Planting for Pollinators

One of the hottest trends in horticulture is planting for pollinators.  In tending our gardens, we all want to do our part to make it easier for butterflies, bees, and other winged friends to find the plants they need for survival. 

September is a great time to plant wildflowers.  If you keep pollinators in mind as you plant, they will come.  Try a few of these summer and late-season wildflowers in your landscape.  They are pollinator-magnets. 

Rigid Goldenrod

Goldenrods get a bad rap.  They don’t cause hay fever.  However, they do attract all sorts of wildlife to their bright yellow flowers in late summer.

Rigid Goldenrod with Cheyenne Sky Switchgrass

Aromatic Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ and ‘October Skies’

This is one of my favorite asters.  They each have nice lavender flowers in late-September into October.  These plants are abuzz with activity as pollinators seek the last sips of nectar before migrating or hibernating for the winter. 

“October Skies” aromatic aster

Swamp Milkweed

This milkweed is vital to monarchs as they migrate back south to Mexico.  The pink blooms appear at the right time to provide the energy they need to complete their journey. 

Monarch on swamp milkweed. Photo by Brad Guhr

New England Aster

This wildflower prefers a medium to moist soil.  The dark purple to pink flowers attract tremendous diversity of pollinators to the flowers in fall.  I like variety ‘Purple Dome’ with its shorter habit and dark purple flowers. 

Painted Lady butterfly on a New England aster

Coneflowers

There are so many varieties of coneflowers.  I love the new colors but have really come to appreciate the true native species Narrow-leaf coneflower, Pale purple coneflower, Yellow purple coneflower and Purple coneflower.  The rounded cones make perfect landing pads for all sorts of insects searching for pollen.   

Photo by Emily Weaver.

Black-eyed Susan

This easy to grow wildflower is one of the best pollinator plants.  The yellow flowers with the dark center attract a host of pollinators in including Great Spangled Fritillary. 

Rudbeckia ‘American Gold Rush’ Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

Liatris mucronata

Dotted gayfeather is blooming right now in the arboretum.  The lavender spikes lay lower to the ground than other taller forms but these late season wildflowers are still attractive to bees and butterflies of all shapes and sizes.   

Native Grasses

Don’t forget the native grasses.  Many pollinators overwinter in clumps of grasses such as little bluestem and switchgrass.  Besides their beautiful fall color, these denizens of the prairie provide great texture and structure in the winter garden, too.

Aster ‘October Skies’ with the dark purple blooms of ‘Purple Dome’ aster with a backdrop of little bluestem

Plant Profile: Dwarf false indigo (Amorpha nana)

When we think of shrubs that grow in the prairie, lead plant (Amorpha canescens) is the first one that comes to my mind.  Rightfully so, the soft gray foliage and lavender flower spikes are a must for any summer prairie garden.  However, its lesser known cousin, dwarf false indigo (Amorpha nana) is blooming now in the Arboretum.  It makes you stop and take notice.

Dwarf false indigo can be found growing in the mixed-grass and shortgrass prairies throughout the Great Plains. In Kansas, I have seen it growing wild in Clark county.  It is not as widely distributed as lead plant, but I have found it to be quite adaptable.  It thrives in dry, open locations with plenty of sunlight.  Here in the Arboretum, it blooms in May but I have seen it bloom as late as mid-June.

The deep magenta flowers of dwarf false indigo have a sweet aroma like honey.  Each terminal flower cluster is covered in reddish-orange pollen that pollinators love to gather.  The flowers stand out against the bright green leaves.  This prairie shrub should not be pruned in the spring.  It blooms best from previous year’s growth.  A variety of pollinators flock to the fragrant blossoms, but the Silver Spotted Skipper butterfly use the soft leaves as a food source.  After the blooms, the small green seedpods develop, but turn dark brown later in the fall.

The name nana, meaning dwarf in Latin, refers to the shrub’s diminutive size, which ultimately reaches two feet tall.  While short, the deep tap root and finely textured leaves make it extremely drought tolerant.  Plant it en masse or along a border edge so you can enjoy the sweet fragrance of the flowers.  It prefers a well-drained soil, including clay and rocks.

Companion plants for this versatile shrub would be little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa), bottlebrush blazing star (Liatris mucornata), aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius), shortstem spiderwort (tradescantia tharpii), narrowleaf coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  This shrub deserves a place in your sunny prairie garden.

Join Us on Friday, May 12.

Dyck Arboretum of the Plains is offering a free wildflower to the first 25 families or individuals who obtain a new or renewed membership on Friday, May 12, for National Public Gardens Day!

We will also have FREE ADMISSION to the gardens for the day, and coffee and refreshments in the Visitor Center from 9-11 a.m.

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTS THE DYCK ARBORETUM OF THE PLAINS!






Seven Steps to Planning Your Native Landscape

Interest in native landscaping is growing in popularity.  This time of year leading up to our spring plant sale, homeowners and businesses contemplate what they would like their landscape to look like.  They desire a garden that captures the essence of the prairie, a landscape that creates a sense of place.

Nature gives us such a good model to follow.  The diversity and resiliency of native wildflowers and grasses is amazing.  We can mimic the prairie and bring it home to our gardens.  Follow these seven steps as you develop a plan using native plants.

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1. Plants should match your site.

This is the most important element in developing a successful landscape. Take a critical look at the area you want to landscape with native plants.  Is it sunny?  It is shaded for part of the day?  What type of soil do you have?  Is there a microclimate?  Is it exposed to wind?  All these factors will guide you as you select plants for your site.  This step requires some research and time as you familiarize yourself with the qualities and environmental needs of native plants.

2. Succession of Bloom

There are no Wave Petunias in the prairie. If you visit a prairie landscape like the Konza Prairie every two to three weeks throughout the year, you will observe plants beginning to bloom, in full bloom or going out of bloom.  That is how you need to design your native landscape.  Include plants that bloom in every season of the year and then strategically add grasses for movement and texture in the winter months.  Again, take time to acquaint yourself with the life cycles of wildflowers and grasses.

Succession of Bloom

 

3. Forms and Textures

A diversity of plants woven together artistically can create a dramatic effect. Pay attention to the various shapes, textures and colors present in the prairie. Notice how the plants look year-round, not just when they are in bloom. Highlight interesting plant characteristics such as seed heads, forms, and fall color.

4. Interesting Lines

Rock Edging or a clean line along your display bed and lawn can add visual interest.  It can also lead you through your garden.  Interesting lines lead our eyes and makes you want to see what is around the corner.

5. Complementary Colors

Plant the colors you like, but make them complement each other.  Use a color wheel to mix plants.  Example: Purples (Spiderwort) and yellows (Coreopsis) are attractive together because they are opposite on the color wheel while whites (Penstemon) harmonize/blend the landscape together.

Spiderwort and Coreopsis

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6. Intentional Plant Height

Are there areas that need screening?  Is there an opportunity to layer plants from shortest to tallest as a foundation planting?  Is it an island bed that has taller plants in the center with shorter wildflowers and grasses radiating to the edges?  Keep plants in scale by not planting wildflowers that are taller than half the bed width.  Example:  If your bed is six feet wide, only plants that are three feet tall will keep the display in scale.  You would not want to plant a compass plant is such a small bed.

7. Perennial and annual weed control

I have made this mistake too often. In a rush to plant, I don’t get problem weeds like bindweed and Bermudagrass under control before planting.  I am still fighting this issue to this day in some of these landscape settings.  However, when I take the time to properly eradicate these weeds, the overall success of the garden and work to maintain it long-term greatly increase.  A little work at the beginning will save you many headaches down the road.

 

If you have questions about native plants or need help choosing what plants will grow best in your area, visit our spring plant sale or choose from landscape designs on the website.  With proper planning and careful consideration, you can create a sustainable garden utilizing native plants adapted to your landscape environment.  Transform your landscape using native plants that are sustainable, easy to maintain, and beautiful.






False Indigo: Beautiful Baptisias Reach for the Sky

Every spring I marvel at the changing landscape, especially prairies that have been burned.  A seemingly lifeless and brown prairie is turned black by fire and reduced to ashes.  This important process removes last year’s growth, allowing the sun to warm the soil.  This warmth is just what native wildflowers and grasses need to emerge from their winter slumber.  They jump to life in just a few warm days, turning the charred plains emerald green.

In this new growth, there are some very recognizable plants that stand out.  Indigos rise from rocky hillsides and dot the landscape in early spring with beautiful blue, white and cream flowers.  They thrive in challenging environments because of their deep roots.  The roots of wild indigos can be quite extensive – reaching down over ten feet deep – making them impervious to drought.

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Baptisia ‘Indigo Spires”

Locally, only two varieties of indigos grow in the prairies of south-central Kansas.  Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis var. minor) has a stately posture.  The entire plant is stiffly upright and forms a miniature canopy with the attractive blue-green foliage.  The showy spires of small pea-like blooms develop in May.  Later in the season, oblong brownish-black seed pods emerge providing another highlight to this beautiful wildflower.  They love any sunny spot with well-drained soil.  They are difficult to move once established because of the deep tap roots.

Native Blue False Indigo

Native Blue False Indigo

Cream Wild Indigo (Baptisia bracteata) is the other indigo found in our area.  It is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom. In fact, one of the plants outside the Visitor Center is showing flower buds now, in the first week of April.  The creamy-white flowers are held horizontally to the ground in long prostate clusters.  Again, these flowers turn into brownish-black seed pods filled with small beans.  The entire plant has a fuzzy appearance from leaves to the stem.  They are tough and drought tolerant when planted in a well-drained soil with full sun.

Other nativars (cultivars of native plants) worth trying are Baptisia ‘Blue Berry Sundae’ Blue flowers, 24-36 inches tall; Baptisia ‘Cherry Jubilee’ Maroon/yellow flower, 30-36 inches tall; Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue’ Lemon/yellow flowers, 36 inches tall; Baptisia ‘Vanilla Cream’ Pastel yellow flowers, 24-36 inches tall; Baptisia ‘Indigo Spires’ Dark Purple flowers, 36-48 inches tall; Baptisia ‘Blue Towers’ Blue flowers, 48-54 inches tall; and Baptisia ‘Pink Truffles’ Pink flowers, 30-36 inches tall.  All of these varieties will be available at our upcoming plant sale in just a few weeks time.

Baptisia 'Lemon Meringue'

Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue’

Baptisia 'Pink Truffles'

Baptisia ‘Pink Truffles’

Baptisia 'Cherries Jubilee'

Baptisia ‘Cherries Jubilee’

I have always been enamored with Baptisia.  They are so resilient.  They effortlessly survive in the toughest conditions.  To see a whole prairie dotted with indigos as far as the eye can see is amazing.  The stunning beauty of these wildflowers can be brought home as well.  They adapt to any sunny landscape setting.  I can’t resist their charm and beauty.

 






Denver Botanical Gardens Trip

On a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains, I visited the Denver Botanical Gardens. My family rolls their eyes because we always visit some garden while on vacation. They usually have a good time once they are there but their short attention span makes me hustle through the gardens. Anyway, I noticed some interesting native plant displays that I want to try at the arboretum.

Denver Botanical GardensUnder some cottonwood trees were strategically placed shorter native plants. Essentially, they were mimicking a savanna landscape which is the transition zone between open prairie and forest.

The plantings were diverse with grasses and perennials. One of the many things that caught my eyes was how the plants were grouped. It made such a visual impact. Blooming perennials popped while the grasses offered texture and soft forms that blended the planting together. A small trail weaved its way through the entire landscape allowing visitors to get up close to the plants.

The grasses they used were blue grama, little bluestem, side oats, and prairie dropseed. The wildflowers included purple poppy mallow, four o’ clocks, columnar coneflower, penstemons, coneflowers, indigos, asters, blazing stars and goldenrods.
This display is totally scalable. By grouping at least five plants of a particular species together, they stood out in the garden. The grasses were used to line the path and edges but also were used as a backdrop to highlight the blooms and seed heads of the wildflowers. Grouping these individual species together makes it easier to weed, water and maintain.

We have been experimenting with this group approach at the arboretum with great success. A limited palette of wildflowers that bloom at different times of the year combined with grasses in artistic ways can have a tremendous visual impact.

Try spring bloomers next to those summer or fall blooming perennials. A little forethought before planting, matching the plants with your site, grouping species together, properly planting and establishing will go a long way to creating the effect you want in your landscape. I have found with natives that “less is more”.

What plants or landscapes have you seen in summer travels that you would like to try?