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Posts by Steve Arnold

A rainbow of butterfly garden plants

June 11, 2013 by Steve Arnold

Butterflies have excellent taste.

They are attracted to delightful plants with beautiful colors, different sizes and interesting foliage. Even better, many butterfly garden plants are low-maintenance.

Homestead Purple Verbena

Homestead Purple Verbena

A few of my favorites:

Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’ Garden Verbena
Large, fragrant flower clusters top ground-hugging stems with attractive toothed foliage. Excellent colorful dense groundcover or foreground plant. Blooms over long period. Perennial. Reaches 6 to 12 inches tall, spreading 24 to 36 inches wide.

Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ Pincushion Flower
Tidy plants are valued for mass bedding effects or mixed perennial borders. Perfect for container gardens. Beautiful Dutch blue flowers with intricate centers resembling a pin cushion atop wiry stems. Blooms over a long period. Herbaceous perennial. Rapid growth to 1 foot tall and slightly wider.

Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ Goldenrod
Produces 18-inch long arching spires of brilliant golden yellow flowers in opposing directions. Whole plant becomes like one giant firework in full bloom. Slowly spreading rhizome produces large clumps for easy division. Tolerant of wet soils. Fast growth to 3 feet tall, 4 feet in bloom, and spreads to 4 feet wide.

Starfire Phlox

Starfire Phlox

Eupatorium dubium ‘Baby Joe’ Joe Pye Weed
This lovely mid-sized selection of Joe-Pye Weed is perfect for smaller gardens. It forms a bushy upright mound of coarse dark-green leaves, bearing large umbrella-like heads of magenta-pink flowers in late summer. A butterfly magnet, “Baby Joe” is suitable for planting in moist to wet areas and an ideal focal point in a large container or tub. Flowers are terrific for cutting. Grows to 30 inches tall and wide.

Phlox paniculata ‘Starfire’
This is a garden phlox cultivar that typically grows in an upright clump up to 3 feet tall. Fragrant, tubular flowers (1/2″ to 1 inch diameter) with long corolla tubes and five flat petal-like lobes are bright deep red. Individual flowers are densely arranged atop stiff, upright stems that seldom need staking. Long summer bloom sometimes extends into early fall. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.

Salvia x sylvestris May Night Salvia
This clump-forming, compact salvia features numerous, dense, upright, spike-like racemes of tiny, violet-blue flowers that rise above gray-green foliage to a height of 18 to 24 inches. Flowers bloom in May and June and may rebloom sporadically if faded flowers are promptly cut back. Excellent fresh cut flower and a member of the mint family.

Butterfly Weed Asclepias Tuberosa

Butterfly Weed Asclepias Tuberosa

Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed
Butterflies, especially monarchs, love this summer flowering perennial. Attractive red buds open to orange flowers. A well-behaved plant that needs little attention. Tolerates poor, well-drained soil. Fast growing with upright stems to 3 feet tall.

Butterfly gardens helps conserve butterfly species that are quickly disappearing. Set up your outdoor furniture near the display so you can enjoy the plants – and their visitors.

More butterfly garden plants.

Basic components and plants for a butterfly garden

May 30, 2013 by Steve Arnold

With many natural butterfly habitats lost to human activities like building homes, roads and farms, creating a butterfly garden is an easy way to see more butterflies and help them do their thing.

Echinacea TikiTorch

Echinacea “Tiki Torch”

The ideal butterfly garden is one that supports both the larvae (caterpillars) and the butterflies. A successful butterfly garden provides the right mix of flowers, shelter, water and sun. Using a wide variety of plants is important.

Plants for a butterfly garden should include “host plants and “food source plants.” Host plants are plant species on which butterflies like to lay their eggs. These include Dill, Fennel, Parsley, Milkweed, Clover and Paw Paw. When planning the design of your butterfly habitat, try to work these host plants in among the food source plants.

I like to spread them throughout the garden space somewhat randomly. In the case of Dill and Fennel, they also can add a beautiful texture to the garden.

The food source plants are the fun, colorful flowering plants we envision when we think of butterfly gardens. Gardeners in Nashville and Middle Tennessee have many options among great perennial plants that attract both larvae and adult butterflies.

A few to consider:

Magnus Echinacea

Magnus Echinacea

Echinacea purpurea ‘Tiki Torch’ Coneflower
Large, bright pumpkin orange flowers atop well-branched stems make this vigorous grower a superb addition to perennial borders and cottage gardens. Flowers are good for arrangements. Herbaceous perennial. Forms an upright clump 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ Purple Coneflower
A well-behaved plant with bold six-inch wide, magenta-rose flowers; petals are horizontal, not pendulous. Attracts butterflies; perfect for the informal, nature-inspired garden. Excellent cut flower. Perennial. Fast grower to 3 feet tall, forming clumps.

Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’
Among the best border perennials available, this is one of our native North American wildflowers. Plants make a bushy, upright clump with a profuse display of brown-eyed, golden-orange daisies from midsummer through the fall. Seedheads have good winter interest. A terrific choice for mass planting, combining especially well with ornamental grasses. Increase blooming time by removing faded flowers regularly. Grows to 24 inches tall and wide.

Goldstrum Rudebeckia

Goldstrum Rudebeckia

Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ Stonecrop
Attractive, clumping perennial displays large, plate-like flower clusters that start pink then turn to a rosy russet. Succulent, solid-looking leaves give it a substantial presence in the garden. A fine addition to the rock garden or mixed border, where its flower heads will remain attractive into autumn. Deciduous. Moderate grower 18-to-24 inches tall and wide.

Lo & Behold Buddleia Purple Haze Butterfly Bush
This easy-care, dwarf shrub has a unique, horizontal, low spreading habit with feather-like deep green leaves and showy spikes of dark purple-blue flowers that radiate outward and downward. It is perfect for massing in borders and among the must-have plants for a butterfly garden Purple Haze blooms continuously from summer to fall but wiill not produce unwanted seedlings. Reaches 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 3 1/2 feet wide.

Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’ Catmint
Showy periwinkle blue flower spikes adorn the fragrant mounds of gray-green foliage. Excellent for cascading off walls or container edges and as groundcover that is somewhat drought resistant with time. Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Herbaceous. Reaches 24 to 30 inches tall, spreading to 36 inches wide.

More plants for a butterfly garden.

Tips for Planting Azaleas in TN

April 17, 2013 by Steve Arnold

azalea3Azaleas can be one of the most breathtaking plants in the spring garden. We’ve all seen a mass of Azaleas in full bloom; beautiful mounds of brightly colored blooms, and thought about how great it would be to have that in our own landscapes. Unfortunately, Azaleas have gotten a bad rap for being difficult to grow in Nashville. While it’s true that there are locales better suited to the Azalea’s specific needs, with the proper soil preparation and planting techniques, we can all grow and enjoy these fantastic shrubs.

Azaleas have a few basic needs that must be met if you want them to thrive. They like moist, but well drained soil. In middle TN, that’s a tough thing to find. Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to create! They also need to be somewhat sheltered from the hot afternoon sun. The ideal planting location for most Azaleas would be under a tall canopy, with bright morning sun and afternoon shade, but they will survive and even thrive in less than perfect placement.

Soil preparation is absolutely key in planting Azaleas. I once heard a weathered plantsman refer to Pink azaleathem as “the $3 plant that needs a $5 hole”. While that may be an exaggeration, planting them incorrectly will almost invariably result in a dead shrub and hard feelings.

When planting Azaleas (or Rhododendron, Camellias, Pieris and all other acid loving mountain dwellers), the first step is soil amendment. You will want a loose, organic amendment. The least expensive of these is “soil conditioner”, which is usually finely ground pine bark and leaf compost. The best (and, of course, most expensive) soil amendment for Azaleas that I’ve ever found is called “Woodland Soil Mix”. I find that you get what you pay for with amendments, and WSM can’t be beat for too many reasons to list here. Which ever material you choose to amend your soil with, the same basic rules apply:

  1. Dig your hole approximately 2 times wider than the root structure of the new plant, and as deep or slightly shallower than the root mass.
  2. Make one or two piles of the soil you’ve just removed and mix the amendment with that soil thoroughly. The best mixture rate is about 50/50.
  3. When installing the plant, make sure that the top of the root structure (or the soil level in the container) is just above your existing soil level. In exceptionally heavy soils, the root ball can be planted as high as 1/3 above grade. (See illustration)
  4. Backfill the hole with your amended soil. You will want the soil level at the edge of your planting hole to be at the same grade as the surrounding soil, and it should slope up to the top of the root ball of your Azalea. This will ensure that water doesn’t pool at the base of the plant, and excess water can drain away from the roots.

Some people choose to add peat and sulfur to their backfill soil with the idea of acidifying it, but Orange and Yellow azalea99% of the native soil in middle Tennessee is already acidic enough to keep Azaleas happy. If, however, you really want to go above and beyond, try mixing Mycorrhizae in your backfill. Mycorrhizae are a group of soil born fungi that live in symbiosis with higher plants. They attach to plant roots and take a small amount of sugars from the plant, but repay it with more nutrients and water than the plant’s roots could have absorbed otherwise.

Maintaining your Azaleas is as easy as most other landscape plants. If trimming is needed, it’s best done right after they bloom so the next bloom cycle isn’t affected. Fertilize in early spring to give them a boost for bloom time. My favorite fertilizer for Azaleas is Holly-Tone, an organic fertilizer for acid lovers.

Good luck with your Azalea adventures this spring!

It’s the season for Hellebores in Middle Tennessee again!

February 1, 2013 by Steve Arnold

Few perennials rival the seasonal interest of Hellebores, often called Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose.

These staples of the winter garden are among the most coveted of plants by those in the know. Outside plant enthusiast circles, Hellebores remain relatively unknown because they don’t flower quickly from seed and often finish flowering before most folks visit garden centers in early spring.

Hellebores have long been grown in gardens, originally for their medicinal properties. Hellebores are filled with alkaloid toxins and have been used both as a poison and a purgative. The toxicity makes them ideal “deer resistant” garden options for areas, like much of Nashville, that see deer and other wildlife.

In Tennessee, many species crosses and hybrid varieties available are available but I will focus on the most common. The easiest Helleborus for us to grow are the orientalis hybrids.

The flower colors of Helleborus x hybridus enthrall plant collectors, as each one is dramatically different. The colors range from black-purple to red-purple, to white, pink, and even yellow …. all depending on the parentage of the species. Patterns on the blooms add even more fun, with breeders coaxing different colored speckles both to flower the center and edge.

Hellebore breeders also work on flower shape. Some opt for cupped flowers, while others work towards breeding large, flat, open flowers. Some breeders prefer up-facing flowers, while others prefer the natural bell-like form, where the colors are seen only on the back of the flowers. The latest creations are double flowered and anemone-flowered forms, where a second row of petals makes an attractive collar inside the large calyx.

Very few landscapes don’t have a good location for a few single Hellebores or even a mass planting. I really enjoy creating an evergreen groundcover under a low-branched ornamental tree where it’s often almost impossible to grow grass. Rather than fight the shade and thirsty tree roots, just mass these beautiful perennials and let them take over on their own.

So, next time you’re out strolling through your yard, keep an eye out for a nice, shady spot for this tough, winter-blooming perennial.

How To Protect Your Plants from Cicadas

May 22, 2011 by Steve Arnold

CicadasIt’s cicada invasion time in Nashville. They are everywhere. Millions of them. You can see them, hear them, smell them and maybe even swear at them if one lands on you. Unless you are an entomologist or own a local car wash, you’re probably not too crazy about this “inconvenient” natural occurrence that seems to drag on way too long. Our mowing crew can attest that cicadas, which are normally harmless, can get aggressive once the guys start using noisy string trimmers and mowers.

There could be some minor cicada damage to young landscapes. Female cicadas lay eggs in the limbs and twigs of smaller trees and woody plants, as many as 600 eggs at a time. After about six weeks the eggs hatch and the “nymphs” drop to the ground and burrow into the soil where they remain for 13 to 17 years. It is the laying of eggs that poses a danger to small trees and shrubs. A female can make up to 20 slits in one branch to deposit her eggs. This usually causes the branch to eventually wilt and die.

If you are concerned about the potential damage on some of your newer plantings, it is possible to cicadacover young trees and shrubs with a thin cloth to keep the cicadas away from the branches. You could just smile and see this entire ordeal as some free aeration and extra nutrients for the soil. Like it or not, it’s all part of nature, which we all are a part. Maybe the cicadas are a reminder to look around us each day at all the amazing life on our planet and to not take any of it for granted.

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