Posts Tagged Cornus florida

Welcome, Autumn!

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Summer left as sweetly as she arrived this year, bringing needed rain overnight. We woke to sunshine, deep blue, cloudless skies, and a steady breeze bringing in cool, dry, autumnal air. If only every summer could be as kind as this one was to us. Oh, she wasn’t perfect. Her excessive June rains put fungal diseases into overdrive. My tomatoes were blighted beyond redemption by late July.

But the peppers remain productive. My sweet Italian Bull’s Horn variety, Carmen, is overwhelming us with scarlet fruits.

Carmens remain productive.

Carmens remain productive.

And the one purple cayenne plant I added (free seed — who can resist?) is still producing zillions of fruits. They start out deep purple, then pale to lilac, then suddenly go deep, hot scarlet.

First, the cayennes are purple.

First, the cayennes are purple.

Then, they go hot!

Then, they go hot!

The vegetable garden is mostly flowers now. The nasturtiums went bonkers, thanks to Summer’s rains. They now own two full rows where the beans and tomatoes once grew.

Never have the nasturtiums displayed such prolonged enthusiasm.

Never have the nasturtiums displayed such prolonged enthusiasm.

And they’ll be popping up everywhere next year without any help from me. Their fat, curly seed pods are verging on ubiquitous.

Clearly, the nasturtiums have plans for next year.

Clearly, the nasturtiums have plans for next year.

Reproductive efforts were evident everywhere in my yard today, as I took my Farewell-to-Summer stroll around the yard this morning. Some plants are just now showing off ripe fruits.

Cornus florida berries won't last long; my pileated woodpeckers adore them.

Cornus florida berries won’t last long; my pileated woodpeckers adore them.

Beauty berry always lives up to her name about now.

Beautyberry always lives up to her name about now.

Viburnum prunifolium fruits go pink, then deep purple, but you don't see many purples, thanks to hungry birds.

Viburnum nudum fruits go pink, then deep purple, but you don’t see many purples, thanks to hungry birds.

Hearts-a-bursting is exploding with strawberry-like fruits.

Hearts-a-burstin’ is exploding with strawberry-like fruits.

Some plants only produced a few fruits this year. I think the rains actually inhibited pollination in a few instances. Case in point: my native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin). They produced few berries, and as soon as those ripened, they were devoured. I found one lone exception today, hiding deep inside the center of a plant whose leaves are just beginning to turn their characteristic autumn gold.

One lonely spicebush berry hidden deep within the shrub.

One lonely spicebush berry hidden deep within the shrub.

Most of my holly species are heavy with unripe berries, but one is already showing off. A deciduous species, Ilex verticillata, is loaded with crimson fruits. In another month, its leaves will drop, but the berries will likely linger well into late fall, even January some years. The fruits are usually a meal-of-last-resort for the feathered inhabitants of my yard.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

Ilex verticillata berries ornament a still-green shrub.

Fruits of my deciduous Asian dogwood (Cornus kousa) are just turning red, looking quite like Christmas ornaments.

Cornus kousa fruits.

Cornus kousa fruits.

The wet summer was a boon to the legions of lichens that adorn the trees in my yard. Lichens are not only beautiful and essential to the transformation of dead plant material into soil. I’m told they also signal good air quality; lichens won’t grow in smog-filled skies.

An array of lichens adorning a fallen dead tree branch.

An array of lichens adorning a fallen dead tree branch.

Even if my calendar didn’t tell me that today was the Autumnal Equinox, I would have known it was imminent. My Seven-Son Flower Tree never fails to signal Summer’s departure as it transforms its clusters of sweet, white flowers into clusters of purple-red sepals that consistently fool hummingbirds into thinking nectar hides within their embrace.

Purple-red sepals signal Autumn's arrival.

Purple-red sepals signal Autumn’s arrival, even as a few white flower clusters persist.

Rain-softened ground today made weed-pulling almost enjoyable; cool breezes prevented early autumn sunshine from overheating me as I tackled yet another area of my yard overwhelmed by the invaders that Summer’s rains invited willy nilly everywhere in my yard.

Other inhabitants were not entirely happy with my Autumn clean-up activities. A large earth-colored American toad hopped frantically between my legs when I removed its weedy camouflage. Numerous ant colonies bustled about carrying pearl-colored eggs to safety when I disturbed their weed-covered homes. And an Asian Praying Mantis female glowered at me with unblinking emerald eyes from her perch atop a pink-flowering abelia.

Her work is nearly done, though. I spotted freshly laid mantis egg masses firmly attached to the branches of a nearby shrub. Perhaps she was cranky from all that egg-laying; perhaps the cooling breeze told her that her time was nearly over.

Autumn’s arrival signals many endings, it’s true. But abundant fruits, well-hidden egg masses, slumbering salamanders, toads, anoles, skinks, and myriad snakes ensure that Spring’s beginnings are just a winter’s sleep away. Now is the time to tidy up our yards, tuck in a few new shrubs and trees, and settle indoors for some well-earned rest. Now is the time to dream of coming snows and next spring’s gardens.

Happy Autumn, everyone!

Happy Autumn, everyone!

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Transitions

Signs multiply daily. Reddening leaves:

Cornus florida

Cornus florida

Virginia Creeper vine

Virginia Creeper vine

Fruits swelling.

Big-leaf Magnolia cone

Bigleaf Magnolia cone

Carmen Bull's Horn Italian Peppers and some yellow Italian heirlooms

Carmen Bull’s Horn Italian Peppers and some yellow Italian heirlooms

Cornus kousa fruits will redden soon.

Cornus kousa fruits will redden soon.

Halesia diptera fruits dangle from every branch.

Halesia diptera fruits dangle from every branch.

I first heard about it from the flock of American Robins that blew in about three weeks ago. As they stripped purple Pokeweed berries from magenta stems and gobbled elderberries, branches bent from their weight, they muttered among themselves: “Autumn’s on its way.”

Pokeweed berries

Pokeweed berries

Raucous cries of Pileated Woodpeckers echo through the forest as they argue with greedy robins and complain about magnolia cones ripening too slowly. A few mornings ago just after sunrise, three of these crow-sized woodpeckers called and flew in circles over my head for a minute or so. Two were chasing a third, making it clear that the interloper was not welcome.

Umbrella Magnolia cone

Umbrella Magnolia cone

Southern Magnolia cone

Southern Magnolia cone

Ash Magnolia cone

Ashe Magnolia cone

And today, as Wonder Spouse and I walked beside the creek, we startled Wild Turkeys on the other side. They squawked once, then ran silently to the blackberry thicket, where they disappeared amid its prickly greenness.

We were down by the creek so that Wonder Spouse could photograph this beauty for me:

Franklinia alatamaha

Franklinia alatamaha

Our wonderfully wet, mild summer made our two Franklin Trees very happy. Both grew several feet higher, and the mature specimen produced more flower buds than I have ever seen before. Spent snowy blossoms littered the ground beneath it, still faintly emitting their gentle rose-like scent. I held down the branch, so that Wonder Spouse could take the shot. You can see its close kinship to camellias by the form of its breath-taking bloom. The leaves of our smaller tree are already sporting garnet hues. But the flower-producing tree remains green-leaved.

Every time I think the record numbers of swallowtail butterflies are waning, another wave of fresh-winged beauties descends on every bloom in the yard. The Chinese Abelia still plays host to dozens, even though its sweet white flower clusters are beginning to diminish, but that’s OK, because the Seven-Son Flower Tree is in full, fragrant bloom, attracting every pollinator in the neighborhood, from butterflies to bumblebees, mason bees, and hawk moths. I cannot use my front walk without getting bumped into by a floating winged beauty.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Seven Sons Tree.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Seven Sons Flower Tree.

The abundance of butterflies has been a bonanza for predators as well. Myriad dragonflies pick off the lazy flutterers in mid-air, scattering severed wings of gold and black along the walk.

And the most certain early sign of autumn abounds: spider webs. As fast as I knock one down walking anywhere in my yard, the industrious weavers rebuild. A particularly clever female Writing Spider has declared her domain over the water feature in our front garden. The abundant blooming spires of Cardinal Flowers are irresistible to butterflies, and this fattening weaver is taking full advantage of that fact, even bending the top of one spire to anchor her web.

The direction of the bend points to the fat weaver's sticky trap.

The direction of the bend points to the fat weaver’s sticky trap.

Yesterday, I saw her trap and devour at least two large butterflies. Today, she seems to have doubled in size.

Female Writing Spider awaits her next victim.

Female Writing Spider awaits her next victim.

Perhaps in response to her rapid growth, today a male Writing Spider has built a modest web adjacent to this queen, even using a corner of her web as an anchor. Much smaller than the female he lusts for, he will wait for just the right moment to woo her. It won’t be long, I predict. Usually the females deposit their egg sacs in thick, winter-proof webs well before the leaves begin to fall in earnest.

Male Writing Spider. Note the smaller zigzag woven into his web. That's mist from the water feature on the right side of the photo.

Male Writing Spider. Note the smaller zigzag woven into his web. That’s mist from the water feature on the right side of the photo.

Cricket songs now rule nights and mornings, replacing the steady thrum of summer cicadas. Occasional cold fronts rush in behind lines of thunderstorms, freshening our air for a day or two before summer reasserts itself, cloaked in humidity.

Autumn will dominate soon enough, that we know for sure. For now, we can revel in the transitions, as plants and animals shift from growth to fruit to sleep.

It’s a transitional time of year for many people too. Schools start, and birthdays occur in bunches, as those born under the sign of Virgo celebrate another dance around the sun. I send best birthday wishes to all my Virgo kin and friends, and most especially to my favorite nephew, AJR, who celebrates what many consider a milestone moment tomorrow. Happy Birthday, sir. May your journey lead you everywhere you want to go.

Happy Birthday, Virgos!

Happy Birthday, Virgos!

 

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Bountiful Blooms

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying flowers of Halesia diptera

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying flowers of Halesia diptera

As always happens this time of year, Spring is blasting through my yard so fast that I cannot keep up — at least, not in my blog postings. Since early April, every day new bloomers have started while others have stopped. Because I’ve been focused on the vegetable garden, I have not had time to share all the beauty that surrounds me. But fear not, faithful readers, I have been taking hundreds upon hundreds of photographs. Today’s post is the first installment designed to catch you up on all the glorious blossoms.

Let me take you back in time to the middle of April, when my 35-foot tall Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera) was in full bloom. I told you about this spectacular understory native here, but I’ve mentioned it in several other posts over the years. If you search on the name, you’ll find all the relevant posts for this tree. The close-up of the flowers above demonstrates their loveliness — and their popularity with native pollinators.

Here’s what the entire tree looked like this year:

Thirty-five feet of Wow!

Thirty-five feet of Wow!

I had to stand pretty far away to get all of it in the photo. That little bit of white at the top right is a bit of the large dogwood trying to show off some of its flowers in the shot.

In the interest of fairness, that aforementioned native dogwood deserves a photo of its own:

About 40 feet tall, this dogwood is probably about 50 years old, maybe even older.

About 40 feet tall, this dogwood is probably about 50 years old, maybe even older.

To the left in the above photo, you can just see a few blooms of the native redbud variety, ‘Forest Pansy,’ and, of course that’s a bit of Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ filling up the right side of the photo.

Because the showy part of a dogwood flower is actually its bracts, they aren’t quite as pure a white as the petals of the Two-winged Silverbell. But they persist much longer in the landscape.

They may be bracts rather than petals, but that doesn't diminish their beauty.

They may be bracts rather than petals, but that doesn’t diminish their beauty.

And, since I mentioned Redbuds, I feel obliged to show you one of the standard natives in my yard in full bloom. Its lavender blossoms are emphasized by the green backdrop of the native Red Cedars behind it.

Cercis canadensis is breathtaking in bloom when sited where it can achieve its full potential.

Cercis canadensis is breathtaking in bloom when sited where it can achieve its full potential.

Now I want to turn your attention to the deciduous azaleas in my yard. I mention them in passing regularly, and you can find all the links by searching on the species or the category. The links that follow point back to the first posts from 2011 in which I described these wonderful understory natives.

Since 2011, all the azaleas have grown considerably. Some attain mature sizes in the 20′ x 15′ range, and I can tell that several of my specimens are well on their way to achieving their full potential. Some species and/or their cultivars bloom magnificently every year, while others seem to alternate years.

First to bloom, as usual, was Pinxterbloom Azalea (Rhodendron periclymenoides). It had its lushest bloom season so far, and thanks to the mostly cool weather, the blooms persisted longer than usual.

Pinxterbloom Azalea is native to the southeastern Piedmont.

Pinxterbloom Azalea is native to the southeastern Piedmont.

Soon after, it’s cultivar, ‘Purple,’ also bloomed, but its blooms were sparse this year.

R. periclymenoides 'Purple'

R. periclymenoides ‘Purple’

Overlapping the bloom time of Pinxterbloom was my R. austrinum hybrid, Pastel #19. This shrub is always ridiculously floriferous, and its potent perfume carries halfway across my five-acre yard on spring breezes. When it is at peak bloom, it stops visitors in their tracks every time.

Pastel #19 is almost six feet tall and five feet wide now.

Pastel #19 is almost six feet tall and five feet wide now.

Only inhale deeply of Pastel #19's flowers if you like very, very sweet fragrances.

Only inhale deeply of Pastel #19’s flowers if you like very, very sweet fragrances.

While Pastel #19 continued to bloom, another hybrid, Pastel #20 started its bloom cycle. Perhaps hybrid vigor explains why both these hybrids bloom with spectacular consistency every year.

The perfume of Rhododendron 'Pastel #20' is much more delicate than that of #19.

The perfume of Rhododendron ‘Pastel #20’ is much more delicate than that of #19.

I love the golden throats on these flowers.

Next to bloom was my R. alabamense, a native that is also reliably floriferous even without the benefits of hybrid vigor.

My Alabama Azalea is now about six feet tall and four feet wide.

My Alabama Azalea is now about six feet tall and four feet wide.

Its flowers emit a faint perfume that I enjoy for its subtlety.

R. alabamense is only now finishing up its bloom cycle.

R. alabamense is only now finishing up its bloom cycle.

The mostly cool spring has definitely prolonged bloom time for the azaleas this year.

My Oconee Azalea (R. flammeum) is over 8 feet tall now. Its form is more open than some of the other deciduous azalea species. My specimen bloomed heavily last year. This year, it’s not quite as floriferous, but still a knockout in the landscape.

R. flammeum buds just beginning to open.

R. flammeum buds just beginning to open.

R. flammeum in full bloom.

R. flammeum in full bloom.

Last of the azalea natives to bloom so far this year is Coastal Azalea (R. atlanticum). This native of southeastern US coastal plains keeps a much lower profile than my other deciduous azaleas. So far, it’s only about three feet tall in its high spots. The native species is a colonial spreader, but my cultivar, ‘Winterthur,’ is supposed to be more polite. It has gotten wider, but not aggressively so.

The flowers of Coastal Azalea are pure white, with no throat blotches as you see in R. alabamense. They are very potently fragrant — a cloying sweetness that is not my favorite. Because of its smaller size, I often smell the open flowers on this specimen before I see them the first time.

The flowers are almost sticky, perhaps encouraging pollinators to linger?

Coastal Azalea flowers are almost sticky, perhaps encouraging pollinators to linger?

Flowers of a couple of my other deciduous azalea varieties are almost open for business. I’ll show you those soon. Meanwhile, let me close today’s post with a photo or two of my trellis full of blooming Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’).

Unlike invasive Japanese Honeysuckle, the Major (as I like to call him) does not spread aggressively. However, it is enthusiastic, so I do cut it back severely every other year. The Major doesn’t object to this treatment, continuing to bloom so magnificently that every visitor to my house stops, gapes, and begs to know his name.

Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'

Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’

Hummingbirds adore these blooms.

Hummingbirds adore these blooms.

 

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Warmest March Ever

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’

That’s what the local weatherman proclaimed on the TV today — we’re having the warmest March ever. We’ve blown every existing temperature record to smithereens. Of course, I didn’t need the weatherman to tell me that. The plants in my yard have been telling me since about the time the deluded groundhog promised six more weeks of winter.

In all my 40+ years of gardening in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, I have never seen trees, shrubs, and perennials bloom so early, nor have I ever seen them bloom all together, as many of them are doing this year.

Take, for example, Redbuds, Dogwoods, and my Two-Winged Silverbell. Until this spring, I could rely on an orderly progression from Redbud bloom to Dogwood Show to Silverbell finale. This year, all the native Redbuds except one finished blooming last week. The one exception grows in a significantly cooler microclimate in my yard, nestled against a backdrop of towering Red Cedars, as you can see here:

That’s the top of my little greenhouse in the right front corner.

In normal years, as the Redbuds fade, the native Dogwoods begin to open their showy four-petaled bracts, first a creamy yellow, then bleaching to white in the spring sunshine. This year, the Dogwoods started opening last week. If you click on the link above to my Redbud account for last year, you’ll see that the native Redbuds had barely begun blooming last March 13. The Dogwood link above will show you that last year’s bloom peak was around April 5. I predict this year the peak will be in a day or two.

As for the Two-Winged Silverbell, last year it peaked around April 15. This year, the first flowers are open now, and judging by the size of the rest of the flower buds, it will peak in two more days. That’s about the same time as the Dogwoods, not two weeks later, as is usual. Here’s a shot of the Halesia flowers and buds that I took this morning:

This is just plain ridiculous! At this rate, summer foliage will be out in three weeks. The deciduous azaleas, ferns, mayapples, anise trees, and myriad other plants are also way, way ahead of schedule. I’ll show you photographic proof in another post soon.

But today I want to close with a veggie garden update. Here are the spring greens after the 3.5 inches of rain (that’s not a typo) we got last week:

I will be picking more goodies for another spring salad tomorrow. Tonight, I’ve covered them again with the floating row cover. We’re under a frost advisory tonight, and my yard often goes ten degrees below the official reporting station. The frost probably wouldn’t hurt them, but why take a chance with such potential deliciousness?

The Sugar Sprint peas are now producing tendrils. I expect flower buds any second. Tonight’s predicted frost will actually make them happier, so they don’t get covered.

Flowers needed ASAP to beat summer’s impending heat

This past weekend’s rain kept me mostly indoors watching the grass grow, but I did manage to finish transplanting all the tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse to larger pots. They’ll remain in these until it’s time to put them into the garden. Here’s a shot of the newly transplanted veggies:

The Super Marzano tomatoes that I planted two weeks ahead of the other summer veggies are enormous, even showing tiny flower buds. Look at them overpowering this shot of the greenhouse bench:

Their turn in the garden will come soon enough — assuming I manage to pull out enough of the cover crop of crimson clover on their beds to make room for them. The crimson clover has never grown to such gigantic size before. Usually winter freezes knock it down. That didn’t happen this year, so it grew, and grew, and grew. Soon the plants will be covered in red flower spikes that draw every pollinator in a five-county radius.

For good or ill, I’ll have plenty of warm weather for garden chores. After tonight’s frost and a chilly Tuesday, Wednesday is forecasted to be back in the mid to upper seventies.

Don’t even get me started on the pollen avalanche. March Madness indeed.

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Flowering Dogwood: Quintessential Piedmont Springtime

Dogwood Flowers

Most gardeners I talk to in my part of the southeastern Piedmont agree that spring this year is ahead of schedule by at least a week — maybe more. Trees and spring bulbs that usually bloom in a predictable succession are blooming closer to simultaneously. Of course, the ridiculous heat we’ve had is to blame. We’re not supposed to reach 80 degrees Farenheit in February and March — at least that’s the way things used to be.

In the cities near me, Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) have been blooming for more than a week. My cold-spot yard slowed down my dogwoods a bit. They’re just now fully open, their initially cream-colored bracts bleaching to the snow white we all love.

For those less familiar with dogwoods, you should know that those four white structures often mistaken for petals are, botanically speaking, bracts. Bracts are leaf-like structures that often surround flower buds. But sometimes they become the colorful part of the “flower,” as with dogwoods and poinsettias. The actual flowers are in the center, and they are responsible for producing the glossy, bright red fruits (technically called drupes) beloved by 43 species (according to Dirr) of birds.

This tree is favored by landscapers because of its four-season appeal. Fall color is spectacular, spring blooms gorgeous, and summer foliage is quite respectable. Its distinctive bark and horizontal branching habit make it a standout in the winter landscape.

Like our native Redbuds, Flowering Dogwoods occur naturally along woodland edges and in forest clearings — places where they are sheltered from summer heat by adjacent canopy trees, but can still receive enough light to ensure good flower production.

It pains me to see these lovely trees unintentionally abused by well-meaning landscapers and home gardeners. All too often, folks plunk an innocent young dogwood into the middle of a lawn — usually without improving the soil of the planting site — throw a little mulch around it, then let their automatic lawn sprinkler systems do the watering. The trees suffer, decline, and die, because their growing requirements were ignored.

Lawns are terrible places for dogwoods. The trees have no canopy neighbors to protect them from summer heat. Dogwoods are shallow-rooted, so every time you fertilize or mow your lawn, you are likely damaging tree roots. And if you mix herbicides in your lawn food, those shallow tree roots are slowly being poisoned in your quest for a non-native green lawn carpet. Likewise, watering should be deep and infrequent. Shallow sprinkler watering will only encourage the tree’s roots to remain close to the surface, where they are more prone to damage.

Flowering Dogwoods are lovely trees, and nearly every southeast Piedmont yard can be enhanced by their presence. But if you add one, please, stop and try to put yourself in this native’s place. Provide it with a woodland edge, mulch around it as widely as its branches spread above, and don’t let lawnmowers, fertilizers, or herbicides anywhere near it.

Your Flowering Dogwoods will reward you with year-round beauty. And the birds that love the crimson fruits will further enhance your landscape with color and movement.

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