Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June Bloom Day--Full Stride

A hectic week means a late post for Bloom Day, which is hosted each month by Carol of May Dreams Garden. But this is quite possibly my favorite month, and I'm happy to share some of what's blooming here. So without further ado...

Prairie phlox (P. pilosa), or as Gail from Clay and Limestone refers to them, Practically Perfect Pink Phlox.

Unknown pollinator on a sand coreopsis (C. lanceolata).

Peonies before rain damage...they're still OK now but looking a little worse for the wear after some intense rainstorms recently.

'Moonshine' yarrows are day-glow yellow.

Sand coreopsis, salvia and a peony.

Also blooming but not pictured:
Yellow pimpernel (Taenidia integgerima)
Coral bells
Alumroot (Heuchura richardsonii)
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
Nectaroscordums (N. siculum)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rain Gardens 104: Maintenance

You have a functioning rain garden! You've chosen the site, dug the garden and planted it with region-appropriate, flood/drought-tolerant natives! Now what?

Well, there is a small amount of maintenance involved. As with any garden, in the first year when the plants are new you will probably have to water. No, the irony of watering a rain garden is not lost on me. But unless you get regular rains at least once a week or so for the entire spring, summer and fall, you will probably need to water at least a little bit to make sure the plants are established. Like any other garden, observe your plants to know when watering is needed. Are their leaves drooping? Do they look dried out? If so, it's time to water.

Once the garden is established, you can expect the normal type of maintenance you would with most perennials: weeding and dividing. I do my best to mulch my rain garden because it helps cut down on weeds, but with so much moisture in the soil you can bet that weeds will grow. Be prepared.

Also, if your rain garden plants are really happy they can end up looking like this:

out of control! They can get floppy, rambly, and generally unkempt looking if you let them (this is a reality of many native plants...they often do not have the prim habits of their more cultivated cousins).

If this happens you should be pleased that your plants are doing so well, and then you should do whatever you need to make your rain garden more aesthetically pleasing. That can mean dividing sedges, zizias, etc. until they're in smaller and more manageable clumps; it can mean removing overzealous plants like Physostegia; it can mean cutting back things that are getting out of hand. This year a couple really hard downpours knocked over a bunch of my zizias, so I just cut off the broken stems and flowers. The foliage still looks nice and there is no reason for undue messiness. The roots are still absorbing plenty of rain water.

However, you shouldn't be shocked or uncomfortable with a "naturalistic" look if you're growing a rain garden with native plants. It's going to happen. So keep it looking "pretty" naturalistic. For example, I like this:

Lastly, be aware that mulch floats. As I mentioned before, mulch helps cut down on weeds and I think it just makes gardens (rain or otherwise) look nicer. But yes it will float around when the garden is full of water, and after large rains you will need to clear it off plants and redistribute it. This really isn't difficult or time-consuming, just something to be aware of.

And that's it! Now you know how to create a beautiful, ecologically friendly rain garden! Please don't hesitate to leave further questions in the comments, and see the previous posts for more info:

Rain Gardens 101: How to Choose a Site
Rain Gardens 102: How to Dig the Garden
Rain Gardens 103: The Plants

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Designing with Natives: Spring Bloomers

This is a simple yet serendipitous pairing: Camassia (C. scilloides) with prairie smoke (Geum triflorum).

The camassia (in the background) has the classic "bare ankles" problem: its flowers are on stalks above a little clump of wimpy basal foliage that just lays there. But put prairie smoke around it and the ferny leaves and interesting flowers/seed heads will perfectly cover the blank spots!

You can see the prairie smoke a little better here. These plants only get to about 10-12" tall, so it's like the camassia is just a head taller than the prairie smoke.

I wish I had planted these closer together, and hopefully the prairie smoke will need dividing in a year or so and then I can surround some of the camassias farther back with more of them. I also like the mix of the icy blue and rich pink flowers. These photos are from a couple weeks ago and now the Geum is moving into the "smoke" phase. But what a nice coincidence this pairing has been in my south border! If you're in the temperate zones 4-ish to 8-ish, give this duo a try!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rain Gardens 103: The Plants

I sincerely apologize for how long it's taken me to make this post!! I intended to complete my little "how to create a rain garden" series in a couple of weeks, and it took me well over a month! Ah well, the important part is that we're continuing now...

So you've selected a rain garden site and done the actual digging of the it's time for the fun part: the plants!

As in all gardens, rain or otherwise, the adage "right plant, right site" should be observed. All your plants will have to be able to tolerate repeated flooding as well as periods of dryness, unless your rain garden site is really swampy. For this reason it is generally recommended that rain gardens use native plants (meaning those native to your region).

Face it--at some point you'll probably be experiencing some degree of drought, and deep-rooted natives are usually better equipped to handle dry conditions as well as soak up intense amounts of water. On top of these qualities, native North American plants also host numerous pollinators and other forms of wildlife, including butterflies and birds.

So without further ado, here are recommendations for rain garden plants for sunny sites and shadier sites, all of which are hardy in approximately zones 4 to 8. I grow a number of these in my rain garden, and others I have researched as part of various article assignments. I've included flowers and sedges and one grass species. Sedges are really better suited to rain garden conditions and they sort of take the stylistic place of ornamental grasses in these settings.

Rain Garden Plants for Sun

Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea): Great plant! Host for swallowtail butterflies, will get very robust with lots of water and full sun.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): Lovely pink color, really needs full sun. As a milkweed it's also a monarch host plant.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae): Can be floppy, consider using on the berm.

Blue Flag Iris (I. virginica): Beautiful classic purple iris flowers. Needs full sun; mine are being dwarfed by larger plants and struggling. I suggest planting them when you first start the garden to avoid this situation.

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale): Good late-season yellow color after most plants are done flowering. Does not actually cause sneezing.

Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana): Beautiful, distinctively shaped pink flowers. Inaccurately named; not obedient at all. Will spread prodigiously in moist conditions; this is good if you need to fill space, otherwise be prepared to fight back.

Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum): Reaches 5-7 tall with spikes of white flowers; grow it in the center of the rain garden so other surrounding plants will complement it.

Porcupine Sedge (Carex hystericina): Very robust in full sun.

Muskingum Sedge (C. muskingumensis): Can reach up to 3' tall; also takes partial shade.

Fox Sedge (C. stipata): Very interesting, spiky-looking inflorescences.

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis): Beautiful soft texture, consider growing on the berm or a spot that is not the wettest in the rain garden.

Rain Garden Plants for Shade

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis): Great red color and wonderful for hummingbirds. I have actually witnessed a hummingbird at mine here, in total suburban wasteland.

Great Blue Lobelia (L. siphilitica): Gorgeous blue, not as tall as cardinal flower.

Pink Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua): Unique purplish flower; rare plant.

Graceful Sedge (C. gracilima): Up to 2' tall, arching habit.

Bur Sedge (C. grayi): Distinctive inflorescences.

Pennsylvania Sedge (C. pensylvanica): Good for the berm, not the soggiest spot. Will spread slowly over time.

Astilbe (genus Astilbe): Please note: this is not a native plant, but a moisture-tolerant shade plant! I do not grow astilbes in my rain garden but they were once recommended to me as a potential choice by a reputable source in the midst of an interview. Since shade flowers are in short supply for these conditions, I figured it was worth mentioning, native or not.

I'm sorry I don't have pictures of all these plants, but for good photos and more information please see Illinois Wildflowers. They have a section on wetland wildflowers, as well as prairie ones (some of which are included in the list for sun here), and grasses and sedges. Although it is named "Illinois," the plants on this website are native to much of the Midwest and Eastern U.S.

So to Recap:
Remember, there are lots of other options out there, depending on where you garden! Always consult local sources for what is native to your area, and evaluate your particular site conditions for the appropriate plants. These are suggestions only!

Next up...rain garden maintenance!

You May Also Like

Related Posts with Thumbnails