Winter

Winter. Far from simply being a season that temperate-growing plants must adapt to, the deep chill of those long and dreary months are actually required by some plant species in order for for them to flower or even produce leaves. This is a process known as vernalization. It is easy to see how this may have evolved in different plant species. It makes no sense to bloom randomly or to grow when the world is blanketed with snow. In order to reproduce successfully, individuals of a species need to time their growth and their blooms so that they all happen together during the correct season. Whereas some species of plant tune into the relative lengths of day and night, others utilize temperatures to synchronize their life cycles. Many of our spring ephemerals require such vernalization in order to flower. What’s more, winter dormancy gives plants a much needed rest. Attempting to force a perennial to grow year round would cause the plant to quickly burn out and die. So, as you hunker down for the long winter months to come, you can rest easy knowing that the cold temperatures outside are doing your beloved plants some good.

Advertisements
Standard

Our native asters are all too often overlooked

Our native asters are all too often overlooked. Far more varied than the casual glance would suggest, there is pretty much an aster to fit almost any situation a gardener may have. Though many of our native species have been moved out of the genus aster and into a handful of others, they still maintain the aster look nonetheless. Either way, today we will focus on the upland prairie asters that we offer. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae – http://bit.ly/1q40WTb) is probably the most commonly encountered aster in the eastern US. It thrives in a variety of soil types and enjoys a lot of sun. Mature plants can reach upwards of 5 feet in height and put out one of the most impressive flower displays of any late-blooming plant. The color of the flowers can range from pink to deep purple and everything in between. Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laevis – http://bit.ly/ZdVZfj) differs from New England aster in that is is smooth to the touch and much smaller. The flowers are also regularly light lavender. Its twin, the sky blue aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiensis- http://bit.ly/1pFdc6s) differs in that it is rough to the touch. Its leaves also become smaller as they go up the stem. Sky blue aster is one of the latest blooming asters and is also the most tolerant of the three when it comes to dry soils. We also offer other upland prairie asters such as the heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides – http://bit.ly/1rSHTNj) and the aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium – http://bit.ly/1pFdGJN). All asters attract a menagerie of wildlife when in bloom. Everything from butterflies to bees and even beetles utilize the blooms of these species. Being late bloomers, the asters provide a bounty to insects looking to stock up on energy for the long winter ahead. A myriad of butterfly and moth larvae feed on the leaves of these species. What is most tantalizing about these asters is that, though deer browse on them, they are quite hardy and bounce back readily. Some even throw up more flowers after being munched upon. Each species will readily self-seed under the right conditions. This, however, is often kept in check as the seeds of these asters are quite nutritious and are thus readily gobbled up by hungry birds.

 

Standard

Who doesn’t want a little novelty in their garden?

Who doesn’t want a little novelty in their garden? For those of us looking for something different, why not consider the peculiar early and late figworts? Though nowhere near as showy as other flowering species, these two plants are nonetheless wonderful garden additions. Enjoying some sun, moist to somewhat dry conditions, and loamy, these figworts are sure to please. Their peculiar looking flowers may not look like pollinator beacons but they assuredly are. Producing copious amounts of nectar, the small, oddly shaped blooms are visited by everything from bees to butterflies to hummingbirds. A close inspection of the flowers is needed to tell these two apart from each other, though, as their common names suggest, their flowering times rarely overlap. Early figwort () blooms from May until July whereas late figwort () blooms from July until October. Each can obtain heights of well over 5 feet and will readily reseed in the right conditions. Their beauty is hard to capture in photos. These are definitely plants best enjoyed close up and in person. The tissues of these plants contain many acrid compounds and thus they are rarely browsed upon by herbivores. Rarely available from most nurseries, planting these strange figworts will surely bring joy and novelty to any native landscape.

 

Standard

Eco-Grass lawn alternative

Let’s face it, there is nothing ecologically friendly about a lawn. In 2005, NASA estimated that roughly 49,000 square miles of the United States alone were gobbled up by lawns. This makes it the nation’s largest irrigated crop area! What used to be forests, grasslands, marshes, and even deserts are now sterile squares of grass that do little to support local wildlife. What’s worse, our country turns to nasty chemicals and dumps billions of gallons onto their lawns on a daily basis. This is not sustainable. The simple and best alternative is to forego a lawn altogether but for those who want a lawn that is a slightly better alternative to the traditional turf option, we have a solution for you. Eco-Grass (http://bit.ly/1qM4kA2) is the name Prairie Moon gives to it’s blend of fine leaved fescue grasses that are a good alternative to the traditional bluegrass lawn. You can find these grass blends from a variety of other vendors. Price sometimes seems to be based on the glorified description and photos rather than the actual product. Fescue grasses are slow growing but also “tip over” once the grass has reached 4-6 inches in height. If left unmowed, they have a look sometimes described as a flowing carpet. This type of lawn can be mowed as little as once a month, which still gives it more of a manicured look. This grass is drought and shade tolerant while still performing well in full sun. As a lawn grass, perhaps the main drawback would be that of having a moderate wear tolerance. It does not stand up well to constant foot traffic. These are non-native grasses and thus, like traditional lawns, the biological activity is very low but still better than artificial turf. Like most lawn grasses, fall is the best time for installation because of the cool days and relatively warm nights.

 

Standard

We humans are the masters of disturbance.

We humans are the masters of disturbance. Everywhere we go, we leave telltale signs of us having been there. Landscape disturbance is our specialty and there are now entire ecosystems developing in these man-made environments. Unfortunately, the kinds of plants that enjoy our company are often aggressive invaders from other continents whose hyper abundance spells disaster for more sensitive, native species. Even under ideal conditions, the alteration of the soil environment means that only the hardiest species can survive. With habitat restoration efforts on the rise, people are looking far and wide for native species that can cope with our presence. Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium – http://bit.ly/1A6JWvu) is one such species. Provided ample amounts of sun and decently moist soils, this member of the willowherb family can rise to surprising abundance in a very short amount of time. Its common name comes from its sudden appearance after a wildfire. A forested site completely devoid of this species can quickly become a dense stand of bright pink fireweed following a modest burn. In fact, in the right circumstances, this plant can become quite aggressive. The upside to this is that it is a widely used species both as a nectar source for pollinators as well as a food source for lepidoptera. I don’t know about you but I would much prefer a stand of fireweed over a stand of mugwort any day! Once established, this species requires little care. The one thing it can’t handle, however, is competition. If other species are allowed to grow in and over top it, fireweed will quickly succumb. In today’s world chock full of disturbed habitats, work must be done if we are to conserve native flora. The loss of our native early successional species to more aggressive invaders is a real issue. By choosing species like fireweed for a native planting, you are helping to restore a bit of nativeness to your landscape. Introducing native plants that can cope with and thrive in a human dominated landscape is critical now more than ever.

Photo: For our facebook fans... We'll throw in a free seed packet of Fireweed with any online order through next Friday, 9/12.  Use promocode FIREWEED at checkout.</p>
<p>We humans are the masters of disturbance. Everywhere we go, we leave telltale signs of us having been there. Landscape disturbance is our specialty and there are now entire ecosystems developing in these man-made environments. Unfortunately, the kinds of plants that enjoy our company are often aggressive invaders from other continents whose hyper abundance spells disaster for more sensitive, native species. Even under ideal conditions, the alteration of the soil environment means that only the hardiest species can survive. With habitat restoration efforts on the rise, people are looking far and wide for native species that can cope with our presence. Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium - http://bit.ly/1A6JWvu) is one such species. Provided ample amounts of sun and decently moist soils, this member of the willowherb family can rise to surprising abundance in a very short amount of time. Its common name comes from its sudden appearance after a wildfire. A forested site completely devoid of this species can quickly become a dense stand of bright pink fireweed following a modest burn. In fact, in the right circumstances, this plant can become quite aggressive. The upside to this is that it is a widely used species both as a nectar source for pollinators as well as a food source for lepidoptera. I don't know about you but I would much prefer a stand of fireweed over a stand of mugwort any day! Once established, this species requires little care. The one thing it can't handle, however, is competition. If other species are allowed to grow in and over top it, fireweed will quickly succumb. In today's world chock full of disturbed habitats, work must be done if we are to conserve native flora. The loss of our native early successional species to more aggressive invaders is a real issue. By choosing species like fireweed for a native planting, you are helping to restore a bit of nativeness to your landscape. Introducing native plants that can cope with and thrive in a human dominated landscape is critical now more than ever.

Standard

Standing tall, each throws up bright pink to lavender..

There is a growing trend in ecology in which we seem to know more about invasive species than we do about their native relatives. In no group of plants is this more true than of the thistles in the genus Cirsium. Much maligned as a lawn pest or gobbled up as an artichoke, the human/thistle relationship in North America is rocky at best. However, outside of invasive pests or a healthy treat, North America’s native thistles are vital components of the ecosystems to which they belong. Both as nectar resources and larval hosts, one can do some serious benefit to their landscape by incorporating these plants into a planting. Here at Prairie Moon, we offer two wonderful species of native thistle, the pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor – http://bit.ly/1zZ6jDe) and the swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum – http://bit.ly/1wWWkBX). Decidedly less spiny than their invasive relatives, these two species nonetheless retain the overall thistle appearance. Standing tall, each throws up bright pink to lavender flower clusters that attract everything from bees to butterflies and even the occasional hummingbird. When in seed, flocks of goldfinches descend upon these plants for food and nest materials. Both are biennial in habit and will spend their first season as a rosette of leaves. Pasture thistle is a denizen of open fields and meadows, appreciating a decent amount of sun and medium to dry soils. Swamp thistle, as you may have guessed, likes things a bit more wet. Like many wetland species, this thistle is on the decline throughout its range as wetlands get turned into housing developments and strip malls. Both species suffer from the hatred we feel towards their invasive cousins. Many are probably destroyed due to mistaken identity. One easy way to tell the difference is that the leaves of our native thistles are downy on the underside whereas the invasives are not. While they probably aren’t for everyone, the true plant enthusiasts among us will no doubt revel in the glory of these often overlooked natives. If given a chance, I am sure that even the most cynical amongst us may come around to gardening with these interesting and valuable species.

Standard

Gentians. These strange yet beautiful plants

If you like natives but are looking for something a little more exotic, look no further than North America’s gentians. These strange yet beautiful plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes and offer the casual plant observer something more to ponder over. Some gentians open their flowers and use deep blues that reflect well into the UV spectrum, luring in pollinators from far and wide. Others are a bit more subtle. Species like the bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii – http://bit.ly/1p8X0Ko) and the cream gentian (Gentiana flavida – http://bit.ly/1wEap7p) never seem to open their flowers. Looks may be deceiving, however, and what looks to us like a flower bud is actually an ingenious adaptation to ensure that only bees strong enough to pry apart the nearly fused petals obtain a reward. At the tip of each flower is an opening that only bumblebees can access. Blooming well into October, these gentians offer our dwindling bumblebee populations a well needed dose of nectar and protein rich pollen. This isn’t a sure fire way to guarantee a devoted group of pollinators. As is so common in nature, cheaters abound. Other insects bypass the gentians ruse and simply nibble a hole at the base of the flower, stealing nectar without pollinating the plant. Once pollinated though, these gentians produce copious amounts of small seeds. Though slow growing, once established, bottle and cream gentians are as hardy as they are beautiful. The cream gentian blooms from August until September whereas the bottle gentian hits its stride late in September and carries on into October. These are long lived plants that will bring joy to your landscape for many years. Given an ample amount of light and rich, moist soils (bottle gentians like it a bit wetter) there is no doubt that you will fall in love with this group of plants. If you are feeling brave then why not try some of the other gentians that we offer here at Prairie Moon. You will certainly be glad you did.10371616_10154498285085268_8106683699385778599_n10659298_10154498285065268_3711684797695987004_n

Standard