creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Monday, November 30, 2020

Adieu Autumn, a last look at fall foliage

This year more than any other, I am thankful for all the time spent outdoors getting healthy doses of Vitamin N [Nature]. Whether it is working or relaxing in our garden, the time is a much appreciated distraction and positive contributor to my emotional wellbeing in this unprecedented year.  

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Hamamelis 'Diane'

I always feel better after spending time in our garden; breathing fresh air, absorbing vitamin D, hearing the calming sounds of the birds, feeling the soil run through my fingers or simply caring for the plants. This time absolutely restores me. 

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Astilbe (in container) with Dwarf Fothergilla 

As we close out the month of thankfulness, I am sharing views from around our gardens. It was a damp day with heavy mist turning to rain later in the day. This didn't deter me, as it was my last chance to photograph the foliage before the winter weather arrives. We are expecting freezing temperatures this week, so we can say adieu to autumn. 

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H. quercifolia 'ruby slippers'

The fallen leaves from the tree canopy blanket the plantings around the dry creek bed. Oakleaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia) with luscious burgundy and purple foliage are accented with the golden tones from paw paw tree (Asimina triloba) and smooth hydrangea (hydrangea arborescens). 

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H. quercifolia 'Pee Wee'

Here is the view further down the garden path looking up into the woodland garden. On the right is the planting area with the dry creek bed (shown above). 

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Bottom left is winterberry holly (Ilex verticulata) 'Winter Gold' adorned with bright orange berries. See how the birds devour them in this post. Far back center is Viburnum nudum. 


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Viburnum nudum

Three Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy' shrubs brighten the transition area between the side garden and woods. They are at their peak color, glowing with reds, oranges and yellow. They rival blueberry shrubs for fiery color. 

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'Mount Airy' dwarf Fothergilla 


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One of my favorite trees, the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is one of the last of  the deciduous trees to put on color. They provide buttery yellow flavor throughout the understory. Their leaves persist through winter. [read more about their fabulous marcescent leaves here

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In the foreground [left] are upland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), the bright green foliage is Florida anise (Illicium parviflorium) 'Florida Sunshine', which will become a pale yellow as winter advances.
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R. austrinum

Some of the native azaleas are still providing some nice touches of reddish orange to purple foliage. The leaves persist later in the season on the shrubs that are more protected from the elements. 

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Dogwood (Cornus florida) 'Celestial Shadow' has transitioned from its variegated yellow and lime to deep purple foliage. The deep leaf veins create wonderful depth to these fabulous leaves.  

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In addition to enjoying the fall foliage, we put up all our hoses in the potting shed so that the squirrels don't chew holes into them over the winter, covered our spigots before our first freeze and removed the floating plants from the pond. We are overwintering them in the potting shed in plastic bins and supplemental lighting. This is the first year to do this, so we'll see how well they do. 
How are you celebrating the last fall days? Any last minute tasks to get the garden winter ready? 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Schizachyrium scoparium

When we think of wildflowers, we often picture flowering perennials in meadows or a natural landscape. For this month's Wildflower Wednesday post, I am deviating from this traditional view and focusing on another important player in a meadowscape, grasses. One of my favorite meadow and landscape grasses is little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). A trademark plant of the tall grass prairies, this native, warm season, perennial grass is found across the United States (except Nevada and Oregon) and the lower provinces of Canada. You can view the map at USDA NRCS site and zoom in on your county to find even more specific data. 

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In its native habitat, little bluestem typically occurs on dry upland sites, especially along ridges, hilltops and steep slopes, where it gets lots of sun. It is well adapted to a wide range of soils from sandy to clay. Its dense root system, which reaches five to eight feet deep, not only helps restore the soil, but is also helpful in erosion control. 

Little blue stem is a versatile grass for home gardens. Use it as a specimen plant in the landscape, in a container (thriller), in a mass planting or a meadow. Just be sure to show off its fabulous color, which ranges from silvery green and blue tones in spring and early summer, to reds and bronze in fall.

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Little blue stem pairs well with other flowering perennials. It can be used as a back drop to a whole host of perennial forbs. 

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little blue stem paired with homestead verbena and coreopsis

And it parties well with flowers that grow about 3' tall. Try it with asters, coreopsis, echinacea and/or silphium. One of the lovely characteristics about this grass is the wonderful movement it brings to the garden as it sways in the wind. The clumping habit of this grass also makes it work in a formal or informal style. 

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little blue stem with stone mountain daisy

One of the best native grasses for nesting and roosting habitat for wildlife, little blue stem is a staple in a habitat garden. It is also a significant food source for birds, such as white throated sparrow and quail, but especially those song birds that overwinter in meadows.

It is a larval host plant for several species of skipper butterflies and the common wood-nymph. The dusky skipper butterfly caterpillars overwinter in tube tents above the base of the clumps of this grass. 

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I love that the State of Kansas has a state grass [Georgia does not]. In 2010 their state legislature voted on Schizachyrium scoparium because it occurs in every county in Kansas. On the Kansas Native Plant Society website it states "Kansas is a grassland ecosystem. As a symbol of the prairies of Kansas, a State Grass focuses the attention of Kansans of all ages on the prairie ecosystem. The heritage of the prairies is strong in Kansas, yet many children and adults who live in cities and towns may not be aware of the many ways the grasslands contribute to our quality of life. "

If you are looking to add a little pizzazz to your garden, try this easy to care grass. And be sure to pop over to Clay and Limestone to read about more wildflowers. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day ~ October

It's Bloom Day, an opportunity to share with you a mini tour of our garden in autumn color. Be sure to visit May Dreams Gardens for more fall inspiration from gardens around the globe. 

October is one of my favorite months of the year.  It finally feels like fall in our Zone 8a/7b garden. The light in the garden is soothing and gently and the plants in the landscape standout with some of my favorite colors. 

The Whites & Yellows


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The heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is a popular place for bees, wasps and pollinating flies. The tightly packed flowers make it easy for pollinators to walk along the stalk of the plant collecting pollen and nectar as they go. The dainty blooms pair with ageratum in our wildlife hedgerow. 

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Swamp sunflower or narrow leaf sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) is a favorite of bees and later will provide goldfinches with seeds. Mid-summer, I prune the plants at the edges of the flower beds so they don't grow too tall and flop over into the pathways later in the season. This practice also makes it easier to photograph the flowers and all the bees that visit.  

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Maryland goldenaster (Chrysopsis mariana) is a beauty that is often seen growing along the roadside in Northeast Georgia. It makes a great perennial boarder plant or addition to a wildflower meadow.

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The Blues and Purples

Hardy Ageratum is a butterfly favorite. Skippers, gulf fritillaries, cloudless sulphurs and migrating monarchs are often found visiting the fuzzy flowers. 

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One of our later blooming aster, the Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum), blooms from October through November. This iconic prairie wildflower grows at our wood's edge, where it receives bright light. Over the years it has reseeded, a happy situation for a rare plant.

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Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) is also just getting started. This is a native and honey bee favorite. On a sunny fall day the buzzing is boisterous. 

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The berries on American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) are a bold statement in the landscape. Here it makes a lovely pairing with heath aster that reseeded nearby. The birds are already frequent visitors gobbling the berries. Soon the leaves will drop making the deep purple fruit standout even more.

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It wouldn't feel like fall without the lovely purple plumes of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capilaris). In my opinion it is one of the most lovely native grasses for the landscape.

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The Oranges & Reds

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a wonderful shrub that grows in a vase shape with a slow suckering habit. It is deer resistant and provides a food source for birds and other mammals. The berries persist during the winter providing excellent color in the landscape. 

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Our calamondin tree is loaded with fruit this year. We grow this, along with several other citrus fruits, in containers that will be moved indoors before our first frost. Calamondin adds a nice citrus zing to desserts and drinks. 

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We encourage Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) to grow up trees in the woodland garden. In drought years the leaves drop early, but this year we are seeing some nice foliage color. 

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The seeds of the bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) have fabulous color and a wonderfully smooth texture. Put one in your pocket for good luck. I try to harvested several seeds each year to plant in containers that will eventually be transplanted in our garden. I must collect them quickly after dropping because they are popular with the squirrels.

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More fruit and color is provided by the winterberry hollies (Ilex verticulata). These wonderful foundation shrubs have prolific fruit set. 'Winter Red' grows in a front garden bed with Ryan's mum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium) a local nursery [Goodness Grows] introduction by Ryan Gainey.
 
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'Winter Gold' has fabulous orange berries which are a favorite of our bluebirds. These native hollies need a male shrub such as 'Southern Gentleman'. Landscape tip: plant the male behind the females since he won't bear fruit and the showy females will be front and center. 

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Is your garden showing its fall color? Share your favorites in comments. 


See more fall photos from our garden on Instagram

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Embracing the Value of Squirrels and Chipmunks in our Garden

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If you are a regular or long-time reader of Southern Meadows, you know we work conscientiously to support wildlife in our garden. I often write about pollinators, birds and beneficial insects, all essential to a functioning ecosystem, but there are other critters that play an important role in this habitat that need to be considered, such as squirrels and chipmunks.

I know. I can hear your collective sighs.

Many, perhaps most, people consider them pests. They are known to raid bird feeders or nibble ripe fruit in the vegetable garden but from the critter’s perspective we are offering them a easy access buffet. Why wouldn't they be regulars in our gardens? But this is not a post on how to prevent them from taking advantage of your garden's bounty. Instead, I want to focus on their value [services] they provide to our environment.  

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As I watch the squirrels and chipmunks busily collect seeds/nuts in our garden, I am reminded of their often undervalued role in our ecosystem. As they hoard nuts for the winter, they are also helping trees disperse seeds. Squirrels won't eat everything they cache, nor will they remember where they hid all the nuts, so the forgotten seeds will eventually sprout and become future trees. Essentially, they are planting seeds for the trees so maybe we should start thinking about them as nature's gardeners. This action is particularly helpful to trees that are heavy nut producers because the new trees will ultimately grow better away from the parent tree where they will receive more light.

Researchers note that evidence is accumulating that along with blue jays and a few other small animals, squirrels are important in maintaining and regenerating second-growth oak forests, and may even have been responsible for spreading the vast stands of oak throughout North America. (University Of Richmond. "Researchers Tackle The Nutty Truth On Acorns And Squirrels." ScienceDaily)

Oak trees have an interesting way of encouraging squirrels to help them. The acorns contain more lipids, a tasty fat, at the top of the nut, which entices the squirrels. The tannins, a bitter tasting chemical, is at the bottom of the nut, which by design is where the acorn’s embryo is housed and therefore more protected.

The two major groups of oaks--red and white--have seeds that differ generally in chemical makeup. Red oak acorns are rich in fats but are laced with tannins, the compounds used to tan hides. White oak acorns are less fatty and lower in tannins. Red oak acorns lie dormant in winter and sprout in spring; white oak seeds usually sprout soon after falling to the ground in autumn. (University Of Richmond. "Researchers Tackle The Nutty Truth On Acorns And Squirrels." ScienceDaily)

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There is documented proof that squirrels are largely responsible for the succession of hickory tree forests.” (Burt 102). In some ecosystems, squirrels are so enmeshed with the reproduction of pines and oaks that without them it’s possible the ecosystem could collapse.” (Holmes 72) In Do Squirrels Matter?"

When a squirrel finds an acorn it will roll it and then shake it. What is it doing? They are evaluating the quality of the seed and deciding whether or not it’s a good one. Acorns can become infected with weevils so if the squirrel determines the acorn has weevils it will eat it immediately. If not, it will store it for later. 

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Squirrels are more clever than you think. Did you know that squirrels cache their nuts by type and size? They also store their most valuable stash in wide open spaces where predation risks are higher and therefore pilferage from other squirrels is lower. A clever strategy! Squirrels also practice 'deceptive caching' where they pretend to stash seeds in various places just in case other squirrels are watching. They don't want to give away their larder locations. 

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Just the other day I watched a squirrel with a big nut in its mouth, climb up one of our retaining walls, scamper along the top of the wall and never drop the nut. It found a desirable spot to bury it and began digging. When the squirrel reached a satisfactory depth it covered it up with soil and then replaced all the mulch. By the time it ran off I couldn't even tell the soil had been disturbed. Time will tell if the squirrel finds it again over the winter or if a tree sprouts next to our sunroom. 

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Even though chipmunks are in the same family as squirrels their caching behaviors are quite different. Chipmunks love to eat and forage constantly. They often scurry around the garden collecting food in their cheek pouches. They are larder hoarders, meaning they hide lots of nuts in one place. 

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Besides trees, many mushrooms and fungi rely on squirrels and chipmunks to help disperse their spores. When squirrels eat mushrooms and fungi the [unharmed] spores are ejected in their feces. This action is significant for the growth of many plants, particularly those with a symbiotic relationship with roots and hyphae (subterranean fungal filaments).  

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Mushrooms are also an important source of vitamin D, which is necessary for nocturnal animals such as flying squirrels to absorb calcium.  Also consider that flying squirrels are significant predators of cicadas, crickets, grasshoppers, grubs and moths, insects that are often considered pests to gardeners. 

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Squirrels and chipmunks also hold a significant place in the food chain as an important food source for owls, hawks, snakes, bobcats, foxes and racoons. We have several birds of prey that call our property home. Without food they wouldn't stay around. The hawks often hang around our kitchen garden and are great at keeping the squirrels and chipmunks out of our raised beds. 

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The relationships between animals and plants is what makes our garden thrive and benefit all. Squirrels have a place in the landscape and the benefits they provide to the habitat far outweigh the perceived damage they may do to our gardens.  

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Squirrels are also good indicators of, not just contributors to, the health of a forest. “The presence, demographics, and habitat use of tree squirrels can indicate the status of forested ecosystems”, according to John L. Koprowski. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Elephantopus tomentosus

For this month's Wildflower Wednesday post, I am sharing a plant that occurs naturally on our property [we did not introduce it]. These types of plants are worth celebrating because they teach us about the native landscape where we reside and connect us to our local environment.  

[Common] Hairy Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus tomentosus) is a native wildflower that we first found in clearings in our woodland garden. It grows in the pathways, which are fairly compact and dry. Plants often choose where they grow best, so we leave them in their chosen location instead of moving them to the landscaped beds. 

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Over the years, this wildflower has colonized in dry, woodland areas and even appeared closer to our home in several flowerbeds. The tiny, pale purple, flowers first appear in late summer and continue into mid fall. 

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A few small flowers emerge at a time from the flower head. To really appreciate them, it is best to get down low and view them at their level. 

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The petite flowers attract small butterflies, bees, flies and other pollinators. These delicate blooms quietly provide a nectar source for our native insects reminding me that there is much that happens in the ecosystem that goes unnoticed or underappreciated. 

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thick headed fly

Elephantopus tomentosus is classified in the Asteraceae family, commonly referred to as the aster family. The genus name, Elephantopus, comes from the Greek 'elephas' meaning elephant and 'pous' translated as foot. The species name, tomentosus, is Latin for hairy. So hairy elephant's foot becomes its common name. 

The large, hairy leaves lay flat on the ground allegedly resembling an elephant's footprint. I think it looks more like an elephant stepped on the plant! The plant's leaves form a basal rosette with different leaf sizes, overlapping around the stems. The leaves are foraged by wildlife.

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The flower stalks are bare but small leaf-like bracts appear under the flower heads. These flower heads consist of two to five individual tube flowers. Unlike other composite flowers in this family, these are asymmetrical with the five--pointed lobes of each tube radiating outward.

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In nature hairy elephant's foot is often found in areas that are managed with fire. In a study on The Understory Plant Community Response to Seasonal Burn in Longleaf Pine Forests, it was found that this plant benefited most from winter/spring burns.

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After blooms have expired, seed clusters begin to form. These clusters dry as the plant goes into dormancy making seeds available to wildlife or dropping to develop into new plants next year. 

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If you discover the rosette leaves growing in your garden do not disturb them (pull them up thinking they are a weed) and they will reward you with delicate flowers. 

Please be sure to visit Clay and Limestone to learn about other exceptional wildflowers offered by fellow bloggers.