Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Rains

It has been raining here for days. And not just showers but heavy downpours. As my English dad use to say "it is raining cats and dogs"! I'm not sure where that saying originated from but it is used regularly in my home. The reservoirs are all full now which is a rarity here in Georgia. The plants are also enjoying the spring rains.  As a result, I expect to see masses of blooms in April.

For a short time today it stopped pouring so I took the opportunity to take a walk through the garden. This is what was awaiting me...

The variegated Euphorbia was covered in rain drops...leaves, stems and blooms. Most of the blooms were heavily weighed down from all the water.

The blooms on the knock out roses are just beginning to open.

The Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis 'Corbett') is ready for the hummers to arrive. They should be here any day now. I usually spot the first one sometime during the first week of April.

I bought this hanging basket of fuchsia just for the hummers and hung it back in the woodland garden where there is dappled sunlight. They enjoyed them so much last year I thought I would treat them again to the pink and purple eardrop shaped flowers.

The encore azaleas have a few blooms but should be in full force in the next week or so.

This little spider (Can you see him in there?) was trying to take refuge in this sedum. I am not sure how well that is going to work out for him with all that water in there. Poor little fellow.

The blooms on the Coral Bark Maple are covered in water droplets and looking so pretty dangling amongst the leaves. Tomorrow calls for clearing skies in the afternoon. It will be nice to catch a glimpse of sunshine. We haven't seen him in a while.

I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose
I would always greet it in a garden.
- Ruth Stout

Friday, March 25, 2011

Eastern Tent Caterpillar

Have you ever seen this moth in your garden?

Photo courtesy of the UGA Cooperative Extension Service

This is the moth of the Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum), a native insect to the Eastern United States. Like all moths they undergo a complete metamorphosis (egg-larva-pupa-adult). The eastern tent caterpillar overwinters within an egg mass of 150-400 eggs. These masses are covered with a shiny, black material that encircles the branches of a tree. The masses are about the same diameter of a pencil. In early March, the eggs hatch.

It is one of the few insects that is recognized by most people by its home rather than appearance. The caterpillars are social creatures living together in large silk nests that they build in the crotches of trees. They are often seen on trees along the road in sunny locations. These caterpillars need the sun to heat their bodies so their nests are rarely found in shaded woodland areas.There are usually hundreds of caterpillars in a nest and it isn't uncommon for caterpillars from two or more egg masses to join together to form one colony.

This is one I found in my garden. The caterpillars leave the nest several times a day: usually before dawn, midday and after sunset when it is not too cold. They feed on the leaves of ornamental landscape trees such as wild cherry, apple, crabapple, hawthorn, maple, peach, pear and plum. Note that in the adult stage (moth) they only live a few days and do not eat. I took these pictures early in the morning before they left the nest.

If you don't find it unnerving to look at hundred of caterpillars en masse, they are really interesting to watch. Here are two leaving the nest in search of breakfast. You can see the silk from the nest and how it covers the trunk of the tree.

This photo was taken later in the morning after most of the caterpillars had left the nest.

They are considered a pest because of their unsightly nests, the damage they do to trees and masses of wandering caterpillars on plants, walkways and roads. They can defoliate trees rather quickly if there is a large population but rarely do they do enough damage to kill a healthy tree. The trees usually recover and put out a new crop of leaves once the caterpillars are gone.

Do you have these caterpillars in your garden? How do you manage them?
  • let mother nature do her thing and leave it to the birds and parasitic wasps to keep the caterpillar populations under control.
  • take preventative measures and remove the egg masses during the winter.
  • remove the nests and kill them using natural methods such as drowning them in soapy water, suffocation in an air tight container, or burning them.
  • spray an insecticide to kill them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Enjoing bloom at a time

Alas, spring has officially arrived and everyday there is something new poking its head up from the soil.

The bleeding heart is beginning to unfold its heart shape blooms.


Someone mentioned to me that they look like chickens hanging on an assembly line. Fitting since I live near the "chicken capital of the USA"; but, that has forever changed my view of this bloom. I couldn't be in this thought alone so I had to pass it along to you.

The creeping begonia is leafing up and getting very green.

The spiders are more abundant in the garden. This little spider found a comfortable resting spot inside this Euphorbia bloom.

And this little one was crawling around the daffodils.
 These little common blue violets bloom randomly throughout the woodland garden. They are wildflowers and were part of this land before it was developed. According to my wildflower book the flowers can be candied and the leaves are high in vitamins and can be used in salads. I have never tried this but it sounds interesting.

One of my favorite shade plants, the hosta, is beginning to show its foliage. This particular one comes from my mother's garden in Michigan and is always the first one up.

I am enjoying each bloom and leaf as it arrives. Spring is very welcome in my garden.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

SuperMoon bring on Spring!

The moon like a flower 
In heaven's high bower,
With silent delight
Sits and smiles on the night.
-William Blake

Tonight the moon was the closest to earth that it has been in 18 years; making it the so-called SuperMoon. It was 221,567 miles (356,577 kilometers) away from Earth. My family and I gathered outside to watch the moon rise after a very busy day doing spring cleaning in the garden.

This was our view. We were all exhausted and enjoyed lingering under the full moon.

According to National Geographic the supermoon is 20% brighter and 15% bigger than a regular full moon. Most people probably won't notice a difference but it will cast more light on the ground than normal.
What a great way to bring on spring!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GBBD: The Bulbs & Bees

I am so excited. The bulbs that I planted last fall have emerged and are beginning to bloom.  You may be wondering why I am so ecstatic over a few little bulbs. Well, these are the first bulbs that have been planted at Southern Meadows. We have an ostensibly large vole population that has devoured so many of our plants that I have always hesitated planting bulbs. But due to our proactive measures of lining the beds with chicken wire and small rock they survived the demise of the voles.

The Daffodil hanging its head before it begins to open.

Slowly it begins to lift its head as it opens.

The tightly wrapped layers begin to unfold.

Until finally it reveals its full face.

A close up of the important parts (dare I say reproductive parts) of the flower.

Here is the rear view of the bloom. Good thing I am talking about a flower otherwise this would be downright scandalous.

Other bulbs planted this fall are these beautiful hyacinths. 

They are incredibly fragrant and colorful. Color serves to attract honeybees, which unlike most insects, have color vision.

My hyacinths have succeeded in attracting the pollinators! Here they come...

And, in for the landing...

If you take a look at the back legs of the bee you can see the large pollen sacks. It is grabbing pollen from one bloom and taking it to the next.

I had a great time watching these busy bees hard at work. They didn't even seem to mind my camera lens poking in their faces.

I was so focused on the bees that I didn't even notice the first Black Swallowtail of the year until I lifted my head out of the flowers. I felt a bit like Flower the Skunk from the Disney story Bambi who always had her nose down in the flowers. Like bees, butterflies and moths also have keenly developed senses of smell and are great pollinators. They smell with their antennae and taste with their feet.

Today is Garden Blogger Bloom Day and this is my first time posting. I hope you will go over to May Dreams Gardens and see what other gardeners around the world have blooming in their gardens.

Happy Gardening!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Progress in the Orchard

Today is Johnny Appleseed Day. This day honors one of America's great legends. Johnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman) was a pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to the states. As he traveled West he planted apple trees along the way and also sold trees to settlers and so his legend grew. He is also known for his leadership in conservation and his kind and generous ways.

I don't have any apple trees growing in my garden but it seems appropriate to write about one of the fruit trees that is blooming in my orchard right now in honor of this legend. 

We have three plum trees. A Menthley which is an early season variety that is somewhat self-fertile and crops reliably and two Burbank (Prunus salicina) which is the most commercial of plum trees and produces a purplish-red fruit. Generally plums are not self-fertile so at least two plum varieties are needed for pollination and fruitfulness. One variety acts as the pollen parent for the other variety and vice versa.

As beautiful as these blooms are now the real work begins...hand-thinning the blooms. This is recommended to improve crop yield and it also helps in pest control. If the fruit is bunched together it gives the bad bugs a great place to hide.

Many farmers around the world have believed that the spots on a ladybug tells the fortune of the next harvest. If there are fewer than seven spots, the harvest will be good. Well, look what I found, a lady bug without spots! Does this mean we will have a bountiful crop of plums this year? We shall see...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Room with a View

Art is the window to man's soul. Without it, he would never be able to see beyond his immediate world; nor could the world see the man within.
- Claudia Johnson

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hope Grows Day: March 2011

Hanni over at Sweet Bean Gardening is hosting a Hope Grows Day meme. The idea is to post about something you are looking forward to in the next month in your garden (a plant blooming, finishing a project, etc.) and then on the 5th of the following month show the results.

The spring-like weather we have been experiencing in Georgia has brought out many spring blooms already. But April is the month of grandeur. Here are some of the blooms that I am expecting next month.

The lady banks rose with clusters of yellow blooms.

The bearded irises with their flamboyant petals.

And of course it wouldn't be spring in the south without our beloved azaleas and dogwoods.

I hope you will come back next month on April 5th to see what is blooming. In the meantime stop over at Sweet Bean Gardening to see what others are expecting in their gardens.

Spring is only 14 days away!