Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Seasonal Celebrations: Autumn 2013

We have a saying here "Fall is the Southerner's reward for surviving summer" and it has readily become my favorite time of year. Not only is the weather cool in the morning, warming up to gorgeous days but it is such a great time to enjoy all the colors and textures found in nature. Trees, shrubs and other perennial plants put on a dazzling show. It is time for acorns and pine cones, pumpkins and gourds, sunflowers and chrysanthemums, corn husks and dried fruit, and buckeye and cloudless sulphur butterflies. And who can't resist jumping in the leaves?

a view into our woodland garden taken fall

This year we are celebrating fall in our garden by tackling some major landscaping projects. The cooler temperatures certainly make the strenuous labor more tolerable.
This summer we expanded our front stoop and added a retaining wall to break up the slope in the front of the house. I always felt that the front entry was not very welcoming and over the years the shrubbery (which always needed pruning, a chore I hate doing) enclosed the area and the crape myrtle became too large for the space. This front bed is a good example of bad builder landscaping...sterile and always in need of maintenance.

Here is the entry before:

And here is the entry after.

I am really pleased with how it turned out and we use our front door so much more now! I am excited to decorate this area for the holiday seasons but for the remaining summer season I added a bench and pots.

One of the most important lessons I learned when I became a Master Gardener was that fall is the best time to plant. The soil is nice and warm and the cooler temperatures and increased rainfall allow perennials to establish themselves before they retire for the winter.  I held off landscaping the beds that shape this area so that we wouldn't have to continually water the new plants. Little did I know that we would have rain all summer long!
As you can see there is a significant slope on the left side broken by the new retaining wall. I want to use mostly native plants but these beds get full afternoon sun so I am finding it somewhat challenging to come up with some evergreens and structural natives that will provide winter interest. I would be very interesting in suggestions. The remaining shrubbery in the photo will all be coming out so I have a blank canvas from which to work.

Once we decide on the landscape plan it will be time to shop for plants. This upcoming Friday and Saturday is the Hall County Master Gardener Fall Garden Expo. Vendors from all over the Southeast come to sell their plants and garden art. It is a one stop shopping extravaganza. Our event includes door prizes and informational seminars where experts share their gardening knowledge. If you are in the area please come out and see us!
Since Fall is my favorite time of year to plant it goes to reason that it is the best time to attend plant sales. Another local plant sale I am attending is the Bluestems and Bluejeans Native Plant Sale at the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia. (Note: Two other fabulous Fall events to add to the calendar for next year are: the Georgia Native Plant Society fall plant sale and the Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain Park.)
(Click on the links to get event details)

I will definitely be celebrating when this bed gets planted.

This hill garden is on the lower side of the retaining wall. We began planting it last fall and early this spring. All the plants we chose are here to serve pollinators. Most of them are native with the exception of a few. This fall we will continue to incorporate wildlife friendly plants. Our future plans include adding steps from the path that runs in front of the retaining wall down to the path on the left side of the bed which leads to the back woodland garden.

 (fall blooming plants include goldenrod, ironweed, joe pye weed, purple coneflowers, beebalm, Georgia asters)

Another Fall project is installing a dry creek bed in this area of our side garden. When we get heavy rains, as we did this summer, there is a lot of water flow and wash out here.

After all this work I am sure we will welcome the winter to relax and recuperate and look forward to spring to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

I am joining Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View. There is still time to join in. A summary of all the posts will be available on the Equinox (September 22nd).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lessons Learned: Summer 2013

It has been a very interesting summer and there are so many new lessons to take away from the unusual conditions this year.

Summers are typically hot, humid and dry in the Southeast and for the past three years we have been experiencing extreme drought. This summer however it rained, and rained, and rained some more.

And we didn't just have showers. There were many times that we experienced monsoon like conditions. We took to checking and emptying the rain gauge daily. Our summer rainfall broke down like this:

June = 9.57 inches
July = 8.48 inches
August = 5.24 inches

Our total annual rainfall as of the end of August was 51.04 inches compared to 2012 which had 37.03 inches for the entire year. It is crazy how the weather can change from one year to the next!

So how did all this rain impact our garden? Well, all those drought tolerant plants that I have been incorporating into our garden didn't like all the rain and several perished. As a result of the lack of sunshine many plants did not bloom until much later in the season and I was concerned about the lack of nectar plant available for the insects and hummingbirds.

The cooler and wetter weather had a devastating effects on some of the butterfly populations that frequent our garden.

I didn't have any black swallowtail caterpillar on any host plants the entire summer.

While numbers were down for certain butterfly species, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail numbers appeared higher this summer

as did the silvery checkerspot.

So who liked all the rain? Honestly, I enjoyed the refreshing change. It meant that I didn't have to spend my days hand watering the garden. The down side was that all the rain days did limit the time spent in the garden.

We had a few first time visitors to our garden due to wetter conditions.

Slugs and Snails are NOT typical in our garden. Why do they always go for the blooms?

Other first timers included the dogwood sawfly. They devoured our red twig dogwoods until there wasn't a leaf still standing. I was hoping some of them would become bird food (especially since there were so many!) but the birds didn't seem very interested in them. According to all the research I did, the plants shouldn't be at risk from their ferocious appetites.

The weeds grew, well, like weeds! They loved all the rain. But, don't dismiss all those weeds so easily. What I found is that when you give your weeds a chance to grow you discover that some of them are not "weeds" at all but native plants volunteering in your garden.

I have found passion vine volunteers all over the garden. This is the largest patch which is growing amongst the roses that have become a trellis for them.

If you take a step in for a closer look you find...

lots of Variegated Fritillary caterpillars in various instar stages.

Even more Gulf Fritillary caterpillars.

And beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterflies preparing to lay eggs.

Common Boneset showed up in a few places around the garden. This member of the aster family likes sunny, wet to moist conditions.  The bees and butterflies love it.

I have found a lot of Virginia Creeper volunteers around the garden too. I know a lot of people mistake this for poison ivy. Remember "Leaves of three let it be, leaves of five let it thrive". This vine will make a nice ground cover and beautiful color in the fall.

The important lesson here is to get to know your "weeds". You may find that they are valuable native plants that support the wildlife in your garden. They may not necessarily be growing where you would put them in your landscape plan but they have planted themselves where they know they will grow best. And often, they are a better judge of that than I am. I look at these volunteers as an element of surprise in my wildlife friendly garden and I will work the garden design around them.

This summer, under the advice of our hummingbird experts at Georgia Hummers and Bird Watcher's Supply, we added more hummingbird feeders in the hopes of attracting more hummingbirds to our garden. Since hummingbirds are very territorial over feeding sources, grouping several feeders together allows more hummers to feed at them at the same time. A hummer can't possible defend four feeders at once. Brilliant advice!

We counted 10 hummers around a single feeder in July and 18 in August. Who knows we could have more. We are filling some of the feeders twice a day. The feeders are busiest in the mornings and evenings and the hummers seem to have a feeding order and favorite station from which to drink. Hummingbird migration is underway so keep your feeders up and filled (more info on their migrations here). Who knows, you may end up with an overwintering hummer as we did last year. See my post on our Rufous visitors here.

What did you experience in your garden this summer? I am joining Plant Postings for Lessons Learned meme.

Next up, I will be talking Seasonal Celebrations for the upcoming Autumn season.