Growing Berries in the Backyard

Berries are my favorite addition to the production garden – they are the perfect topping for ice cream and yogurt and make delicious pies! But they can be expensive to source from the grocery store and certain types are nearly impossible to find. Why not grow your own? Many types of raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and currants are adaptable to Kansas, flourishing under the right conditions. If you don’t have space to create a vegetable garden, no worries – berry plants can mix into the perennial borders and become a productive (and delicious!) part of your landscape for you and for the wildlife.

Raspberries

Rubus idaeus, red raspberries, got their initialized name from Mt. Ida in Turkey, where the citizens of ancient Troy dined on them. Since that time they have spread throughout the world because of their sweetness and adaptability. These delicious little morsels do not naturally flourish in the harsh Kansas climate, but with a little human attention they can produce a summer full of fruit for you.

Wild red raspberries. Photo by mako from Kangasala, Suomi (Finland) (wild raspberries) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Plant your canes in a spot with full sun (some shade acceptable during the hot hours) and good drainage. Protection from the hot south wind will ensure it doesn’t scorch in our blistering summer. ‘Heritage’ variety red raspberry has a reputation for bountiful crops and first year success. It is everbearing, meaning that it produces two crops – one in mid-July and another in September. ‘Fall Gold’ yellow raspberry also bears two harvests: in fall and then the following spring on the same canes. Gardeners love its unique color and light flavor. Some raspberries are self-supporting, but most benefit from some type of staking.

Currants and Gooseberries

Currants and gooseberries are part of the Ribes genus, some of which are native to Kansas. Ribes ordoratum (golden currant) is commonly found in thickets and near streams, bearing delicious wild fruit great for canning. These wild types can be grown in the landscape for their berries, wildlife appeal and ornamental value. I discovered cultivated red currants while traveling in France; they are a staple of a French breakfast table, irresistible in jams and sauces. ‘Red Lake’ is a type that grows well here in Kansas, with bountiful bunches of marble-sized red berries. Plant in neutral pH soil and don’t keep their feet wet for extended periods of time.

Red currants ripe for the piking! Photo by Idalia Skalska (http://idalia.pl/) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The greenish-pink gooseberries sport characteristic veins/stripes and a sour taste. Photo by Nadiatalent (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gooseberries are very hardy, long-lived and have a bramble-type habit. Thorny and thick, they make a great border plant. The berries have light colored ‘veins’ showing through their translucent skin. With a tart, rubarb-esque flavor they go well as a crumble topping or baked into pies and meat sauces.

Strawberries

Everybody’s favorite mid-summer treat, strawberries, are easy to establish and spread via runners to increase yields year after year. A raised bed is a common way to grow strawberries, helping with weed management and containment. A layer of straw or mulch around new plants will aide in retaining soil moisture. If you have no room for a raised bed area, don’t fret! Strawberries are happy to live in the perennial garden and crawl around the bases of taller plants – they will behave as a ground cover (suppressing weeds!) and benefit from the light shade cast by the flowers above them. Some varieties are bred specifically to grow in a patio pot and produce vigorously. ‘Tristan’ and ‘Ruby Ann’ are examples of this type. They always provide me with a midday snack in the greenhouse!

Serviceberry (left) and Elderberry (right) in bloom. From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sambucus_nigra-Busch.jpg and By peganum from Small Dole, England (Amelanchier x grandiflora Cole’s Select) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Elderberries, Chokeberries, Serviceberries

Lesser known or wild-type berries are just as nutritious, but require less maintenance. These berries all taste best after some type of processing (cooking, freezing, juicing, etc). All three of the following berry-producers bear stunning white blooms and produce fruit with high nutritional content for your table or for the birds to enjoy!

  • Consider planting elderberry (Sambucus) shrubs in a drainage area or part of the yard that always floods – they will absorb excess water and create a wall of blooms in late spring.  Raw elderberries are bitter, but perform well in jams, wines, and home remedies. ‘Adams’ and ‘York’ are two types of elderberry we recommend for heavy fruit production.
  • Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a versatile and attractive shrub that bears high-antioxidant blackish berries in late summer. The berries have an astringent quality that makes the mouth pucker with that ‘dry wine’ feeling. Berries can be made into syrups and jams, or used in muffins. Five to six feet tall at maturity, they make a great screen or windbreak. Aronia ‘Viking’ is a nice variety that produces well and has high ornamental value. ‘Low Scape’ and ‘Hedger’ types for smaller spaces display blooms and attractive fall foliage but do not produce much fruit.
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is native to the eastern-most regions of Kansas and can reach 20 feet tall in some locations. It makes an excellent specimen tree and produces fruit that taste much like blueberries. The berries ripen in mid-summer, earlier than most other berries. They can be eaten right off the tree, baked into pies or dried like raisins for preserving.

Growing berries can be fun and easy! Consider planting some edibles in your landscape as a part of your hedge or as a perennial ground cover. They will look great and taste even better. If you don’t have time to pick them for yourself, the wildlife will thank you for the extra sweet treat!

Six Native Groundcovers That Thrive in the Sun

As you think about your native landscape, taller plants are easier to plug into the design.  There are more choices from which you can add diversity, color, texture and habitat.  These taller layers are the backbone of any plan, while the edges or ground level are often overlooked.   In my opinion, the border plants are just as important because they define the edges.   The larger perennials typically overshadow these native groundcovers, but here are a few that stand out in the landscape.

Missouri Evening Primrose-Oenothera macrocarpa

In the wild, this low growing wildflower is found clinging to exposed hillsides.  If it can survive that environment, it will be a tough drought-tolerant plant for any sunny spot.  The large, showy, yellow flowers bloom from May through August, but the majority of the blooms come in April and May.  One plant can spread up to 24 inches while only reaching 6 to 12 inches tall.  Obviously, it likes it dry, so don’t over water them.  They look great along walkways or spilling over rock walls with their silver green leaves and reddish stems.

Purple Poppy Mallow-Callirhoe involucrata

Some like it hot, but these like it really hot.  The deep tap root of Purple Poppy Mallow sustains it during times of drought.  These roots are starchy and supposedly taste like a sweet potato.  (I don’t know if I am that hungry, but it may be worth a try.)  The magenta cup-like blooms appear throughout spring and into summer.  I like to interplant with low grasses or shorter perennials that bloom later in the season, such as blazing stars or goldenrods.  The stems hug the ground and ultimately spread 24-36 inches wide and 6-12 inches tall.

Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’-Bouteloua gracilis

Unlike any other native grass, ‘Blonde Ambition’ will make an impact in your garden.  The eyelash-like seedheads dance with even the gentlest breeze atop the fine blue-green foliage from mid-summer into winter.  Selected for its unique habit and hardiness, it can be used in a variety of settings from clay to sandy soils.  It gets larger than most Blue Grama grass, maxing out at 24 inches.  Space them 18 to 24 inches apart for best display.  Regularly, Blue Grama is found growing with Buffalograss in the shortgrass prairie, making it an important native grass of the Great Plains.

Rose Verbena-Glandularia canadensis

This plant holds the record for most months in bloom.  I have seen it in bloom from March through December.  It is one of the first to bloom in the spring and if we get some beneficial rain in the fall, it will bloom again.  In the prairie, rose verbena can be found in open bluffs and rocky outcroppings.  It requires minimal rain and terrible soil for the best growth.  Sounds like a winner to me.  The vibrant pinkish-purple blooms will brighten any border.  Give it room to spread.  One drawback is that they are not very long lived, every few years, plants will completely die out or move.  I think that they bloom themselves to death.  Just replace with new plants and again enjoy this sun loving groundcover.

Rose Verbena-Photo courtesy of Craig Freeman

 

Stiff Coreopsis-Coreopsis palmata

Each spring, the golden yellow blooms of this prairie beauty burst open with an eruption of glorious sunshine.  The stems are lined with leaves that resemble little hands lifted skyward.  It is a favorite of pollinators as they flock to the nectar rich flowers from late spring to early summer.  I give it some room to roam since it slowly spreads to fill in an area when it is happy.  Eventually, spreading to 36 inches or more and growing 24 inches tall, this wildflower is a great alternative to its other coreopsis cousins.

Coreopsis palmata-By Frank Mayfield (Flickr: Coreopsis palmata PRAIRIE COREOPSIS) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Prairie Dropseed-Sporobolus heterolepis

At one time, this was one of the top selling grasses nationwide.  It is a favorite of mine because it is long-lived and tough.  It is so tough they are planted in mass in street medians.  The fine textured leaves and airy, fragrant panicles are a nice addition to any landscape.  Each clump can reach 12-18 inches wide and up to 24 inches tall.  The entire plant turns shades of orange and yellow in the fall providing multiple seasons of interest.  It is great in a border, as a groundcover, in an informal prairie setting or as an accent to other short or mid-range perennials.

 

Sporobolus heterolepis-By Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Native Shade Garden

In Kansas, the benefits of shade are obvious.  If you step outside on a summer afternoon, you will quickly move under the canopy of a large shade tree.  The sun can be intense.   We love the shade that trees provide, as well as the value they add to our homes.  However, it can be a real challenge to grow anything under the umbrella of trees, including grass.

How do you develop a resilient native shade garden?  Here are some steps that might improve this problematic area in your yard and maybe begin to change your approach to gardening in the shade.

Native Columbine

Shade can be bad

Realize the challenges of a shady spot

  • The root competition
  • Too much leaf litter and debris
  • Reduced air movement make it difficult to establish a beautiful landscape
  • Plants rarely bloom
  • Not as many plants to choose from compared to sunny areas
  • Plants grow slowly

 

Shade can be good

Since we love the trees in our landscapes, we need to embrace the microclimate they provide.

  • Shady landscapes are easy to care for since they require minimal weeding and watering.
  • Generally, there are fewer insect problems.
  • The canopy of the trees protects plants from leaf scorch.
  • Each autumn, a new set of leaves fall, providing winter protection for plants and a fresh dose of organic matter for the soil as the leaves decompose.

Soil and Sun Levels

Discover the type of soil you have and the amount of sunlight your area receives each day.  Each of these factors will determine which plants to choose.

  • Three to five hours of sun each day is considered partial shade. This can be dappled shade where there is always some light making it through the trees branches
  • Two hours or less of sun each day is full shade.
  • A soil that is friable is usually high in organic matter. This type of soil is ideal for most plants that grow in the shade.
  • A sandy soil that is hard and dries quickly is typically found under oak and maple trees with dense shade.

The Arboretum woodland garden

Use Nature As Your Guide

One of the best ways to landscape for shade is to mimic nature.  Look at examples from woodland settings, then integrate the elements and plants you like the most.  Generally, these landscapes are random and informal with three to four distinct layers of plants.  Large trees make up the upper canopy that provide the majority of shade.  Next, smaller trees and large shrubs of varying heights make up the understory.  Use this plant layer to add interesting forms, textures and blooms.  Redbuds and viburnums, for example, are naturals for these areas.  The woodland floor is the final layer. Lower growing woody and herbaceous species with graceful blooms, a variety of leaf shapes, attractive fruits and seed heads, varying heights and forms, and contrasting bright and dark colors will add to the appeal of this layer as you view it up close.

Carex pensylvanica. Photo Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

The starting point for your shade garden is to examine what is already growing.  Most shade gardens have the umbrella of large trees.  The middle and ground floor need to be filled with appropriate plant material that match the soil, moisture levels and amount of sunlight the area receives throughout the day.  Shade gardens lend themselves to solitude because they are usually enclosed by plants .  They are a natural oasis with a bench, water feature or fire pit surrounded by interesting plants.  Here is a plant guide for each of these lower tiers of a shade garden.  For our purposes, I will focus on plants for a medium to dry soil, with the ultimate goal to develop an area that is attractive to you and wildlife, such as birds and pollinators.

Native perennials for the Woodland Floor

Allium cernuum pink nodding onion
Anthyrium angustum lady fern
Aquilegia canadensis columbine
Arisaema triphyllum jack-in-the-pulpit
Aruncus dioicus goatsbeard
Asarum canadense wild ginger
Aster cordifolius blue woodland aster
Aster divaricatus ‘Eastern Star’ white woodland aster
Aster lateriflorus calico Aster
Carex sp. Woodland sedge
Clematis virginiana virgin’s bower
Chasmanthium latifolium river oats  (Use with caution)
Chrysogonum virginianum green and gold
Dennstaedtia punctilobula hay-scented fern
Dicentra eximia fringed bleeding heart
Dodecatheon meadia shootingstar
Epimedium spp. barrenwort
Geranium maculatum wild geranium
Heuchera Americana alumroot
Histrix patula bottlebrush grass
Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny spurge
Packera aurea golden ragwort
Phlox divaricata woodland phlox
Podophyllum peltatum May apple
Polygonatum biflorum giant solomon’s seal
Sanguinaria canadensis bloodroot
Sedum ternatum wild stonecrop
Smilacina racemose solomon’s Plume
Solidago caesia wreath goldenrod
Solidago ulmifolia elm-leaf goldenrod
Stylophorum diphyllum celadine poppy
Tiarella cordifolia foamflower
Veronicastrum virginicum culver’s root
Zizia aurea golden alexander

Golden Ragwort

Small trees and shrubs

Aesculus glabrra var. argute Texas buckeye
Aronia melanocarpa ‘Autumn Magic’
Cercis canadensis-redbud
Cephalanthus occidentalis buttonbush
Cornus racemosa gray dogwood
Hamamelis witchhazel
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’
Hydrangea quercifolia oakleaf hydrangea
Lindera benzoin spicebush
Physocarpus opulifolius ninebark
Rjus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eye sumac
Symphoricarpos albus snowberry
Viburnum dentatum arrowwood viburnum
Viburnum prunifoium blackhaw viburnum
Viburnum rufidulum rusty blackhaw viburnum
Viburnum trilobum highbush cranberry

My shade garden project: I started with a fire pit under a 50 year old pin oak tree. It is essentially bare soil because nothing will grow under it very well. I will chart the progress over the next few years.

So, my advice to you is this: Accept your shady situation. Mix it up.  Combine plants with different textures, colors, shapes and heights to add interest.  Knowing your light levels will help, too.  Keep in mind that shade plants grow slowly.  Choose larger plants initially to install or just be patient with what you have planted.  Water as needed, but remember these shade plants are competing with the roots of a large tree.  Maybe add a soaker hose to deliver moisture efficiently to the root zone.  And finally, look to enhance all the layers of the shade garden, not just the lowest level.  A native garden looks better when it mirrors the natural woods with all three dimensions growing harmoniously together.

Butterfly Milkweed-2017 Perennial Plant of the Year™

It is hard to believe that it’s already 2017.  We still have several months of winter to endure, but after the first of the year, my thoughts naturally turn toward spring.  I anticipate this barren landscape bursting to life.  Wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs emerge from their winter slumber to once again beautify the garden.  A wonderful wildflower and one of my favorites is butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa.

 

2017 Perennial Plant of the Year™

With all the recent buzz about pollinators (pun intended), it seems fitting that butterfly milkweed is the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year™, according to the Perennial Plant Association.  This classic native wildflower is an excellent perennial that is readily recognizable with its bright orange flowers and the host of pollinators that they attract.  Found throughout the eastern two-thirds of Kansas, they bloom in late May into August.

Monarchs and milkweeds

Butterfly milkweed, along with other native milkweeds, are vital to the survival of the monarch butterfly.   Monarch caterpillars will only eat on milkweeds.  No milkweeds, no monarchs!  If you plant milkweeds, monarchs will find them in your landscape.  It is said that a monarch butterfly can smell a nectar source from up to two miles away.

Monarch caterpillar

Recent habitat loss has made it critical that more milkweeds are added to landscapes across the migration path of monarchs.  Butterfly milkweed is a stout one to two foot tall perennial with a deep, coarse, fibrous root system.  The intricate flowers that reach skyward range from deep orange-red in the eastern part of its range to lighter orange and finally yellow farther west and south in Kansas.  Unlike the numerous other milkweeds found in Kansas, butterfly milkweed does not exude a white milky sap when the stem is cut or a leaf is removed.

This sun-loving wildflower grows best in open areas intermingled with native grasses.  While it prefers full sun and good drainage, it will tolerate light shade.  It is also very drought tolerant once established.  Several cultivated varieties of butterfly milkweed have been developed.  These include ‘Gay Butterflies’, a mix of red, orange, and yellow flowered plants, and ‘Hello Yellow’, an exclusively yellow flowered selection.

Hello Yellow Butterflyweed

 

Butterfly milkweed has many outstanding features, but the most important quality is its ability to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. If you get some established, it will quickly become a favorite.  Its rugged character will make it a focal point in the summer garden for years to come.  It is a beautiful wildflower that is at home in the prairie or in your landscape.  Can you find a spot for a few in your garden?

Plant Profile: The Gayfeathers

Gayfeathers are truly iconic symbols of the prairie.  Also known as blazing stars, these distinctive plants occur throughout Kansas grasslands.  Seven species are native to our state, all blooming during late summer and early fall.  Producing upright spikes crowded with rose-purple flower heads, gayfeathers add a distinctive dimension to late-season landscapes dominated by asters, sunflowers, and goldenrods.

LateSummerPlants_0015

Kansas Gayfeather, Liatris pycnostachya

Four species of gayfeathers can be found in the Arboretum’s living collections.  Kansas gayfeather or thickspike gayfeather (Liatris pycnostachya) is the tallest, reaching up to five feet in height.  It is a plant of the tallgrass prairie of eastern Kansas.  Button blazing star or rough gayfeather (L. aspera) occurs in drier habitats and is generally about three feet tall.  Two other species, L. mucronata and L. punctata grow from one to three feet in height.  Liatris punctata occurs throughout the state and is the most drought tolerant of the gayfeathers.

Liatris and Indian grass in the Prairie Window Project

Button Blazing Star or Liatris aspera and Indian grass in the Prairie Window Project

LiatrisPunctata_LincolnKS_PRoberts_16Sept1983_00518

Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata

Gayfeathers are not only beautiful in their natural settings, they also make very fine garden plants.  Thickspike is the species most likely to be sold by nurseries and garden centers.  We will have most of these species at our FloraKansas Plant Sale.  They all appreciate a sunny flower bed or border.  Adding to their value as garden plants, gayfeathers are also attractive to many butterflies and other pollinators.  In addition, the spikes make excellent cut flowers, either fresh or dried.

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Trees For the Kansas Home

At last year’s fall plant sale I convinced my father to plant some oak trees around his house where older shade trees are nearing the end of their lives. I told him to think ahead ten years: when the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) in the front yard finally dies, won’t he wish that he had a head start on growing the next shade tree nearby? And wouldn’t it be nice to start a row of trees near his workshop to block the hot west sun? Of course! He ended up choosing a few Shumard oaks (Quercus shumardii) which have done well for him and are off to a great start.

These trees were an investment in the future of his property ownership – well placed trees can save you money on heating and cooling your home and offer protection to your roof and siding from the sun’s damaging rays. Are there parts of your yard that need a shade tree? Or perhaps you have a tree that will need replacing in the near future?

Do your research and find the perfect tree for your needs, practical and aesthetic. Following are some of my favorites from the upcoming sale, but a full list is available here.

Fruiters

If you want to add a fruiting tree to your landscape, consider a Kansas native. PawPaw (Asimina triloba) and Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are both delicious and underused native fruits. Both are small to medium sized trees when mature (20 to 40 feet tall) and grow well in moist to medium-dry environments.

Persimmon (left) and PawPaw (right) both produce delicious fruit.

Persimmon (left) and PawPaw (right) both produce delicious fruit.

Understory

Sassafras albidium is the host plant for the spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Sassafras albidium is the host plant for the
spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

If you already have some large shade trees and want to add canopy layers, consider an under story tree that thrives in the dappled sunlight and protection of larger trees nearby.  Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidium) have unique foliage, showy spring flowers and all parts of the plant have a pleasant smell. Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus) is known for it’s intense fall color and often grows in a shrubby form.

Flowering

There are lots of showy flowering trees to choose from, but we carry a few particularly unique options. Hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) has cream colored shrimp shaped flowers, seen below. Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) trees have pendulous white blooms and bright golden fall color.

Blooms of hop hornbeam and yellowwood trees.

Blooms of hop hornbeam and yellowwood trees.

Shade

Big sturdy shade trees are a good choice for a homeowner looking to reduce their electricity bills and protect their home from the elements. Black oak (Quercus velutina) and American Chestnut (Castenea dentata) both grow upwards of 60 feet tall and both produce nuts that provide winter food for wildlife.

Planting a tree is a satisfying task — it is an investment in the years to come, the hope of growth and newness. A mature tree can even raise the market value of your home! Tree coupons for the fall plant sale (September  9 – 11) will be available soon on our website. Hope to see you at our upcoming sale, carting away a tree of your own.

Photos from wikimedia comons, attributed to: Asit K. Ghosh Thaumaturgist (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hophornbeam by Eric Hunt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Cladrastus bloom Elektryczne jabłko (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Shrubs for Bees

A well-designed garden has many different forms, colors, heights, bloom times and textures.  Plants are integrated in ever-changing combinations that should be appealing to us and the wildlife we are trying to attract.  Obviously, pollinators depend on diversity of plants and being able to find the food they need.  Shrubs are an important nectar source for many different pollinators, particularly for bees.  By including just a few of these in your own landscape, you can have a beautiful and productive garden that makes a difference in their survival. Here is a list of shrubs for bees to feast upon.

Small Deciduous Shrubs (1-3 feet tall)

Black ChokeberryAronia melanocarpa-The tiny white blooms of this ornamental shrub attract many different types of bees.  The black fruit is a bonus to be eaten fresh or left for wildlife.  Look for varieties like ‘Autumn Magic’, ‘Iroquois Beauty’ or ‘Viking’ to add to your garden.

Aronia_melanocarpa_(491771406)

Black Chokeberry

Western Sand CherryPrunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’-This wonderful, easy to grow landscape plant has an abundance of sweetly scented flowers in the spring followed by black cherries in the summer.  The glossy green leaves turn shades of red and purple in the fall.  It only grows to 18 inches tall by 4-6 feet in spread making it a fantastic ground cover.

CoralberrySymphoricarpos sp.-This is a shrub that is grown for its ornamental berries.  However, the tiny blooms are gladly used by bees.  The summer’s flowers swell into pinkish white pearls along arching stems.  The fruit is persistent well into winter.  “Candy™’ or ‘Galaxy™’ are forms with great fruit clusters.

Lead PlantAmorpha canescens-This is a great butterfly bush alternative.  The purple flower spikes in late spring atop the silvery gray foliage are extremely attractive.  Bees cover these plants while blooming.  It is a native wildflower that thrives in a sunny spot.

ArbFlowers 266

Lead Plant

Medium to Large Deciduous Shrubs (4-10+ feet tall)

ButtonbushCephalanthus occidentalis-The unusual, fragrant flower balls of this native shrub are magnets to a host of pollinators.  I have seen up to two dozen swallowtail butterflies on one plant when in bloom.  ‘Sugar Shack®’ is a shorter form that works well in the landscape.

IMG_0644

Buttonbush

ElderberrySambucus canadensis-As you drive the highways in summer, this shrub is everywhere.  The creamy white blooms pop out of the landscape especially against the glossy green foliage.  These flat topped clusters of flowers make great landing pads for bees.  The fruit is tasty and very high in antioxidants.  ‘Adams’ and ‘York’ are native forms selected for their larger fruit.  Other non-native forms like ‘Black Lace’ and ‘Lemony Lace’ are more refined alternatives for the landscape.

ArbFlowers 123

Elderberry

SpicebushLindera benzoin-We have had success growing this as an understory shrub.  The tiny yellow flowers attract bees and the leaves have a spicy smell when crushed.  Plants develop a nice yellow fall color.

Viburnums-There are too many of these shrubs to mention, but I will highlight our native to Kansas varieties, which have beautiful white flowers in the spring followed by clusters of purplish fruit that develops later in the summer.  Viburnum prunifolium has smaller oval leaves that develop reddish-purple fall color.  Viburnum rufidulum has shiny leaves that turn burgundy-purple fall color.  Each of these shrubs can grow to 12 feet tall.

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Blackhaw Viburnum-Viburnum prunifolium

Certainly, there are other shrubs for the landscape such as Beautyberry-Callicarpa americana, sumac (Rhus sp.), Roughleaf Dogwood-Cornus drummondii, American plum-Prunus virginiana, Clover Currant-Ribes odoratum, and serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) that deserve more use in landscapes.  Many of these shrubs have been pushed aside for ornamental varieties that are nice to look at, but offer nothing to wildlife because the flowers are sterile.  By strategically choosing plants that are both beautiful and alluring to bees and other wildlife, your garden will become a haven for pollinators.

Shrubs for Bees Photo Credit

Trees for the Bees

Are native wildflowers the only plants that bees love?  I knew the answer to this question is no, but needed a reminder.  The other day as I was giving a tour at the arboretum. We had stopped next to a Littleleaf Linden tree (Tilia cordata).  It was extremely fragrant.  It was also covered by pollinators including many different types of bees.  The hum as they busily worked over the flowers was amazing.  It made me think – Are there other trees that pollinators use throughout the year?

Tilia cordata

Littleleaf Linden

The plight of bees and other pollinators have been in the news lately.  Beekeepers struggle with colony collapse.  Pollinator populations continue to decline.  Habitat loss and dwindling sources of pesticide-free plants make it harder for insects to find the food they need for their very survival.  Wildflowers are promoted as the elixir for these endangered pollinators, but in reality a diverse network of food has never been more important.  Trees are a vital food source for all sorts of insects.  The abundance of flowers at a single location provide bees and other pollinators with valuable sources of nectar.  Trees can be part of the solution to these problems.  Here is a list of trees that pollinators will flock to when in bloom.  Besides helping the pollinators they may give you some shade.

Black Cherry-Prunus serotina

This native tree can be found in the eastern half of the United States.  Black Cherry is not a specimen tree, but offers fragrant, nectar-rich flowers followed by tangy fruit that wildlife enjoy.  Plant along the outskirts of your property so it has adequate space, ultimately reaching 50-75 feet tall.   Other cherry trees and fruit trees offer pollinators nectar early in the year.  We certainly benefit from their work.

Prunus_serotina_closeup

Black Cherry

Basswood-Tilia americana

This deciduous tree is a bee magnet.  The clusters of fragrant yellow flowers in June and July attracts pollinators from all over the neighborhood.  The foliage is heart shaped, which provides dense shade.  It has an upright habit that develops into a broad spreading tree over time to 75 feet.  The smaller (to 40-50 feet) non-native cousin Littleleaf Linden is just as alluring to pollinators.  The variety ‘Redmond’ is one of the most common available at your local garden center.

Willows-Salix sp.

This is often overlooked as a group of trees, but it is extremely important to a wide variety of pollinators.  Consider planting a pussy willow or weeping willow in your garden, especially if you have a wet spot.  I grew up fishing around and under Black Willow trees along the East Emma Creek.  I can still remember being scolded and even dive bombed by a Red-winged Blackbird that was protecting its nest in one of these Black Willow trees.  They are not very ornamental, but valuable to a host of wildlife along with many different pollinators.

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Pussy Willow

Catalpa-Catalpa speciosa

This is a tree that deserves wider use because it is very adaptable and tough.   The showy, white flowers in June are sought by bees.  These flower clusters develop dangling cigar-like seed pods.  The heart-shaped leaves are attractive along with the irregular branching of the tree.  It as many unique features that may be worth a try in your garden.

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Catalpa

Black Locust-Robinia pseudoacacia

This native tree makes fantastic honey.  The creamy white, fragrant flowers dangle from the branches in long 4-8 inch racemes.  Bees flock to the flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen.  The black locust tree is quite adaptable but needs full sun for best growth.  Most trees reach 30-60 feet tall at maturity.  Look for varieites called ‘Frisia’ or ‘Purple Robe’ to establish in your garden.

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Black Locust

Diversity is the key to pollinator success.  The pollinators needs a variety of plants that bloom a different times all through the year.  Blooming trees literally take pollination to a new level.  Your bee-friendly habitat needs some blooming trees.

Trees for the Bees Photo Credits

 

Plant profile: Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)

Several years ago as I was preparing for our fall plant sale, I noted that I had a flat of 32 golden alexanders (Zizia aurea) ready for the sale.  I went back three days later and could not find the plants anywhere.  I thought somebody had moved them, but later discovered the flat of plants had been eaten to the soil line by Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.  They were on several other plants in the gardens as well as a few random plants within the nursery.  I was amazed at how voracious those caterpillars were. They literally ate the plants to the ground.

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The beautiful bloom of Golden Alexander

 

Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) is the Kansas Native Plant Society 2016 Wildflower of the Year. They are most often found in prairie savannas, woodland edges, wooded bottomlands, stream banks, moist meadows, and floodplains.  They are quite adaptable once established surviving even the driest summers.

The deep green leaves of golden alexanders are distinctly divided and tough.   This wildflower grows between 12″ to 36″ tall with yellow flowers in flat topped umbels forming in May and June.  The seeds that develop resemble dill seeds.  Be careful!  If it is happy, it will self-seed and colonize an area.

Zizia aurea is an important plant whether in bloom or not blooming.  It is a member of the parsley/carrot family, which are host plants for Swallowtail butterflies.  When in bloom, many other pollinators are attracted to the bright yellow flowers.  It is a pollinator magnet.

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Blue False Indigo with Golden Alexander in the foreground and background

This native wildflower is extremely easy to grow in either full sun or partial shade.  I tend to plant it in areas that receive morning sun and then are shaded during the hottest part of the day.  It can thrive in clay soils and the shiny foliage and vivid yellow flowers make this a welcome addition to your wildflower garden.  Plant a few as an offering to the Swallowtail butterflies.  In my opinion, this is a plant that should be in every garden.

Plant Profile: My Run-in With A Texas Buckeye

There are some experiences we will always remember and others we need to be reminded of from time to time.  One of those experiences happened for me with the Texas Buckeye near the Arboretum parking lot.  Each spring when it blooms, I am reminded of the time I about killed that tree.

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Texas Buckeye Blooms

It was one of the first years I was working as the horticulturist/grounds manager.  I was mowing close to that tree, which had been planted the year before.  It was supported with wires from the trunk to stakes in the ground.  I turned the mower and WACK!  The top of the tree hit me on the head.

Have you ever had the sudden realization that something isn’t right?  Have you ever had that feeling in the pit of your stomach to not turn around?  I turned around to see that the back of my mower had caught one of the wires and pulled the tree over, breaking the trunk about two feet off the ground.  I wanted to crawl in a hole.

The Texas Buckeye (Aescules glabra var. arguta) tree, which was now laying horizontal, had been sought diligently for this specific spot.  In one second, I had killed it.

Have you ever had thoughts of hiding something you did wrong?   That thought flashed into my mind.  Will anyone notice? I was in a jam.  So, I decided to take my lumps.

I walked into Larry Vickerman’s office, who was the director at that time, and told him the bad news.  To his credit he didn’t yell at me, but I certainly would have deserved it.  He took a look at it and we decided to try to set it upright again.  We gently unhooked it from the mower and made it vertical and then wrapped the place where it bent over with tree wrap.  We crossed our fingers that it would survive.  It did survive the rest of that year and bloomed the next year.  It has continued to bloom each year since and each spring I am reminded of the time I was hit upside the head.  Maybe there is a lesson to be learned in this story.  Maybe I need to be hit upside the head from time to time.

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Anyway, if you look close, the scar is still visible, but it has fully healed.  This beautiful small tree has palmately compound leaves that will turn yellow-orange in the fall.  The real show in is May when the creamy, yellow flower panicles emerge.  The blooms are spectacular and very eye catching, because they appear at the ends of the branches.  It is an understory tree, which becomes most visible when in bloom.  The leathery seed pods develop later in the year and contain tannish-brown, shiny seeds that look like “buck (deer) eyes” .  The seeds are known to be poisonous along with all parts of the plant as well. If the tree becomes really drought stressed, it will prematurely drop its leaves.  Ultimately reaching 20-25 feet tall and 15-20 wide, it is a wonderful small tree for the landscape.

This is a great native small tree that deserves more use.  Each year, I get a renewed sense of relief, because I know what I did to it, yet is still thrives.  If this Texas Buckeye can survive being toppled by a mower, it can survive anything you throw at it.