Alyssum

by Sandy Swegel

It’s time to give the last garden award of the year: Latest Bloomer of the Year. Late blooming flowers are important because they are the last nectar and pollen sources of the season for bees and other pollinators. Bees especially show up on sunny Fall days when the warmth prompts the bees to leave the hive but freezes have already killed off all the flowers except for a hardy few who have little warm micro-ecosystems.

It’s a tie this year. The day after Thanksgiving only two flowers were in bloom: Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, the annual, and yellow perennial alyssum, Aurinia saxatilis.

Perennial alyssum is the Spring yellow cascading ground-cover known as “Basket of Gold“. It’s glory days are Spring, but it throws out tiny yellow flowers here and there most of the year. The cooler weather of Fall spurs on more flowers and the bees can see those bright yellow flowers from far away.

White or Sweet Allysum is the annual often found in planters mixed with geraniums. It is sturdy, blooms all season and has a very sweet smell. Bees love it all season long. It reseeded itself which is how it made itself at home between pavers on a stone patio. Adorable, hardy and bee food. What a flower!

So, dear Alyssums, we salute you this year as latest bloomers. The bees appreciate your food and the humans love your beauty as winter gray takes over our once colorful gardens.Basket-of-gold AlyssumSweet AlyssumPhotos:

http://typesofflower.com/alyssum-flower-beautiful-meaning-with-gently-care-flower/alyssum-flower-annual-or-perennial/
https://roundrockgarden.wordpress.com/tag/parsley/

 

Food for Fall Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late-season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of Penstemon, Liatris and Gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late-season annuals like Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after a hard frost, there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue Scabiosa, but Borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who won the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?

Photos:

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

 

Ask Me Anything

by Sandy Swegel

Ask me Anything

About gardening that is. That’s what I tell people when I’m looking for blog ideas or a little fun.

So the answer this week in the form of a question was from my friend Jim:

“Why do sunflowers follow the sun but then all die facing the same way?”

That was a puzzler. I had to look that one up…fortunately there was just an article in August in the journal Science.

 

Sunflowers do follow the sun as long as they are still growing. The start off facing east and follow through the day facing west at sunset. Overnight, they grow and face east by sunrise.

This has long been known to gardeners and scientists…but Science answered WHY they do it. Because flowers that face the sun are warmer and attract more pollinators than those facing away from the sun. Well, that’s a good way to make sure you are pollinated. Very clever Mother Nature.

But then there’s the question of why they all face East when they die. It’s actually much simpler than that. Sunflowers only follow the sun as long as they are growing. Once they reach their full mature height, they no longer grow taller. The main stem thickens and hardens and no longer moves with the sun. It stops in a position facing East. So that’s naturally where it dies. Why? Again, it’s just to entice the pollinators. An east-facing flower warms up earlier and stays warmer longer during the day when most pollinators are feeding.

The one exception to this rule? Wild sunflowers. They have so many small flowers at all kinds of angles, they face every which way. Their leaves tend to follow the sun while growing, but the flowers are all over the place.

 

So, thanks for the question, Jim.

Next! Ask me anything you’ve wondered about gardening.

 

Photos:

http://rebrn.com/re/this-sunflower-doesnt-want-to-face-east-492414/

https://redlegsrides.blogspot.com/2010/08/sunflower-sunrise.html

 

 

Bees Sleep

by Sandy Swegel

One evening near dusk in the garden, a gardening friend’s inquisitive granddaughter asked: “Where do bees sleep?”  This obvious question brought on a googling frenzy.  We could guess that honey bees might sleep in the hive. But what about the 4000 species of native solitary bees?  Hive-dwelling honey bees are a small percentage of the total bee population.

The answer should have been obvious:  Bees sleep on flowers! How adorable!

 

To be more precise, male native bees usually sleep on flowers.  When the female bees are laying eggs and raising young bees, they often sleep in solitary nests in the ground.

Sleeping on flowers has lots of advantages. It’s soft and very convenient.  You wake up and there’s breakfast (nectar and pollen) served in bed!

 

Some of my favorite stories of bees sleeping come from the squash bee family.  Squash bees spend their day inside a squash blossom.  As evening approaches, the male squash bee makes himself comfy as the squash flower wilts and closes around him.  In the morning, not too early, the flower opens again and the bee begins a new days foraging.  If the female bees have made nests, the nests are usually in soft dirt under the squash fruit.  So if you are growing pumpkins, it’s likely there are some young bees growing up under one of those pumpkins.

Foraging bees need the most sleep.  You’ll often find bumblebees taking an afternoon nap on a flower, all tuckered out from a hard day’s work. Younger bees and bees that do less foraging often just take short little 30 second naps.  Honey bees sometime sleep in the hive and sometimes they like to camp out and sleep under the stars. Next time you see a bee, motionless on a flower, don’t worry, it’s not dead…it’s just taking a nap!

 

 

Photos:

http://www.yalescientific.org/2015/03/bzzzzzz-the-bees-need-for-sleep/

http://www.arkive.org/honey-bee/apis-mellifera/image-A18941.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-06/natiive-bees-daisy/6918448

 

Seven reasons to grow Agastache

by Sandy Swegel

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.

 

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.

 

Photos:

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

 

 

Bird Baths

Eight critters you can find in your bird 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. Raccoons
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.

 

 

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. Butterflies
Be sure to have nice shallow water to attract butterflies. These are so delightful! Even the cabbage moths are cute.

 

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!

Photos:

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

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

 

Squash Bee

Peponapis: A Squash Lovin’ BeeSquash Bee

Jul 19, 2016 04:54 pm | thebeeswaggle

by Jessica Goldstrohm

Did you know some bees are very dependent on particular species of flowers?

This lovely bee is the squash bee, and I was fortunate enough to discover her, along with may others nestled inside squash flowers of a good friend’s garden! This was a very healthy and thriving collection of squash bees, and they are very specific to squash plant reproduction.

Squash bees are quite predictable in the flower preference they have; squash flowers, any type of squash flower, but it must be a squash flower.  They fly very early in the morning, sometimes before dawn seeking the opening squash flowers.  The females will spend much of the morning nestled inside squash flowers, circling the stamen of the flower, collecting nectar and pollen for their nests.  In fact, you will often find groups of squash bees within each squash bloom, absent of any conflict among them.

07.29.16 SquashBee2

Squash Bee

My photos too!

Squash bees are solitary nesters, meaning they work independently to build her nest, lay eggs, and collect all resources for the eggs they lay.  However, they may nest in aggregations of hundreds, kind of like apartment buildings are to humans. We live next to each other, but we all lead separate lives.

Squash bees prefer to nest VERY close to their favorite flowering plants, so you will most often find their nesting holes in the ground under squash plants.  Females will retreat to he nest come rundown, while males find a nice squash flower to sleep in until morning.

This activity continues throughout the summer, and partway into fall, then all the existing bees die, leaving behind the next season’s generation nestled all in a row of egg cells containing adult bees.  This new generation of bees will hibernate until the following spring or early summer when the squash plants are flowering.  Squash bees are so particular about the flowers they feed on, that their lifecycle revolves around squash plants!

I’m sure you may have already arrived at the question of what does that mean for them when we go to clear the dead squash plants at the end of the season?  Well, too much deep tilling can lead to complete destruction of a mother bee’s hard work.  Squash bees nest approximately 1.5 feet straight down into the ground, so only rigorous tilling harms nests. Leaving some of the plant behind can serve as insulation to the hibernating bees through the winter.

Next time you see a squash plant, take a peek inside to see a group of squash bees, and look under the squash plant for any holes in the ground that might be a squash bee’s nest.

There you have it! Another native bee we depend on to get resources we all enjoy in the fall!  I can’t wait to have some zucchini from my plants, and pumpkin too!  So many things occurring right beneath our noses, and we miss them when we don’t stop and observe.

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!

 

The Aster

The Aster

by Sandy Swegel

July is when the aster begins to shine in the garden.  We were walking around a hot drought xeric garden yesterday where many flowering plants were going to seed (ah, flax and larkspur we miss your blues already) or had complete browned and been cut back (goodbye poppies).  Amid the browning foliage, there were splashes of color we forget about each year like the amazing Zinnia grandiflora, a very short aster, native to plains and foothills, that thrives along hot concrete walkways.

 

Standing near this tiny aster, we could look up to the back of the garden where there was a bit of shade and moisture and see tall asters in full bud.  In the sunny grassy open space nearby, purple asters had already bloomed and were feeding pollinators and butterflies. We looked to a neighbor’s irrigated garden and saw a splendid patch of Michaelmas daisies ready to bloom with hundreds of flowers.  Aster may have small individual flowers, but they cram dozens of flowers onto each flower stalk.

 

Asters aren’t very picky about location and in cities, you’ll see they seed themselves into alleys and sometimes into your flower beds.  In fields, the purple asters often grow one plant here and one there out among uncut grasses.

The very best thing about asters:  butterflies love them.  And we definitely want to keep the butterflies happy.

Photos and information:

http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/taxa/index.php?taxon=1961

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/

http://gaiagarden.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

https://photoflurries.wordpress.com/2010/09/

 

Two Tough flowers of Summer

Two Tough flowers of Summer

by Sandy Swegel

The humans are drooping in the summer heat, but if you look at gardens and containers you’ll see that some flowers are absolutely thriving in July. Take a walk around your neighborhood one cool evening to see what is vigorously growing and that you have to try growing yourself.

Salvias
Salvias are real winners now. Tall spikes of flowers rise above the garden attracting our attention and lots of hummingbirds. Now that it is warm, the Salvia have grown tall and strong. Some deadheading and they’ll still be blooming at frost. Two favorites are the Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), most often seen with hummingbirds, and black and blue Sage Salvia guaranitica also known as hummingbird plant.

Rudbeckia
The other big happy flowers in the heat are Rudbeckia of many varieties. Stands of Black-eyed Susans thrill us, reminding us of childhood summers. In meadows and wilder backyards, you’ll find the Rudbeckia hirta that is the Black-eyed Susan we grew up with. Most urban landscapes have the sturdy Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ that looks like the hirta but is very well-behaved.

Other dazzling Rudbeckia are the green-headed, often very tall, Rudbeckia laciniata.

And there is the “Brown-eyed Susan” Rudbeckia triloba that is short lived but selfshort-livedf in the same spot every year.

If you want a stunning summer garden that looks great in the heat, are somewhat drought tolerant, and provides lots of food for hummingbirds and bees and other pollinators, be sure to include Salvia and Rudbeckia.

Photos:

www.gardenerdirect.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudbeckia_laciniata
https://www.gardenia.net/plant/rudbeckia-hirta-prairie-sun
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/514817801129456934/
https://www.anniesannuals.com/plants/view/?id=901

 

Gaillardia aristata, Blanket Flower

by Sandy Swegel

Gaillardia is my favorite flower this week!

Gaillardia aristata or blanket flower is already a favorite of xeric gardeners. It doesn’t require much water. It comes in beautiful orange and red and yellow colors. It blooms a long time. It is one tough little plant. I had one re-seed in the cracked hard dry clay of my driveway once. It’s intriguing…some gaillardia have petals that are double at the edges giving it an interesting alien look.

But this week I fell in love with Gaillardia all over again because I met the Gaillardia Flower Moth (Schinia masoni). This is a little moth that mimics the coloration of the Gaillardia so well, I could barely get a picture that shows it. This flower moth basically lounges on the Gaillardia flowers all day and does its pollination, as moths do, at night. The exclusive food of the larvae of moth is the Gaillardia!

 

While the moth relies only on this species for its life cycle, it species feeds many different insects and pollinators. Here are some of the primary visitors to Gaillardia:

Butterflies
Edwards fritillary
Dakota skipper

Bees:
Honey Bees (Gaillardia is heavily visited by honeybees
Leaf Cutter

Beetles
Flower Beetles (Listrus senilis)

 

Pests
I haven’t often seen pests on Gaillardia but researches say they are visited by aphids, caterpillars, slugs, thrips, spider midges and leafhoppers. I don’t like pests but they are food for the beneficial pollinators.

I have one of those “Isn’t Nature Amazing!” moments when I see Gaillardia. One beautiful flower and so many beneficiaries.

Photos:
Charles S. Lewallen; alamy.com; commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/