ShadyGardens Blog

November 20, 2008

Sourwood Tree

Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because in addition to beautiful maroon foliage in early fall, Sourwood has fragrant blooms in early summer that look and smell like Lily of the Valley!

Sourwood is a very ornamental small to medium-sized tree native to the United States. Leaves of Oxydendron arboreum possess a sour taste, giving the plant the common name of Sourwood.

Lovely clusters of sweet smelling blossoms hang delicately from the tree in early summer. Later the blooms develop into attractive seed clusters that are usually still hanging on the tree in fall when foliage turns its fire-red fall color.
Leaves begin to change from green to red as early as August. Autumn color can be a combination of red, burgundy, and purple!

The photo shows a small tree in my garden in November, but some large specimens can be seen at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Sourwood prefers a semi-sheltered position in partial shade–the edge of a woodland is perfect. This lovely tree also grows well in full sun and is a great choice for a roadside garden.

Although drought-tolerant once established, water regularly the first year after planting, to make sure your tree gets off to a healthy start.

An important source of nectar for honeybees, sourwood is a smart choice for our environment in light of the decrease in honeybee populations across the country.

July 30, 2008

Purple Passion Vine: Food for the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly!

Passiflora Incarnata is one of the most exotic-looking plants I can think of, yet it is native to right here in the Southeastern United States!

Dark green foliage begins scrambling over the ground and up neighboring shrubs in May each year. Soon after, large buds open into very unusual purple flowers that attract pollinators of every sort.

Purple Passionvine is an easy to grow deciduous vine that can be found growing along roadsides and in open fields in Eastern Alabama. Large serrated leaves have 3-5 lobes and can be up to 5 inches across. This plant forms tendrils which help it climb up nearby support.

Passionvine, or Passionflower, is also often called Maypop, because of the large egg-shaped fruits that develop all along the vine. My parents say childeren used them as weapons in their day! Some say the fruit tastes much like guava, but it reminds me of green plums. The fruit will open with a ‘pop’ to reveal hundreds of pulpy seeds. Try sucking on them to enjoy the sourness.

Passiflora incarnata is an important larval food source for the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly, so you might observe orange caterpillars devouring your plant!

One suggestion is to plant Passionvine where it can scramble up a shrub, thus disguising the chewed leaves as you enjoy the flowers. (The caterpillars eat only the leaves & fruit–not the flowers.)

For more information, contact us at http://shadygardens.biz.

July 19, 2008

Attracting Butterflies into the Garden

Butterflies are probably everyone’s favorite garden creature. They’re beautiful, mysterious, and romantic. It’s a goal of many gardeners to attract these lovely butterflies into the garden.

Butterflies need 3 things: Water, a nectar source, and host plants on which to lay their eggs.

The preferred source of water for butterflies is a mud puddle. This can be easily created by filling a large clay saucer with clean sand. Place this in a sunny spot in your butterfly garden and keep it moist at all times.

Nectar plants are the food source for adult butterflies. You’ll need Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) of course, which is now available in many colors. Lantana can’t be beat for attracting butterflies. Clethra is a large-growing native shrub that produces sweetly scented flower spikes up to 6 inches long in either pink or white and attracts butterflies by the hundreds. These blooms come in August, a time when flowers are more scarce. You’ll enjoy the fragrance as well, which reminds me of fresh honey. Clethra, also known as Summersweet and Sweet Pepper Bush requires moist soil and full to partial sun. Joe Pye Weed comes in many forms. Eupatorium Chocolate has interesting purplish/black foliage all summer and contrasting white blooms in September & October. Eupatorium coelestinum, Perennial Ageratum or Mistflower, displays bright periwinkle blue blooms in August and September. Helianthus is another late-blooming flower that butterflies love—it has large yellow sunflower-type blooms on tall stems. Of course all the beneficial insects, including butterflies, love Blackeyed Susan, Gaillardia (Blanketflower). In September, butterflies are attracted to Stonecrop (Sedums like Autumn Joy, Matrona, and Vera Jamison.) Dianthus flowers just about all summer, and butterflies are particularly attracted to this plant. You can fill in between bloom times of the perennials with annuals like cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias. Just try not to ever use pesticides in your butterfly garden, because then you would kill the butterflies you are trying to attract.

Host plants are those on which butterflies lay their eggs. Yes, the larva will eat the plants, but without a place for the babies to grow into the beautiful adult butterfly, you can’t have the butterflies! So plant extra parsley, dill, fennel, and milkweed, so you can have plenty to share with the butterflies. An added bonus is that these plants also attract many other beneficial insects!

For more information on this topic, contact us at http://shadygardens.biz/.

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