Obedient Plant

Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana is a great native nectar plant that will carry your garden into fall. This attractive perennial has long-lasting snapdragon-like pink to lavender tubular blossoms that bloom successively for four to six weeks starting at the bottom of the spike. The flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds, long-tongued bees, butterflies and bumblebees. Its square stem is typical of the mint family, and, like other mint family members, deer will avoid it. It is called “obedient” because if the flowers are bent, they tend to stay in the new position for a while.
You do not have to bend the blossoms of obedient plant intentionally; it happens to mine when I fail to steak this tall growing plant and the rain or wind knocks them over. In the Atlanta area it grows 3-6 feet and blooms late August to October. Its native habitats include riverbanks, wet thickets, prairies, pine savannahs, swamps, and low grounds so it does well in damp areas and rain gardens and will grow in sand, clay, limestone and soil with poor drainage. It is happiest in full sun and moist soil but will take part shade and dryer soil and is somewhat drought tolerant. Mine are in plain soil that is mostly clay, I never water them, and this is their third summer. Next spring I’ll look at dividing them.
Like mountain mint and other members of the mint family it can be aggressive in a garden because it spreads by stolons. Decide if you will allow it to take over an area or grow it next to an equally aggressive plant and let them fight it out, or just remove any unwanted plants as they are shallow-rooted (2-4” deep), so, do-not fear the obedient plant, this is one “aggressive” plant you can tame!
Obedient plant can be propagated by root division or seed. Clumps that form from spreading stolons can be divided in early spring or late fall. Plant seeds in fall or in spring after 2 months damp stratification or winter sow. Sow seeds just below the surface and keep moist. Colors will vairy from magenta to pale pink when reproduced by seed. Plants bloom 2nd year from seed; 1st year from clump division. We usually have some for sale at our annual spring plant sale, the last Saturday in April.

Milkweed Bugs

Are Your Milkweeds Going to Seed?
Do you want to Harvest the Seed?
If not, don’t worry about it! If so, Protect the Seed!

The Milkweed Bug Oncopeltus fasciatus. You will see that orange-red and black six-legged critter on your milkweeds this time of year. They are herbivores but highly specialized. Like the pickiest eater you know, they only eat one type of food, milkweeds. You will never see them on your tomatoes, squash, or roses, so do not fear the milkweed bug! They do not bite or sting and will never chase you down. They are used as research insects because they are so docile and easy to manipulate. Their only “natural” predator is a gardener with a hose. Since they have no other natural predators, you’ll notice they’ve never learned to escape quickly so you can pick them off. There is no need for chemical assault, not to mention the damage you do to your monarchs if you apply chemicals.
You see, the red and black color combination is no mistake; it is a warning sign to any potential predator that they will be a particularly nasty meal. Their tissue is infused with the toxins from milkweed sap which they ingest with their piercing proboscis. They feed on leaves, stems, and seeds but do not usually cause excessive damage to the plant. If you want to collect seeds to use or share next year, it would be a good idea to protect the pods you want with an organza mesh bag. That way, you can be sure that all the embryos have adequately developed without being robbed of nutrition by our little danger flagmen.
You will notice little brown spots on the surface of the green pods that are not protected. The pod was pierced to get to a developing seed in these spots. The bugs do not destroy all the seeds in the pod but given that Monarchs have just been put on the endangered species list, I want to ensure I’m handing out good seeds when I encourage folks to plant them.
You can find organza bags on the internet and at craft stores. I recommend using white bags to reduce heat absorption; they come in different sizes and can be reused yearly.
For more on these little critters see this link at the Pollinator Web:

Trumpet Vine, Hummingbirds and Ants

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)– A rambunctious, beautiful, native flowering vine, that is aggressive and can take over quickly! It grows wild in my yard. The underground root system is well established and pops up under every shrub and next to every tree we have. I am constantly battling it. When the plumber put in a 12-foot-tall white vent pipe for my new, costly septic system, I immediately painted it green to blend in, put chicken wire on it, and planted coral vine at the base. Besides the coral vine, trumpet creeper grew, and this time I said, “Why not! If it grows quickly, perhaps it will cover and hide the pipe, and hummingbirds are supposed to love the flowers, and I love hummers, so win-win.” Not so fast!

Finally, in its third year, we have a consistent trumpet vine bloom, but the hummingbirds do not frequent it! @#$%^&* Why not? I sit in my little spy position, waiting to get a picture of a hummer frequenting a flower, which never happens. They visit other flowers. I don’t spray poisons. The answer came in a recent post in Terry Johnson’s Backyardwildlifeconnection blog. It seems hummingbirds can smell the trail of insects that can hurt them, including the formic acid of ants!

Sure enough, there are relatively large ants all over my trumpet creeper. iNaturalist identifies them as Pale Field Ants Formica pallidefulva. I tried to find out more about these critters. A website sells them for people with ant farms because they are “entertaining to watch.” These ants forage for both sugars and live prey.
“When they hunt, they grab their prey’s legs and stretch it out. Then some workers spit formic acid all over them.” – Canada Ant Colony

Charming little critters! I doubt these ants have the herculean strength they would need to subdue a hummingbird, but a bite is a bite. The hummers are wise to stay away.

So, what to do? These ants’ hives are entirely underground, and I’ve not been bitten. I don’t particularly want to kill them; they do eat aphids. On the internet, I found a natural ant repellent that is supposed to be safe around birds, pets, and kids. The active ingredient is cinnamon oil. I may have to spray the trumpet creeper with a soap solution to remove the formic acid still present since it is only partially soluble in water. Maybe our fourth year with trumpet creeper will be the charm!

If you are not a subscriber to Terry Johnson’s Backyardwildlifeconnection https://backyardwildlifeconnection.com I highly recommend it. Terry is a retired DNR wildlife biologist who specialized in endangered wildlife and is the current Executive Director of The Environmental Resource Network (TERN). He will keep you up to date on all things related to the special creatures of Georgia.

Biological Warfare!

If you are inclined to think about protecting your plants with chemical warfare, I invite you to have a paradigm shift to biological warfare. Get nature on your side. You have heard all the reasons not to spray ad nauseum:
• it harms the environment
• it kills caterpillars which are baby bird food
• it kills butterflies
• it is hazardous to our health
• it is hazardous to pets
• nag, nag, nag, nag, nag!

But what are you supposed to do when trying to sleep in bed at night? You can almost hear the little monsters (you know the monster in Alien was based on insects!) chomping away at your plants?!
I say, invite in their enemies, something that will chomp away at them! Biological warfare is the way to go—plant mountain mint. Yes, pollinators love it, but more importantly, “beneficial insects” love it. “Beneficial” is a blanket term to cover all the critters that aren’t butterflies, bees, or moths. In this case, we are talking WASPS! Yes, I said wasps; predators, carnivores, attack weapons against aphids, beetles, armyworms, and anything else munching on your plants.
Don’t run screaming like a little sissy; this is warfare! First of all, the wasps have no interest in you, don’t grab them, and you don’t get stung. I got within two inches of them to take their pictures, and they could not have cared less. All they cared about was the pollen and nectar of the mountain mint. What? They have babies too. They feed pollen and nectar to their young; a beetle is not wasp baby food. In a half-hour, I took pictures of thirteen different pollinators, one honeybee, four native bees, one fly, and the rest were wasps. Some more critters were too fast for me to photograph.
Mountain mint is not the most beautiful plant, but it is pleasant enough and has a long bloom period, a month or more in July. Mine is clustered mountain mint Pycnanthemum muticum; it grows in full sun to shade; it is an herbaceous perennial and, as a bonus, is deer resistant! The leaves have a strong minty odor when crushed. It grows in fertile, moist to medium moisture, well-drained soils. It reproduces by seed or rhizomes. If you don’t want it to spread, prune the roots in the spring or divide and pass offshoots to a friend.
If you are worried about your plants before and after the mountain mint bloom period, don’t. Below is a list of plants that may meet your needs. What you are looking for in our biological warfare against plant-eating critters are plants classified as CBC plants, Conservation Biological Control. For descriptions and growth requirements, you can go to the NCSU Gardeners Toolbox (https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu) or the Johnson Wildflower Center (https://www.wildflower.org). Once you have your CBC plants established, you can sleep at peace at night knowing you have Mother Nature on your side, and you are on her side as well.

The Earth Friendly Alternative to Insecticides: Native Plants
That Support Conservation Biological Control in Georgia

CBC plant – A plant that attracts predatory or parasitoid insects that prey upon pest insects.
Beneficial insects need shelter and another food source in their diet, such as the sugars from flowers to mature their eggs. Parasitoids lay their eggs on caterpillars which will hatch and kill them. Other beneficials will lay their eggs on plants; the larvae hatch and feed on pests.
• Use a wide variety of attractive plants. Plants that flower at different times of the year can provide beneficials nectar and pollen when they need it.
• Plantings at least four feet by four feet of each variety work best at attracting beneficials.
• A bird bath or backyard water feature not only attracts birds (another predator of insects) but also attracts beneficials.
• Tolerate minor pest infestations. The beneficial insects will get the memo before you do. This will provide another food source for the beneficials and help keep them in your yard.

Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood)
Crataegus mollis (Downy hawthorn)
Prunus serotina (Black cherry)
• Salix nigra (Black willow)
Tilia americana (American basswood)

• Shrubs
Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea)
Salix cordata (Heartleaf willow)
Viburnum dentatum (Southern arrowwood)
Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw)

• Forbs
Achillea millefolium (Common yarrow)
Ageratina altissima (White snakeroot)
Allium cernuum (Nodding onion)
Angelica venenosa (Harry Angelica)
Antennaria plantaginifolia (Woman’s tobacco)
Apocynum androsaemifolium (Spreading dogbane)
Apocynum cannabinum (Indian hemp)
Arnoglossum atriplicifolium (Pale indian plantain)
Bidens aristosa (Bearded beggarticks)
Bidens laevis (Smooth beggartick)
Chamaecrista fasciculata (Partridge pea)
Cicuta maculata (Spotted water hemlock)
Comandra umbellata (Bastard toadflax)
Conoclinium coelestinum (Blue mistflower)
Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf coreopsis)
Eriogonum tomentosum (Dog-tongue Buckwheat)
Eryngium yuccifolium (Rattlesnake master)
Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common boneset)
Heliopsis helianthoides (Smooth oxeye)
Heracleum maximum (Common cow parsnip)
Krigia biflora (Two-flower dwarf dandelion)
Lobelia siphilitica (Great blue lobelia)
Monarda punctata (Spotted beebalm)
Oxypolis rigidior (Stiff cowbane)
Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium (Sweet
Ranunculus fascicularis (Early buttercup)
Silphium perfoliatum (Cup plant)
Sium suave (Hemlock waterparsnip)
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum var. lateriflorum
(Calico aster)(the only aster)
Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s root)
Zizia aptera (Heart-leaved meadow parsnip)
Zizia aurea (Golden zizia)

Whole Genera
Asclepias genus (milkweeds spp.)
Erigeron genus (fleabane spp.)
Pycnanthemum genus (most mountain mints)
Rhus genus (most sumacs)
Sambucus genus (most elderberries)
Solidago genus (Goldenrod spp.)