Bottlebrush Buckeye – What’s Blooming Now

Bottlebrush Buckeye is a glorious native shrub for the landscape. They are stunning in flower, particularly when used in mass or on a tall bank. Blooming in that gap period between the spring flush and the fall asters bottlebrush helps fill the need for a food source for pollinators during the hot summer months when there are fewer plants in flower. Right now, these shrubs are abuzz with bees; you might also see butterflies, particularly eastern swallowtails, and if you are observant enough, you might see a hummingbird darting among the flowers. The blossoms are creamy-white and look like candelabras that are 6 to 24” long panicles that start blooming from the bottom, gradually opening flowers until reaching the top.

This is a sun to part-shade plant for moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil, but be prepared to give it room; it grows 6-10 feet and forms thickets that can grow as wide. Its native habitat is rich, moist woods and ravines. Bottlebrush buckeye can be used as shrubs in a hedgerow or as a specimen in the landscape. It is resistant to drought. It is deciduous, turning golden yellow in the fall—Hardy in zones 5 to 8.

A word of Caution! If eaten, all parts of this plant are highly poisonous to humans, cats, dogs, and horses. Toxicity depends on a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. The deer bit off half of the first flower stalk on mine; that was the only taste they needed to know they didn’t want anymore and did not cause further damage.

I bought mine at the Georgia Perimeter College Plant Sale in Decatur. Last year their Fall sale was on November 27. Fall is a great time to plant shrubs and you support the college’s horticulture program, a win-win. There is an extensive list of native plant sources on this website:

Mother Nature’s Love Potion

Mother Nature’s Love Potion
Alchemists and gypsies have been trying to create a sure-fire love potion for as long as people have been walking the Earth. Some potions even claim to be aphrodisiacs, named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. None succeed in this. But the idea of a love potion so permeated the collective conscious that Shakespeare based a Midsummer Night’s Dream on one with hilarious but misguided consequences.
All these human attempts have fallen flat. Meanwhile, Mother Nature has had her own, which has been going on quite effectively for a long time! Oh, it does not make you fall in love with someone else, but with her, Mother Nature. All gardeners have experienced this, including hikers, backpackers, and campers. Anyone who spends time in a garden or the woods for any length of time and feels the need to go back. Hopefully, it also makes you want to take care of Mother Earth. Why else would she be seducing you?
She fills the senses. The obvious is the sight of the blossoms, the sound of wind rustling through trees, and the smell of flowers. Have you ever smelled native azaleas? If all of this was not enough, Mother Nature also drugs us! Yep, that seductress inoculates us with Mycobacterium vaccae. This soil microbe increases serotonin production in our brains, making us happier and more relaxed. It is like taking Prozac with no side effects unless you count a beautiful garden.
The bacterium is in good soil, your compost pile, for instance. It can enter your bloodstream through a cut, but you also inhale it. It is in the air when the dirt is turned over or disturbed, say, by hikers. Scientists call its odor “geosmin,” the smell of good soil produced by microbes as they break down plants. It is what gives carrots and beets that earthy taste. Cooks call it “terroir,” the particular flavor is specific to your region’s soil.
If I were still teaching, I would bring a bucket of compost to school and put a scoop into a beaker for each student (you have to make it look scientific) and ask each of my students to tell me to describe the aroma. The pre-lab would have recorded their mood, as well as the post-lab. Then we tabulate the results and do statistical analysis. I bet at some point they would start laughing if, for no other reason, they thought I was crazy.
Have you heard of “Forest Bathing”? It is new lingo for spending time in the woods to destress, and NO, you don’t get naked, and water is not involved! It is a New Age trend in which you pay someone to teach you how to walk in the woods, breathe deeply and unwind. In an advanced class, you can sit in a yoga pose while breathing. Either way, you get a dose of Mycobacterium vaccae and are happy and relaxed.
On the research front, previous studies on mice have shown that M. vaccae had both anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties. In an article published Jan. 5, 2021, in “Frontiers in Physiology,” research on mice found that inoculation with M. vaccae leads to increased stress resilience, proactive coping behaviors, and stabilized gut microbiome. Understand that this is research on mice, not humans. Human research is years away, but this is promising.
All in all, this is one great calorie-free seduction that is good for you! Feel free to give into it. Of course, if you are reading this, you probably already have.
Read more at Gardening Know How: Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy

Its May! Time to Propagate!

Ode to Propagation

Taking cuttings with a snip
Is so easy, then you dip
Pretty soon you’ll have another
One for you and one for your mother!

It’s May! The best month for vegetative propagation! Yes, you can do it in other months, but there are more plant options now. I’ve included a list of plants and their recommended method of vegetative propagation in May. On the list is also indicated if the plant has rhizomes, if it does that is a good indicator that the plant propagates itself and forms clumps, but some do this slowly. If “best” is next to it, that indicates that separating the clumps is more successful than other methods. Let’s review the methods, easiest first.

Layering: This is great for a lot of shrubs. My mom used to bend a branch of anything she wanted to root down to the ground and put a brick or heavy rock on it. At the end of the season, in the fall, she would dig it up with roots intact, cut it off of the main plant and place it in the landscape where she wanted it to develop a stronger root system over the winter. That is still pretty much a great formula. You can also cover the part contacting the ground with some soil if you like.

Cuttings: can be divided into softwood and hardwood. May is the biggest vegetative propagation month because of the abundance of softwood available. This applies not only to shrubs but also to vines and herbaceous perennials. Softwood is the new growing stem. Hardwood, as its name suggests, has already become rigid. The method for taking the cuttings is the same.

1. Take cuttings with 4-6 leaves or leaf nodes. The cut should be done with a clean, sharp knife at an angle. You want as much surface area as possible, but you do not want to crush the stem, crushed cells rot. Take more cuttings than plants you want because some will not survive. If you wind up with too many plants, you can be a generous friend!

2. Remove all but the top two leaves. The tricky part about cuttings is the leaf surface that you allow to remain. It is a double-edged sword. On one side the leaf photosynthesizes to produce food so the cutting can grow roots, on the other side water is lost through evaporation from the leaf, and until the cutting has rooted the only surface area it has from which to take up water is that cut edge on the bottom. To hedge your bet, you can take many cuttings and vairy the amount of leaf surface you allow to remain. For large-leaved plants like hydrangea, cut the leaf to 1/3.

3. Dip the cut end of the stem in a rooting hormone and shake off the excess.

4. Then place it in your rooting medium. It is better if you dampen the medium first rather than watering later. Watering later can wash the rooting medium off. Push the stem all the way down in the medium until almost the leaves. This allows the stem to root at each node. Everyone has their favorite medium they like. Plain old garden soil can work, but I like a seed-starting mix to which I’ve added a good bit of sand. I like this because when I transplant them later there seems to be less damage to the roots when I take them from the pot.

5. Label and date it because you will not remember how long it has been since you started them!

6. Place a water-retaining cover, like a plastic soda bottle, over the cuttings and put the cuttings in the shade. (Full sun will cook them.)

7. Periodically check the soil for moisture, it should stay moist, but not soggy. It can take more than a month for your cuttings to root.

8. After a month, IF you have new growth of leaves you can transplant, but don’t be in a hurry; these are babies, give them time.

Division: The table mentions “root division”. This is different from plant division, and I have honestly never attempted root division. There has always been an alternative with which I am more familiar.

Plant Division: All the rhizomatous plants can be divided. For the herbaceous plants, this is usually a good time simply because you can see them! Dig up the whole plant and divide so that root, stem, and leaves go with each division doing the least amount of harm to the root system as possible. Use a sharp, clean knife. Replant immediately and water in. Expect a little dieback around the edges. For shrubs, I would wait until the fall so that the root system has the winter to reestablish in its new location.

Go Forth and Propagate!

Green stems typically do not have a lot of surface area to absorb water.
A mini soda bottle green house to retain moisture.

Violets and Bees, if You Please!

Violets! I know. You didn’t buy them. They didn’t cost you anything to get them; in fact, you may have spent money to try to get rid of them. We are a consumer society; we value what we pay for. I’m surprised that anyone values beautiful sunsets or a moon-lit night anymore, or do they?
I saw my first violet today, it struggled up between the sidewalk and a rock that borders the garden in front of our home. Why is it so amazing? Because it provides both pollen and nectar to the early emerging bees. Oh, and I just saw my first opened ground-dwelling bee nest.

Spring is here as far as many trees are concerned! Today I heard my first pollen count on the morning weather report! We are already in the medium to high range! Yes, it still gets cold at night so I will not be putting out any plants that are susceptible to a late freeze, but I’ve seen early cherry trees blooming and my ground-dwelling bees are waking up. What do you have to feed them????

The pollen today is alder and juniper (from Alders are wind-pollinated, but bees are happy to take the pollen anyway, but there is no nectar for them. Junipers are dioecious, only the male trees will have pollen and again, there is no nectar because junipers are also wind-pollinated. With a high pollen count, the bees will be fine, right? Wrong! Bees need nectar for energy. Pollen provides protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used by bees as larvae food. To keep the buzz going they need nectar.

Here is a list of high nectar, early spring plants:
Bellwort (Uvularia) Perennial
Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra) Perennial
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) Perennial
Violets (Viola) Perennial
Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum) Perennial
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) Perennial
Current and Gooseberry (Ribes) Shrub
Ash (Zanthoxylum) Tree
Black cherry (Prunus serotina) Tree
Wild Plumb (Prunus americana) Tree
Willow (Salix) Tree

Of the above plants, the only ones that provide both pollen and nectar are violets, black cherry, and wild plum, but with violets, you don’t have to wait years to start feeding the bees and having beauty in your garden.

Obviously, the volume that trees can provide will by far overshadow anything we can put into our gardens; I encourage you to plant trees for the years to come and improve your environment.

Meanwhile, that lovely little plant that some people consider a weed has everything bees need. When queen bumble bees come out of the ground, they need energy food! The same is true for all emerging bees. Violets are right down there with them, they are not hard to find, unless, of course, they frighten some poor human who runs in terror to get a shovel to dig it up, or worse, an herbicide to kill it contaminating the other plants and soil. Did I mention that violets tend to be herbicide-resistant? Stop spraying!

If that is not enough, violets are also a host to the Great Spangled Fritillary. So, if you find violets where you don’t want them, count your lucky stars that you have free pollinator plants and move them to your garden. You can even put them in your veggie garden as they are deer resistant and the leaves are high in vitamins A and C and can be used in salads or cooked as greens. The flowers can be made into candies and jellies. Violets are wonderful groundcovers that can take full sun and our clay soil but prefer part shade and loamy soil. They are spread by seed and rhizomes. Their seeds have elaiosomes which ants love to eat and carry off the seed for a great meal, they then discard the seed, usually underground. This is why you see violets pop up in unusual places. Violets are also great in rock gardens.

Our cultural mentality is, “If it didn’t cost me anything, then it isn’t worth anything.” That is the mentality that has been destroying the environment and the truth is that these “free” things like good water quality, clean air, native plants and animals like insects, birds, etc. are invaluable to our existence because they are part of the environment that keeps the production of our food going. Change your value system and see the violet for the gift that it is.

For further reading see this article at Penn State Extension: