Five Spot: A wildflower for shade and for native bees

by Sandy Swegel

I love blue flowers so naturally I am enthused about our new “Blue Blazes” collection of seeds for eight different blue wildflowers. What really caught my attention is a little flower I’ve never seen growing that now I just have to have.

Nemophila maculata is white with single blue-purple spots on the tips of each of its five petals. So cute. Such an unusual design is believed to have evolved to capture the attention of native solitary bees. “Five Spot,” the flower’s common name, is an early cool-season annual flower that prefers shady moist areas. Although my garden in Colorado is pretty dry, shady areas under trees are well-watered in Spring where the snow is slow to melt in the shade. Perfect I think for a flower whose name Nemophila loosely translates as “woodland lover.”

 

I’m going to plant my five spots in an area with that has early Spring purple crocuses and early Summer blue columbine. I’m hoping Five Spot blooms just between those two.

 

Five Spot finishes blooming once the weather gets hot, but it leaves seeds to reappear next Spring. Now I have a new travel destination on my list: California’s Sierra Nevada in early Spring when fields of this sweet wildflower bloom naturally.

 

 

 

Photo credit
https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2010/aug/bee

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemophila_maculata#

Why Grow From Seed

by Sandy Swegel

We all know it’s a good idea to grow from seed. Every winter I fantasize about the amazing garden I could have if I just got started earlier. And every year I somehow end up buying plants that I know I could have started on my own with a little more planning.

This year will be different she says. To strengthen my resolve and not fall into winter doldrums, here’s my list of Why Grow from Seed.

Native plants.
Native plants are better for pollinators, better for the environment, and more likely to survive and thrive in our yard.

No neonics
There’s only one way to be sure our plants haven’t been treated with pesticides that will hurt pollinators or poison your food. Grow it ourselves from seed. It’s also the best way to keep down unwanted pests like whitefly and thrips that thrive in crowded Big Ag type greenhouses and then come to live in our home gardens.

Diversity.
If we want a standard garden that looks like every other garden on the block, we buy plants where everybody else buys them. Beautiful but kinda conformist. Growing from seed gives us a nearly infinite palette of possibilities. I love having a garden where someone stops and asks “What is That amazing flower?”

More Flowers.

This is the obvious Number One reason to grow from seed. For just a couple bucks we get dozens or hundreds or thousands of plants. The gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens often let some reseeding annuals seed themselves all over until their acreage. Last year snapdragons were allowed to grow wherever the wind and birds planted the seeds. We can get the same effect at home. One $2.50 packet of snapdragons has over 14,000 seeds. That’s a lot of adorable low-care flowers to have throughout the garden.

And why do we want more flowers? My first impulse is because they’re just so pretty. But as I happened to read on the front page of our website this morning in big red letters:

“Remember, the more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.”

 

How Long Do Seeds Last?

by Sandy SwegelHow long do seeds last?

That’s a great question that comes up every year during our end-of-the-year Fall Sale. Everybody wants a good deal but are afraid the seeds won’t still be good next year.

The answer is as expected…”It depends.”

If you can keep your seeds in a cool dry place, your seeds can last for years.

Here are the seed killers:

Excess Moisture. The year we had catastrophic flooding in Boulder the seeds in my storage area sprouted right in their packets up on a shelf from the high humidity from only one inch of water on the floor in September. The seeds were well packed out of the water, but the temperature was 85 degrees and the humidity 100%. If you live in a humid area, you can save all those little silica gel packets to reuse.

Excess Heat. Seeds do survive better in cooler temperature. A cool basement, a cold closet, or a freezer. The actual temperature is a little less important than keeping the temperature consistent.

Light. Some seed germination is triggered by light (lettuce is an example) so keep your seeds dark by storing in a dark bag or box.

Rodents. It seemed like a good idea to keep the seeds in a shoebox in the unheated garage. Cool and dark. Then in early Spring, I discovered little mice had chewed right through the cardboard box and chewed the seed packets to get at the yummy treats inside. Ewww.

What works for me is to put the seeds in mason jars that I keep in a cool dark basement closet in a closed box.

Once you know you can keep the seeds cool and dry, then the only thing to consider is seed longevity. Some seeds last easily for years. Others only last one year before the germination rate goes down. Below is a chart from the Chicago Botanic Gardens on longevity in vegetable seeds. Some of the really good “keepers” are ones you only need a few of every year such as tomatoes and squash.

 

Seed Viability Chart:

http://my.chicagobotanic.org/tag/seed-viability-chart/

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/

 

Nurse Rock

Nurse Rock

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 toolbox 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.

 

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 narrow 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 spot 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.

 

Photos:
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/

Baby’s Breath

Baby’s Breath…growing for whimsy

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.

 

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 the 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.

 

Photo:

www.sarahraven.com/gypsophila_elegans_covent_garden.htm

Keep Your Sunflowers Blooming

by Sandy Swegel

Sunflowers inspire a primordial joy in us.  We may be rosarians, orchid specialists, rock plant lovers or even urban folk who barely see the outdoors, but sunflowers against a blue sky spark an inner gasp of delight.  Sunflowers often plant themselves on their own and can manage to grow without any attention from us, but if we have a nice little patch of sunflowers, we can nurture them so they last and last for weeks longer than their normal bloom.

What to do to get the most of your sunflowers?

Keep them deadheaded until the end of the season.

If you deadhead your sunflowers, they will keep pumping out new blossoms in their will to create seeds and more sunflowers.  Don’t cut the stalk way back, the next sunflower often forms just inches from the place you deadheaded.

Leave the very last batch of spent flowers for the birds and for next year’s flowers.

When it seems like the sunflowers are slowing down, do leave the last set on flower heads on the plant for the birds.  Even if its a little ugly going into Fall, birds like the seed heads right on the plant.  Little finches especially like to sit on top of the old brown seed head and bend over and pluck seeds out.

 

Give the sunflowers a splash of water

If your sunflowers have self-seeded into a dry back alley or someplace in hot sun, throw them a bucket of water once in a while during hot spells.  They’ll survive without the extra water, but thrive with it…and make more sunflowers just for you.

Photos:

www.pinterest.com/dreamwild/birds-bugs-butterflies-flowers-to-paint/

https://kanesonbikes.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/p9020895.jpg

http://www.lovethispic.com/uploaded_images/33858-Sunflower-Farm.jpg