Old Fashioned Daffodils

It’s that time of year when there’s yellow all around in Georgia — daffodils are blooming like crazy.  You can spot the old home sites where daffodils are blooming – Oakland Cemetery is abound with daffodils and I’m sure Gibbs Garden in Canton is a wonder to behold.

I remember when we had Mr. Daffodil Man speak to us at a GCMGA meeting years back – but the old fashioned daffodils continue to tug at my heart.  Mainly because these come from bulbs first grown from my Mom in Milledgeville – the Von Sion or Telemonius Plenus – occasionally known as Bread and Butter.  And they never bloom with consistent form each year as they’re truly weather dependent.  I always describe them as daffodils that look like chrysanthemums – and often they do – they can be gnarled and flop-headed and mop-headed and can have a touch of green in the flower… but they’re a wonder to behold when you find them. Read some history of these bulbs…. https://oldhousegardens.com/MoreAboutVanSion

Pioneer Species: Part 2 – Green Mulch Conquers Weeds

Pioneer species are the first plants to establish in an area after a disturbance. The disturbance may be a fire, a flood, a tree uprooting the soil as it falls, a tractor tilling the ground, or a gardener pulling weeds out by the roots. These things expose the seed bank already in the earth to sunlight they need to germinate. Part one of this series gave you some diagnostic characteristics in helping you identify the pioneer species of wildflowers in your gardens that you want to perpetuate beyond their natural life cycle. In Part 2, we will examine how to avoid the seeds in the seed bank that most folks do not want in their garden – weeds!

Most weeds are fast-growing annuals; you combat them by crowding them out (low tolerance for crowding is a trait of pioneer species) by having vigorous, healthy plants in your garden. This is where green mulch comes in. Look at plant spacing in your garden. If you leave space between plants for future growth, something will grow there voluntarily, most likely something you don’t want. Now I know most of us know to mulch our gardens, but we have used brown mulch in the past and we still had to weed. Then there was the annual expense of refreshing the mulch. With green mulch, you plant it once, get more flowers, fewer weeds, and vertical layering.

Green mulch is any low-growing plant that can spread, either by self-seeding, rhizomes, or stolons, filling the spaces between the primary plants of the garden; green mulch functions as the “matrix” in the landscape plan. As the primary plants grow more prominent, the matrix plants are shaded out, but their temporary presents provide many valuable services to the garden.

Green mulch covers the ground preventing light from getting to the soil, thus preventing weed seed germination. It also helps cool the earth and reduce evaporation, conserving moisture and helping break up the ground with its roots thereby increasing water infiltration while also helping to prevent erosion. Some natives that work well you may think of as weeds. This is the age of natives; let go of old ideas.

You will find native groundcovers on the internet or at native nurseries. Plants you can buy either bare root or in plugs are: Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata), Creeping Phlox (Phlox stoloniferous), an early nectar plant, and Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) a butterfly host plant. In two years, two bare-root packs of wild strawberries solidly covered an eighty-square-foot slope for me. If you are fortunate enough to have natives volunteer in your yard, then consider yourself lucky! These might be common blue violet (Viola sororia), a butterfly host; Carolina Ponyfoot (Dichondra carolina), a cultivar is sold in hanging baskets; Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis) a butterfly host plant; and Creeping Lespedeza (Lespedeza repens), a legume that nitrifies the soil.

Not sold on the idea, but willing to give it a try? During early spring find a spot under shrubs that don’t have a ground-hugging layer of plants or a bed that has yet to fill in and begin there. As your plants proliferate, you’ll be able to take cuttings to move to other areas.

Now I’m sure what caught your eye in the description of the disturbance is “tilling the ground, or a gardener pulling weeds.” You probably do one or both, so what are your options? If you grow veggies, you have probably heard of no-till gardening. I’ve never tried it; I don’t have a place for veggies except for my front lawn, hum? There are several references on the internet. Rather than take the advice of a random article, I recommend the Extension office at the University of New Hampshire. Yes, they are in the northeast, but the information still applies. Low and No-Till Gardening | Extension (unh.edu) https://extension.unh.edu/blog/2020/10/low-no-till-gardening

Don’t grow veggies? You have flower beds, and it is very satisfying pulling weeds out by their roots. You feel like you’ve at least eliminated that one. Well, you did, but you also brought up more weed seeds in the process. The recommended weeding process is to cut the weed at the soil line removing the photosynthetic part, which starves the roots. The root rots, providing organic nutrients for the soil.

Suppose the weed is something like a dandelion that may resprout from the root, cut it again before it disseminates seed. Dandelions have deep taproots; trying to pull out the whole root is sure to disturb the soil, and it may resprout from any part you leave behind. It is better to starve it by continuously removing the leaves, depleting its energy, and not allowing it to reproduce. The hardest part of this is the self-restraint it takes NOT to PULL!

Read more at Gardening Know How: What Is Living Mulch: How to Use Living Mulch As A Ground Cover https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/grains/cover-crops/living-mulch-ground-cover.htm

The UGA Extension service has an excellent publication on weeds, but it is currently being revised: Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses, Special Bulletin 31. I don’t know when the revised edition will come out. Meanwhile, if you need help identifying your weeds, you can look to Virginia Tech’s Start – Weed Identification (vt.edu). https://weedid.cals.vt.edu

Winter Sowing

Winter sowing is the “natural” alternative to scarification and stratification. If you have seeds that call for either or both, winter sowing is a great alternative, particularly if you do not have the space or money to have a rack of plant grow lights set up in your home or a temperature and moisture-controlled greenhouse.

When we scarify seed coats, we mimic the natural weakening of the seed coat that happens out in nature due to the freeze-thaw cycle of winter. Stratification mimics the chill days of winter. So, why not let the real winter do the work?

If you are working with native seeds from the southeast, they already have built into their DNA the naturally cool, warm, cold, freezing, warm fluctuations of the southeast winter weather. Do not worry that they will sprout; then a freeze will kill them. These are NOT non-native tropical plants fooled by Mother Nature; natives have her number! Their ancestors have survived hundreds if not thousands of winters here. They will sprout according to their timetable, not yours.

By putting your seeds in containers outside, you protect them from flooding rain and critters, and you don’t have to slowly harden off seedlings from the temperature of your home to the outside.

You can start any time after the plant drops seed; after all, the seeds would be there in nature, but now is a good time. Look at the species requirements to see how long the stratification period should be. If they are already in your refrigerator, you can still put them outside in a container.

There are several good guides on the internet. My two favorites are Six More Weeks of Winter!? Celebrate by Winter Sowing Your Seeds! – Dave’s Garden(https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/585) and Winter Sowing | A Simple Way to Start Seeds Outdoors | joe gardener®(https://joegardener.com/podcast/130-winter-sowing/)

One side note: Labels – markers fade outside from UV light. Use a dark paint pen, or if you only have a marker, mark the bottom of the container that is not exposed to the sun.

Pioneer Species: Part 1 – Wildflowers


“Pioneer Species,” now doesn’t that sound very American? Don’t you picture flowers hitching a ride in a covered wagon going over the Oregon Trail? No? They don’t have thumbs! Sorry for the 6th-grade humor, but that visual was how the term struck me many, many, many years ago when I first heard it in my college ecology class. Now, a zillion years later, I come back across it reading a book, Garden Revolution (highly recommended) by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher in their discussion of cardinal flowers. Larry Weaner’s Garden Revolution and How Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change – Garden Collage Magazine

The thing about pioneer species is that they go through their life cycle quickly, a few years, then die. If you don’t know that about a plant, you can’t see why it failed; you think that either you killed it or that it can’t grow in your garden, but it can if you make a couple of adjustments to its growing conditions.

Pioneer species are the first plants to establish in an area after a disturbance. The disturbance may be a fire, a flood, a tree uprooting the soil as it falls, a tractor tilling the ground, or a gardener pulling weeds out by the roots and disturbing the soil. These things expose the seed bank already in the earth to the surface and sunlight they need to germinate. The seed bank is the accumulated seeds from wind, gravity, or animals carrying them. Once deposited on the surface, they get incorporated into the soil by being buried in the leaf litter that decomposes and becomes soil. There they sit until they have the ideal conditions for germination: moisture, soil, and sunlight. These seeds have long viability, some ten years or more.

The plants we often refer to as weeds are pioneer species. The classic one is dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), an invasive that we have no real hope of eliminating. You might also be familiar with fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). It was the first plant to colonize Mt. Saint Helens after the eruption in 1980. In Great Britain, it is known as rosebay willowherb, where it quickly occupied the burned ground after the bombing of London in World War II. So, what does this have to do with your garden?

Pioneer species are wildflowers with seeds that have decent seed viability. You probably have some in your pollinator garden, but you don’t know which ones. So, you have to be on the lookout for the hints you get in the care guide of the plants. There are two primary hallmarks of these plants. If you want to have a continuous population of them in your garden, you can achieve it by being aware of them and adjusting their growing conditions. Otherwise, they end their life cycle and die off, and you don’t know why they died.

Let’s start with the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). It is a short-lived perennial lasting three to four years (first hallmark). It does not tolerate crowding; it is not aggressive. It can be crowded out (second hallmark). This makes sense if you think about its ecological function: to temporarily occupy an area until the next population of plants replaces it. A third characteristic specific to the cardinal flower is that it should not be mulched; it prefers bare ground. Mulching in the winter may cause the basal rosette to rot and prevents seed germination.

If you grow cardinal flowers (the hummingbirds will love you for it), you can perpetuate the patch following simple rules: keep the soil free of leaf litter and weeds, particularly in the spring when the seeds germinate. The plant grows its rosette the first year then blooms the second year on, so you will need to leap-frog generations. If you do not get seedlings the first year after the plant blooms, do the following: in the fall, take a few of the flower stalks once the seed pods are ripe, lay them on the bare soil between the parent plants, and leave them there all winter. You should have seedlings in the spring.

Other wildflowers that I have found to be pioneer species are:

  • Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), short-lived (1-2yrs) perennial.
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) biennial can be perpetuated if you save seeds, stratify them, and plant them the year the plant is in its rosette form.  The nativar, “Rudbeckia hirta” ‘Indian summer,’ is spectacular.
  • Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)- short-lived perennial
  • Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) – an annual
  • Gaura (Gaura biennis) – a biennial
  • Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) – a biennial
  • Tall Bellflower (Campanula americana) – an annual
  • Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) – semi-evergreen perennial – American Goldfinch love the seeds when they are still green
  • Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata) – sources are conflicted on this. I have seen it called an annual, biennial, and perennial. I guess it depends on the part of the country.
  • White snakeroot (Argeratina altissima) – perennial and a favorite of pollinators
  • Most Penstemons – short-lived (3-5 yrs.) perennials

This is not an exhaustive list; it is only those that I have come across in my gardening research. You may have none of these plants, one, or several and you may add to the list. Remember the two primary hallmarks of a pioneer: short-lived and does not tolerate competition. Knowing their needs, you can have these wildflowers for years to come.