Every evening as the last rays of sun dwindle down in the sky, I look out from my back patio door. What I see visiting my nicotiana’s every night, looks like a hummingbird, but it’s actually a moth!
Every day at about dusk, a Five Spotted Hawkmoth visits the nicotiana by my back patio. It likes to feed on the nectar from its fragrant, long, white, tubular flowers.
Even while I’m standing right beside it, it doesn’t pay any attention to me watching it. It has really large eyes and a long proboscis in order to get the nectar located down in the tubular flower. The nicotiana is the only flower I’ve seen it feed on in my yard.
There are different species of hawk, or sphinx moths all around the world of the Sphingid family. They are fast flyers and acrobatic too. I see my visitor in my yard whip around the plants and over the fence and back again. Many species can hover in place like a hummingbird. Many species like fragrant light colored flowers, such as nicotiana, four o clocks, or datura.
Not all, but some of these hawk moths are considered pests. And guess what, the Five Spotted Hawkmoth is actually also known as a tomato hornworm! I plant lots of tomatoes every year, and it’s rare that I’ve seen any hornworms on my plants. I saw one in the early summer, but a parasitic wasp took care of the hornworm for me!
These non-stinging parasitic wasps actually look like a type of fly to an untrained eye. The wasp lays its eggs inside the caterpillar to use as a host (as it will do to any species of caterpillar) and the larvae hatches into what looks like bits of rice.
I don’t have an issue with hornworms, so I’m not worried about seeing this hawkmoth in my garden. I’d rather the hornworms be used by the parasitic wasp as its host instead of the monarch or swallowtail caterpillars that are around in my yard too.
Today is national Honey Bee Day!
Honey bees are not native to the America’s, but they provide a great resource to us; honey, propolis, beeswax, and royal jelly. They also help pollinate food and flowers!
In my garden, I don’t see honey bees too often. However, this is the first year I’ve had mountain mint in my yard. It is covered in honey bees (and tiny native bees)! So, if you want to specifically help out honey bees, plant plants in the mint family. I have also seen honey bees on some catmint in my garden too.
There are over 20 species of mountain mints in the Pycnanthemum genus that are native to the US. However, there are just a few you’ll likely find at a nursery that has native plants.
Despite the name ‘Mountain’, they do like full to partial sun, and takes average well drained soils. I have it growing in an area with hard clay soil, and it’s doing very well. Being in the mint family, the leaves do have a nice minty aromatic scent when crushed.
It has clusters of flowers which bloom over a long period over the summer. In spring, the foliage is some of the first green you’ll see appear in the garden. While the flowers are not showy, the foliage is a show stopper with its silvery blue green color. Some of the species have small differences, so they can be difficult to identify.
The Virginia and Narrow Leaf Mountain Mints look similar with its finer foliage, and shorter habit. These two species look quite a bit different from the Short Toothed and Hoary Mountain Mints however. The Short Toothed and Hoary also look similar to one another.
Some of the mountain mints (from my experience the hoary and short-toothed do) like to form large clusters by rhizomes and will go as far as you let them. However, it’s easy to pull where you don’t want it. In a small garden, pull what you don’t want in the spring time.
The pink petals on Purple Coneflowers are starting to fade away for the summer. The gold colored seed heads will start to mature and turn dark, as the seed becomes ripe for picking.
The American Goldfinches will soon be sitting atop the seed heads picking away at the seeds. Adult goldfinches are seed eaters; and they love purple coneflower seeds. There’s almost no time I go outside and don’t see them nibbling on the coneflower seeds this time of year.
When things go brown in the garden; many people think it’s time to clip it all away. However, the heads of the purple coneflower are a valuable seed source for the goldfinches during the fall. Usually, they will eat the seeds fairly quickly when they’re ripe during the fall. If you want to clip away all the brown, wait until all the coneflower seeds are gone sometime in winter.
Plus, I think when a bit of snow or frost sits on the brown coneflower heads, it looks pretty cool.
If you’re wondering what types of coneflowers goldfinches will like; it can be difficult to know! They for sure like purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea). I am unsure about other species of echinacea. Pale Purple and Glad Coneflowers are very similar to Purple Coneflower. The goldfinches like to sit on top of the flowers as they eat the seeds. They probably like stems that are going to support their body weight.
As far as coneflower cultivars (like pow-wow, salsa, etc.), it may depend. Some cultivar species may not even produce seeds since they were bred sterile, or the seed quality will be lacking due to the genetics of the cultivar. Many of the cultivars are shorter and are compact. The goldfinches simply may not like a coneflower just based on the structure of it.
If you’d like to attract goldfinches to your yard with coneflower, plant them in a larger mass together. Goldfinches often like to sit together with one another and eat together. Much like us!
It’s getting to the time of the year here in Central Kentucky where many summer perennials are dwindling. The purple coneflowers and blazing stars are nearly done flowering in my yard.
However, I know there is still some perennial color yet to look forward to, as the days get shorter and temperatures begin to drop. Those perennials are asters and goldenrods.
Aster is an important plant species for pollinators. It offers nectar and pollen when there’s nearly no other plants flowering in the fall. This means asters are an integral part of a pollinator garden. Most asters are either white or purple in color with many shades in between.
Aster in Greek means ‘star’. Aster’s star like flowers means it is in the Compositae (or Asteraceae) family.
Depending on the species, different asters will like different sun requirements. However, most of them will like medium to dry soils. To reduce seeding, remove the spent flowers in late fall before they disperse seed.
There are some species of Japanese asters (Kalimeris sp) available on the market, however they are not in the same genus as our native asters. I cannot comment on their performance as a pollinator plant. I only know I have planted one in the past, and it has not thrived in the least.
Did you know aster has also been traditionally used as an herb? Parts of the plant have been used as a sedative and decongestant. Do your research if you’d like to look more into this!
The color purple is a symbol of fall, so add some asters to your garden in celebration of the season! Aster is also the flower for the month of September, and the flower for 20th wedding anniversaries.
EARTHeim currently has plants available for sale of each species at time of posting.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Most of the asters (unless you get into cultivars) have purple to purple blue flowers. This aster has deep purple flowers. This is one of the taller asters, reaching nearly 5 feet. In late May, I prune mine down by 30-40% of their growth at that time. This keeps them shorter and bushier. This also means more flowers! Full Sun.
Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)
This aster also has very vibrant purple flowers. It stays shorter, around 2′ tall. The leaves have an aromatic pleasant aroma when crushed. Full Sun.
Silky Aster (Symphyotrichum sericeum)
The leaves of this aster are unique in that they are fuzzy soft and have a bluish silver tint to them. It reaches 1-2′ feet in height and also has colorful purple flowers. Full to Partial Sun.
Blue Wood/Heartleaf Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)
Not many plants have bluer looking flowers, but the blue wood aster does. It is a woodland aster and likes partial shade to shade. It will get around 3′ tall. I also prune mine about 30% in May to keep them shorter and bushier. Its flowers are smaller than the other asters, but are prolific.
When out shopping for plants, a plant label (when written well!) will tell you how tall and wide a plant will mature to. However, there is no guarantee a plant will be that size. (One reason is lack of fully testing the size of a newly released cultivated plant, but that’s another story!)
Usually the label will give a range for the plant’s maturity size. This is because it is accounting that a plant’s mature size and shape will vary based on what kinds of conditions it is planted in. The microclimates around your garden are going to vary in patterns of sunlight, soil moisture, and wind. All of this will affect the size and shape of the mature plant.
Of course a plant will thrive in its optimal growing conditions, and it is upon us to find that perfect spot! Sometimes a plant may survive in less desirable conditions than it prefers, but it may not thrive.
Poor soil? They won’t grow as bushy or tall.
Shallow glade soil? They’ll probably grow shorter.
Really great soil for the plant? May thrive growing taller and fuller.
Shadier? A tree may will grow taller and skinnier. A shrub may grow wider and less bushy. A perennial may grow shorter, look peaked, or flop over.
Lots of sun? A tree may grow bushier, and grows vertically slower. A perennial may grow taller. A shrub may grow bushier.
Of course, there are no set rules when it comes to plants!
For example, I have several clumps of black eyed susans around my garden that traveled over from my neighbor’s garden. I’ve never planted a single one, so they chose their own microclimate! According to wildflower.org, black eyed susans should get 1-2′ tall. Let’s see how this compares!
This group of black eyed susans get nearly full sun and have reached to 44″ (3.66′) tall. From observing its timing on flowering, they are 2 weeks ahead of the other groups of black eyed susans in my garden. It looks to be thriving with its abundant flowering.
This group of black eyed susans get mostly shade. The soil is also a little drier and has a higher clay content than the other areas. They have maxed out at 22″ tall. They also haven’t flowered yet, and have much fewer flowers. I will be moving this clump to a more suitable area this fall.
These black eyed susans get partial sun. There is a lot of direct sunlight in this area, but the flowers are shaded by a shrub through parts of the day. They have reached 32″ tall, and you can see they have just started flowering.
From observing all 3 of these groups of black eyed susans, the amount of sunlight they receive is related to their heights, blooming time, and proliferation of flowers. Black eyed susans are a hardy plant and can tolerate a variety of growing conditions. This can be used to your advantage based on your specific garden and what affect you are going for.