yard because she read on the internet that Irish Spring works. It doesn’t. Bunnies are darn smart and aren’t kept from a succulent meal because something smells funny. They also don’t fall for the fox urine scent thing…They look around. They can see there is no fox. Repellents can work for the plant you spray them on….if you keep respraying. But you’ll go broke buying repellant for every plant in your yard.

Dogs
Dogs do keep down the number of rabbits, but dogs on the hunt for rabbits can dig holes and tear up your garden better than any rabbit can.

Trap crops
Some people try growing plants like clover the bunnies love to keep them off the good plants. This is marginally successful in the short term, but ultimately, you’re feeding the bunnies.

What bunnies have going for them is that they are incredibly cute and fertile. They also have the support of your neighbors who feed them. A neighborhood-wide eradication program might work, otherwise you just have to build your fortress and keep it defended. If you’re lucky like a friend of mine is, a great horned owl will move into one of your trees and take care of the would be intruders.

Photocredits

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_horned_owl
http://forums2.gardenweb.com/discussions/1386301/how-to-rabbit-proof-raised-beds
http://pestkill.org/other/rabbits/how-to-keep-out-of-garden/

 

Bird Baths

Eight critters you can find in your bird bathsBird Baths

by Sandy Swegel

Cute little birds hatched out of a nest in my roof eaves this spring so I decided to put a bird bath in the front yard so I could watch strategically from the window. I didn’t have traditional bird baths so shallow stone bowls on the ground had to make do. It’s been a couple of months and I have yet to see the birds in the bath although they may splash about when I’m not home. I have discovered lots of critters need water in the heat of summer. Here’s who shows up if you have a water source in your yard.
8. Wasps
OK so they’re not my favorite although they have an important role in the garden. Wasps aren’t just insatiably thirsty, the water is crucial for keeping their nests cool.

7. Mosquito Larvae
Duh…standing water attracts mosquitoes. Since West Nile is prevalent around here, I empty out the water whenever I see the tiny larvae swimming around.

6. RaccoonsRacoon at Bird Baths
Fortunately, we don’t have too many raccoons in my yard, but if the birdbath is all muddy or knocked over, it’s a sign the raccoons were there.

 

Bunny at Bird Baths

5. Bunnies
We have a bunny overpopulation this year. Officially, I hate them. They chow down on young garden plants and my favorite flowers. Secretly they are so cute. It’s been so hot and dry who could deny a baby rabbit a sip of water. I guess the baby squirrels can drink too.

4. Bees
I always make sure there are rocks in my bird bath for the bees to stand on so they don’t drown. Bees need lots of water for digestion and to cool the hive.

 

3. ButterfliesButterflies in bird baths
Be sure to have nice shallow water to attract butterflies. These are so delightful! Even the cabbage moths are cute.

Fawn at bird baths

2. All the other mammals
Neighborhood dogs, deer taking a break from eating your flowers. If it’s a big enough bird bath, you might get a bear or two in bear country. My friends used a motion detector night camera to catch a bobcat drinking from their little water pond.

1. And finally birds!Bird Baths

 

 

 

 

http://www.scoontemplations.com/2012/06/bunny-with-death-wish.html
http://hillsidegardencenter.com

http://animalwall.xyz/bird-bath-fun-water-hd-background/

 

Nurse Rock

Nurse RockNurse Rocks

by Sandy Swegel

Sometimes there’s a difficult spot in a garden when plants just keep failing. Or sometimes there’s a plant you really want in your garden (you know who you are butterfly weed) that keeps dying even though you think you are giving it perfect conditions. The easy thing to do is give up and plant a different plant or in a different place. But the determined gardener can reach into her magic tool box of helpers for a Nurse Rock to give her plant the extra edge.

What is a nurse rock? Basically, it’s just a rock…most any old rock…that you strategically plant with your new plant. In hot arid Colorado, I usually plant on the north side of the rock so there’s just a bit more water and shade for the young plant. I learned about nurse rocks from a gardening friend who liked to grow the native plants she saw when she was out hiking. In nature you’ll often see that plants are more likely to be growing near rocks rather than out in the open field. Even in your own suburban garden, you’ll see the edges of your beds or even your sidewalks have more robust plants.

There have been many scientific studies about why plants do better with nurse rocks. The obvious speculations are improved water, improved drainage, protection from sun, space from other plants, protection from wildlife, less evaporation, better soil nutrients under rocks and even more mycorrhizae. Old garden folklore highlights the image of the rock as a protector of the young plant from the big world.

Nurse Rock

I encourage you to give it a try. In the wild, nurse rocks are often large rocks a foot or more high. In the home garden I’ve found even a small rock that fits easily in my hand gives a plant an edge. I’m trying this week with a spot in a harrow garden bed that just has had several different plants die out despite our ministrations. We’ve come up with reasons why the plants die…that one spots gets a little more sun and it a tiny bit higher than surrounding soil, or it’s a good hiding place for the bunny who ate the beautiful fall anemone down to stubs. We’re going to try again with an adorable small upright clematis, Sugar Bowl, and a good baseball sized nurse rock planted at its base. Thank you nurse rock.

 

 

 

 

Photocredits
http://www.highcountrygardens.com/perennial-plants/unique-plants/clematis-scottii
http://www.laspilitas.com/classes/native_planting_guide.html
http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com/each_little_world/2008/12/

 

Cover the Earth

by Sandy SwegelCover the Earth

Intense heat waves this summer have inspired gardeners to think more about their soil and how to protect it now and in winter. Just looking at hot dry cracked soil. We can compensate by watering more but with the heat stress, the plants can’t take up water faster than they are losing it to the air. Two things often happen during a heat wave that tax the soil. In the plains or the west, the humidity drops way down and the soil gets so dry that irrigation has a hard time even soaking into the soil. It just rolls right off. The other thing that happens is that the soil heats up killing off soil microbes and earthworms. That top exposed layer of soil becomes hard and crusty from lack of life.

So what can we do in a heat wave besides water? We’ve got to get that soil covered. “Cover the Earth” is the mantra I repeat to myself. “Cover the Earth.”

What are some good ways to Cover the Earth?

1. Plant Intensively so that plant leaves overlap with one another and shade the soil underneath.

Cover with mulch

2. Mulch. You know how important mulch is, but during a heat wave it’s good to double up on mulch. Your mulch is not only keeping water from evaporating and adding organic matter and food for microbes, it is also insulation to reduce the soil temperature. Plant will be healthier if “their feet” are cooler during a heat wave. You can check this out by putting your finger in the soil somewhere there this thick mulch. If you are out of grass clippings or leaves, use cardboard or newspaper in a pinch. Just get that soil covered.

3. Plant Cover Crops now. You may think of cover crops as something to plant at the end of the season, but it can also be a good idea to start them now. Plant in areas of the garden that might be fallow such as where early season crops grew but you never got around to replanting. Or start cover crops in the spaces or rows between large plants like tomatoes or corn.Cover crops

DO BOTH: Mulch and Use Cover Crops.
Anytime you see bare soil, use grass clippings or last year’s left-over leaves to loosely and thinly cover the soil. Then seed in your cover crop. The combination of browns from leaves and greens from the cover crop will compost in place eventually.

One thing is for sure….all these steps to Cover the Earth and protect your soil now in the heat and this winter in the cold will help make your spring soil awesomely healthy!

 

Baby’s Breath

Baby’s Breath…growing for whimsyBaby's Breath

by Sandy Swegel

Some plants aren’t the most efficient plants to grow, but you have to do it just because it’s fun.  Annual baby’s breath fits that category for me this week.  I visited a lovely garden where the perennial baby’s breath was allowed to grow and fall where it may and the rest of the flowers just grew up among them.   Very nice looking.  But the baby’s breath I’m interested in  is the annual variety because it blooms very fast from seed and I don’t have a lot of time left this season to start new flower from seed. I want some fun and whimsy in my garden before the garden turns into Fall mums.

Baby's Breath, Gypsophilia elegans

Gypsophilia elegans (annual baby’s breath) is a very short-lived plant.  Growing guides advise sowing every two weeks if you want the tiny white flowers all season.  That’s more work and irrigation than I need for the full season…but a fast blooming flower sounds great for the end of season.

 

So just for fun, I’m sowing some annual baby’s breath between the roses and hoping they end up looking just like flower arrangements.  I’m also sowing some in the “moon garden” where most of the flowers are white because what could more whimsical than baby’s breath under a full moon!

 

Have some fun and grow some flowers just for fun.

 

Photocredit

www.sarahraven.com/gypsophila_elegans_covent_garden.htm