Plant Profile: Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

I love Agastache. Plain and simple, I love them. What’s not to love? They attract bees and butterflies, are extremely drought tolerant, and bloom all season. That’s about all that you can ask for in a perennial.

Agastache foeniculum, in particular, is a knockout perennial. It has lavender-purple blooms that start in May and continue all season. The blooms are held on upright spikes above the 3′ tall fragrant foliage. The fragrant foliage is a deterrent to deer. That’s another tick mark on the plus side of the equation for growing Agastache. Bees and butterflies are drawn to Agastache like a moth to a flame. It is truly a magnet for all types of our six-legged friends including beneficial insects that take care of the nasties that want to decimate our gardens.

agastache

 

Look at that little guy…so happy to be in the vegetable garden eating and pollinating all at the same time. These are plants that I grew from seed last year and they are ginormous this year. They’ve already been blooming for weeks and will continue for months more. Have I mentioned that I love Agastache?

There are a few cultural conditions to keep in mind when growing Agastache. The first is the soil. Agastache are native to dry areas with poor soil. Don’t plant them where the soil is too rich or they’ll end up all floppy. They won’t die but they won’t be impressive either. Also, don’t plant them in wet soil. They must have well-drained soil and they actually prefer droughty conditions once they are established. You can water them but you may force too much top growth and then you end up with the floppiness issue again. Their last cultural requirement is sun. They can tolerate a tiny bit of shade but they prefer the fullest of sun. You almost can’t give them too much sun. Agastache is hardy to Zone 4.

One other thing to keep in mind when planting Agastache foeniculum is that they reseed readily. You can expect to have many more baby Agastache next year surrounding your original plants. They are easy enough to remove if you don’t need anymore but why not give them to your gardening friends or transplant them around the garden. If your garden beds are filling up and you have a veggie garden, move a few out there. Your cucumbers and tomatoes will thank you!

Have you grown Agastache in your garden? What are your opinions? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. I’d love to share your experiences with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

agastache

 

 

 

Friday Free For All: Where Are All of the Bees?

Today’s topic is one that has me concerned…where are all of the bees? Seriously, I haven’t seen nearly the volume that I normally would for this time of year. In early spring, I noticed the honeybees devouring a corkscrew willow at a customer’s home. I didn’t know that honeybees were so attracted to willow blooms. The blooms are very unimpressive…here’s a picture:

where are all of the bees

 

I know of a gentleman who had a swarm try to take up residency in a nearby crape myrtle. But that’s it. The Salvia ‘May Night’ are in full bloom and have been so for several weeks. Salvia is one of those plants that usually trembles from all of the bees feasting on them. This spring? Nothing. The clover is in full bloom now and I’ve noticed a couple of honeybees but it’s only been a couple.

I’ve asked other horticulturists and people who observe the outside world around them and they haven’t seen the bees either. Is something going on that I’m not aware of? I am hopeful that there is a beekeeper in the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community that can shed some light on the missing bees. I plan on calling my local Extension agent tomorrow to see if he’s been hearing the same story from other gardeners.

Please chime in by leaving me a comment as to whether you have seen the bees this spring…it would be helpful if you give your geographic location so that we can see if it’s just a local phenomenom. Perhaps the bees are just hiding from me! If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Plant Profile: Salvia ‘May Night’

Today’s Plant Profile is about one of my favorite perennials: Salvia ‘May Night’. Officially, the Latin name is Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ but it usually goes by Salvia ‘May Night’, May Night Sage or just May Night. It is one of those plants that belong in every garden, unless you have a shady garden like me. Salvia ‘May Night’ prefers full sun but it can survive in some dappled shade. It can survive the hottest of hot areas and actually prefers the heat. It is very drought tolerant once established and it’s only requirement regarding moisture is that you not give it too much. It will reach 18″-24″ tall by 24″ wide over time so it makes a perfect plant for the front of the border.

Salvia ‘May Night’ begins blooming in April and the blooms just keep on coming until frost. This picture was taken just about a week ago.

salvia may night

As with most long blooming perennials, it will provide the best show if it is kept deadheaded but you don’t have to fret about this. If you are a lazy gardener like me, just wait until most of the blooms are spent and then cut all of the bloom stalks off. Simple enough.

When and if you deadhead your Salvia ‘May Night’, you may have to shoo away the bumble bees and honey bees. They absolutely love it. Your plants will be covered with bees and some butterflies too. If you want to attract beneficials to your garden, Salvia ‘May Night’ is an excellent choice.

The only drawback to May Night, if you can call it one, is that the foliage smells…well…urineferous. That’s a word that I learned from Dr. Niemeira at Virginia Tech; he used it to describe the blooms of boxwood. Yep, the foliage smells like pee. There’s really no other way to put it. But unless you make a habit of rubbing the foliage, you won’t even notice it. There is one creature with a better nose than us that will notice the smell though: deer. Deer generally steer clear of plants with smelly foliage like herbs and in this case, Salvia ‘May Night’.

The foliage is semi-evergreen in Virginia. It’s there for most of the winter but eventually it starts to look pretty crispy as the winter wears on. I wouldn’t grow Salvia ‘May Night’ for its winter foliage but I would grow it for the other 9 months of the year when it shines in the garden. It’s hardy to Zone 5 so it should be a long lived, reliable perennial in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Let me know if you have experience with Salvia ‘May Night’ by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

April 11, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Pests and Diseases: Carpenter Bees

In today’s post, I thought we would look at carpenter bees. While they resemble bumble bees, they are definitely different. If you’re into getting up close and personal, you’ll notice that the abdomen of carpenter bees is black and shiny whereas the abdomen of bumble bees is hairy and has yellow stripes. If you don’t want to get too close, just notice their habits. Carpenter bees are most often spotted hanging around eaves and other wooden surfaces in the spring or early summer. This year, the carpenter bees have been quite active already.

This time of year is when you will see the bees flying in great numbers and hovering around wooden structures…what you are witnessing is actually the courting ritual. The males are trying to impress the females, and while the males will often hover at the tip of your nose, there’s no reason to be frightened; the males don’t even have a stinger.

carpenter bees

Photo courtesy of www.carpenterbees.net

The female will excavate holes that are about the diameter of your finger into the wood so that she can lay her eggs. Her eggs will develop in the nesting holes and will emerge in late summer as adults. When it’s time for winter to roll around, the adults will go back to the nesting holes to overwinter. The damage that carpenter bees can inflict on a wooden structure can be quite impressive. There are several theories on the best method for controlling them…here are a few:

  1. Paint or stain the wood. Carpenter bees prefer wood that is untreated for their nesting holes. It is generally believed that painted wood seems to deter them more than staining does.
  2. Fill the holes. To me, this is like playing the whack-a-mole game at Chuck E. Cheese. You fill in one hole so the bee just moves over a bit and lays more eggs in a different location.
  3. Use insecticide. I am totally against this. Period.
  4. Alternative nesting areas. If carpenter bees are particularly worrisome around your home, consider providing wood that they can use as nesting areas. Sure, you can’t put up a vacancy sign at the desired location but you can provide them shelter. After all, they pollinate fruits and veggies too, ya know.

 

I should also note that while carpenter bees lay their eggs in wood, bumble bees form nests in the ground. That should help you ID them better as well. If you have experience with carpenter bees and would like to recommend any other treatments, please leave a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Reader Question: Attracting Bees to Your Garden

 

Today’s Reader Question comes from Jack in Warsaw, VA:

I enjoyed reading your post about dandelions and their role in providing nectar sources for bees. I would like to encourage bees in my garden; can you provide a list of plants that I can use to entice them? I prefer plants that come back year after year.

attracting bees to your gardenJack, I’m glad that you see the benefit of attracting bees to your garden. Without them, our plates would be pretty empty and the garden would be depressing. But with them, we are able to enjoy delicious tomatoes, savory peppers and crispy cucumbers. Let’s dig right into plants that can be used for attracting bees to your garden.

  • Hollies like Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’
  • Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii)
  • Salvia of all sorts (Salvia greggii, Salvia nemerosa)
  • Catmint (Nepeta cultivars like ‘Dropmore’, ‘Six Hills Giant’)
  • Mints – do NOT plants these in the ground or they will take over your garden
  • Sedum – especially the fall blooming types like ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Matrona’
  • Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum)
  • Veronica – they seem to like the incana cultivars like ‘Sunny Border Blue’
  • Boltonia asteroides
  • Asters
  • Beebalm (Monarda didyma and its cultivars)
  • Anise Hyssop (Agastache spp.) – any Agastache species will be covered in bees
  • Sunflower – Helianthus annuus is the tall annual type but there are lots of perennial sunflowers
  • Lavender
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

 

Sorry that these are out of order alphabetically…I was just typing them as they came to me. Also, don’t forget that bees love clover. If you have clover in your lawn, allow it to flower before mowing. Consider too that clover is a plant that takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the roots…that’s a sustainable plant! Jack, I hope that this offers you some insight into plants that bees love. Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers, feel free to chime in with your favorite plants for attracting bees to your garden. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

March 15, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Friday Free For All: The Much Maligned Dandelion

 

In today’s Friday Free For All post, I thought we would take a look at the much maligned dandelion. I hope that I can put a different spin on what most gardeners consider a weed. Dandelions are probably one of the most targeted weeds in the lawn and garden…it’s a close tie with crabgrass if I were guessing. I wrote a post about weeds but just touched on the dandelion. Let’s take a closer look.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are native to Eurasia but they have made themselves quite at home in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. They are a perennial weed which means that they come back from the roots each year. You can pull the tops off all you’d like but all you’re effectively doing is pruning it. Unless every piece of the root is removed, you’ll have dandelions for years to come. Now let’s step back from the conventional way of viewing a lawn and decide if that is necessarily a bad thing.

dandelionWhat do dandelions have going for them? First and foremost in my mind is that they bloom at a time of the year when few other things are blooming. This timing coincides with the first flights of bees for the season. Bees adore dandelion blossoms and the flowers offer them an early drink of nectar. As bees are needed for virtually all of the pollination that occurs to bring you fruits and veggies, this early source of nourishment helps to get the hive going in the spring. That reason alone is enough for me to allow dandelions a place in my lawn. (that and I’m a lazy gardener)

Another reason to allow dandelions to grow where they may is that they make delicious salad greens. If your salads consist primarily of iceberg lettuce, you may not welcome these greens at first. If you pick the youngest leaves and offer your palate a chance to warm up to them, you may be surprised how tasty they can be. You can also add them to stir fries or steam them like you would kale; in my opinion, vinegar makes everything green more tasty.

How about wine? If you like to consume a little vino from time to time, you can take that weed in your garden and turn it into wine. Check out this recipe for a quick and easy homemade wine. Who knew that those pretty little flowers could do so much?

What about tea? The leaves can be dried and then steeped in water for a refreshing, albeit bitter, tea. The roots can also be used for tea; Jillian Michaels of Biggest Loser fame even recommends it as a way to lose extra water weight.

I hope that I’ve given you some alternative ways of thinking about dandelions. I certainly don’t want a lawn full of them but they also aren’t the bane of my existence. Let a few hang around in the lawn to attract bees to your garden in the early spring. And let a few survive for the pleasure of making wishes on the seedheads. Enjoy being in your garden and observing nature in her true form…don’t let a little plant take the joy out of gardening. Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

Friday Free For All: Your Garden in 2012

 

I’ve decided to name the Friday posts for the website “Friday Free For All” since we have set topics for every other day. In case you haven’t noticed, Monday is the Did You Know? posts, Tuesday is for Pests and Diseases, Wednesdays consist of Plant Profiles, Thursdays are for Reader Questions, and Friday is now the “Free For All” posts where we’ll cover all the other fun gardening topics that we didn’t get to the other four days.

Since 2011 is quickly coming to a close, I thought that we should look at what your plans are for 2012 in the garden. Perhaps you are looking to add a compost pile in the backyard or expand your veggie garden. Let’s look at a list of things and see how many you are willing to take on in the upcoming year.

  1. Start a compost pile
  2. Expand your existing compost pile so that you can turn more of your scraps into black gold
  3. Add vermicomposting (worm composting) which can be done under your kitchen sink
  4. Start a vegetable garden
  5. Expand your vegetable garden
  6. Plant a container of herbs or other veggies if your space is limited
  7. Add perennial veggies like strawberries or asparagus to your garden
  8. Add perennial shrubs like blackberries or gooseberries to your landscape
  9. Add an orchard, even if it is only a couple of trees
  10. Expand your orchard to include other producers like paw paws, pecans, and figs
  11. Add a rain barrel to catch stormwater runoff from your roof that can be used to water your garden
  12. Start your own vegetable, perennial or annual seeds indoors
  13. Build a cold frame that you can use to harden off your seedlings
  14. Add a greenhouse – it doesn’t have to be big or extravagant to get the job done
  15. Add compost to your landscape – if your trying to improve your lawn, add a 1/4″ layer over the top. Remember it’s all about feeding the soil, not the plants.
  16. Add hardscaping like paths or pergolas
  17. Add lighting to your landscape so that it can be enjoyed after sunset
  18. Add plants that will attract beneficials so that they can fight your battles against pests for you
  19. Add a beehive
  20. Add bat houses
  21. Add bird houses, bird baths and/or bird feeders
  22. Commit to using less or no pesticides in 2012

 

I hope that I’ve given you some ideas to incorporate into your landscape this year. I know that I haven’t thought of them all so leave me a comment below about what you plan to work on this year in your garden. If you’d like for me to expand on any of the above items, send me an e-mail at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Have a safe New Year’s Eve. See you in 2012!

December 30, 2011Permalink 1 Comment