The Blog is Back for 2014!

I took a bit of a hiatus from the blog in 2013. Not because I wanted to – but mainly because we welcomed our first son into the Fiddlehead Creek family and well – it was a bit of a hectic year to say the least!  But now that we totally have this whole parenting thing down pat…  (insert laughter here) I am going to give it a go to catch back up on our blog.

We had just finally said goodbye to the snow and uncovered the plants - when wouldn't you know it - more snow!

Most people probably think about a blog in terms of its readers. And while I do do that for sure, it also is a very useful record for me as well.  What was blooming the second week of June last year? Can’t remember? Take a look on the blog and see! I hope that you find it useful as well. Looking for something that blooms at a certain time, the blog is a great place to look.

Carter oversaw our work last weekend as we uncovered all the shrubs. He was taken with the blueberries - he already has good taste!

So, whats in bloom this week at the nursery? Well, nothing actually. While we did have a hopeful customer stop by looking to get a jump start on planting – we aren’t open just yet.  We were finally just able to get at the plants last weekend and uncover them. They did put on a surprising amount of growth this week before it turned cold and the snow came back. Some of the pots are full of fresh green growth, and some still look like pots of dirt (Plants such as the milkweeds and the rosemallow are always late to come up – they really like to keep you guessing if they are down there!) Many of the shrubs are budding nicely and the pussy willows are just starting to show!

We will be opening in two weekends on Saturday April 26th and Sunday April 27th. Later than we had hoped – but given the weather this year  - not bad.

We hope you have a great Easter this weekend and get some more garden clean up done – so you can come out to visit us the following weekend and get some plants to start your gardening off right this year!  

We will be open Fri-Sun, 9-5 through May and other times by appt. June hours still TBD, but will likely be by appt only.

While there aren’t any blooms yet – I  will try to snap some photos this weekend of what is at least budding for a post – so stay tuned!

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In Bloom This Week

Lots of beautiful blooms this week!  The earliest spring bloomers like the serviceberry and spring ephemerals (hepatica, bloodroot, dutchmen’s breeches) are done (we have been so busy I didn’t have time to post photos of those – but I will try to go back and fill it in later if I have a chance!) – but the later spring blooms are in full swing. Here are a few pictures from around the nursery this week.

Blooms in the shade/part shade:

The woodland phlox is great spring color for the shade.  This is ‘London Grove’ in the picture above. It is a deeper blue than the straight species – and is very lovely.  The straight species is more of a pale blue – we have it planted in our woodland display garden at the nursery (picture to left). We also grow ‘Parksville Beach’ at the nursery – which is more of a pink/magenta (pictured below to left).


While not considered a spring ephemeral, if your shady area is drier, the woodland phlox might go dormant later in the season, kind of acting like one.  So you just want to make sure to have some other plants in the garden that will fill in if this happens.  Ferns, solomons seal, wild ginger, foamflower, and jacobs ladder are all good choices to name a few.



The jacob’s ladder is just finishing up blooming. The light blue to purple flowers arise in loose clusters on stalks separate form the leaves. This very delicate woodland flower provides beautiful color for shady gardens. Also called Greek valerian. Plant jacobs ladder and wild geranium together.  As the jacobs ladder is finishing up – the wild geranium will be starting to bloom – providing you with great spring color in the shade garden.

The wild geraniums are just starting to flower.  This is a great choice for partial sun/shade areas – as it is pretty adaptable in either direction. Also called cranesbill (if you don’t know already you will understand where it gets this other common name when you see the seed pod after it is done flowering), there are many non native varieties of geranium at most garden centers – but I think our native one is quite lovely. 

Foamflower is another great adaptable plant for part sun to part shade areas – being adaptable in either direction as well.  It makes a beautiful groundcover, with a carpet of airy white flowers sticking up above the foliage. It is a very versatile plant for the garden, a great ‘go to’ plant if you aren’t quite sure how much sun an area gets and what to put there!

Golden ragwort doesn’t have the best sounding common name, but it really is a lovely plant! It is actually in the aster family – even though it blooms in the spring – making it our earliest blooming aster by months!

It has bright golden yellow flowers on stalks above the green round foliage.  When it is done flowering, the seed heads become little puffballs just like asters in the fall.  It also spreads like asters do, so you can deadhead the seeds if you want to try to limit its spread, or let it go to seed and be merry!  After flowering, it provides nice green groundcover in the shade garden the rest of the season.

I have mine planted in full shade under some of our sugar maples.  It is a great pop of color in the shade – which can be hard to find.  And I have white wood asters planted along with it – another great naturalizer for shady areas – and they will provide late season color in the shade. Here is a picture of my ragwort planted under the maples below.

The Ostrich ferns are so beautiful with their vase like fronds.  Plant them so you can have a supply of fiddleheads to eat in the spring, and beautiful ferns to enjoy the rest of the season! They can take a fair amount of sun as long as they have enough moisture – otherwise – give them more shade.  The spread fairly quickly when happy, sending out a few new baby plants from the mother plant each year, so have an area of them to fill in. We have a nice supply of large ones at the nursery right now that we have been growing that will provide instant impact in the garden!

Wild ginger makes a great groundcover in the shade – and while the flowers aren’t showy – I still love them! In fact – you pretty much have to get down on the ground to see them hiding beneath the leaves.  They are a dark maroon – very unusual looking.  I think I like them so much because they are so unusual.

Shooting star resembles a badminton “birdie” heading earthward. The foliage stays low and goes dormant in mid-summer. Great for a woodland or rock garden. The flowers range from pink to purple to white. 

Blooms in the sun:

The moss phlox is gorgeous right now.  The lighter pink plants in the bottom of the picture are the straight species, phlox subulata. The brighter pink flowers at the top are a cultivar called ‘Emerald Pink’ – which as you can see has brighter pink flowers.  The foliage is also more of a deep emerald green.  I like them both – in fact I think they look nice next to each other to take advantage of the color contrast.  Moss phlox is a great groundcover for sunny areas.  It is also great for rock gardens and creeping over rock walls.

The wild columbine ‘little lanterns’ is looking great right now.  It seems to bloom a bit earlier than the straight species – which works well because it is also shorter. So you can plant both in the garden – with the little lanterns in the front – and prolong the columbine bloom in the garden. The hummingbirds will thank you!

The barren strawberry makes a great groundcover in sun and also in shade. As the name sounds – it looks like strawberry – but doesn’t get any berries. It has been blooming for a few weeks now – and is petering out.  In terms of low, full sun groundcovers for the front of the garden or a rock garden, the barren strawberry blooms first, then the moss phlox, then the three-toothed cinquefoil.

The golden alexanders in the sunny display garden are looking gorgeous right now. These flat clusters of yellow flowers in late spring are a great native alternative to Bishops weed or goutweed, an invasive groundcover still commonly being planted. The dried seed heads turn purple, making for summer interest. Golden alexanders is also the larval food plant for black swallowtail butterfly.


Shrubs in bloom:

The Pinxterbloom azaleas are in flower right now.  These are such lovely shrubs. So pretty! Many folks remember these from seeing them in the woods growing up.  The hummingbirds are also big fans of the beautiful native azaleas!  We also grow swamp azaleas at the nursery – they aren’t blooming yet – but they are covered in nice big buds right now – so stay tuned to see them when they bloom.

The beach plums are just finishing up blooming right now.  They are really nice shrubs for the landscape.  In New York they are found along the coast and also on inland dunes along the Great Lakes – making them salt tolerant and great for dry, sandy soils. White flowers cover the branches in May before leaves emerge in the spring. Tart red-purple plums ripe in August make a great jam! With its rounded, densely branched habit and sculpted, twisting branches, beach plum makes a great specimen species in the landscape.

The chokeberries – both the black and the red – are just starting to bloom right now. (This is black chokeberry in this picture) They are both beautiful shrubs – and provide great berries for the birds. They have beautiful red fall foliage as well.

The chokecherries are also blooming right now.  Getting about 20 ft tall – it is a large shrub/small tree – making it a great native alternative to invasive trees such as Norway Maple and ornamental pears for the home landscape.

The highbush blueberries are covered in lots of little bell-shaped flowers right now – which will be followed by lots of yummy blueberries later this summer! I can’t wait!

Stay tuned to see what blooms next! The three-toothed cinquefoil are close, and the shrubby sundrops, tall white beardtongue and blue flag iris won’t be too long behind them. For the woodies – the mountain laurel, rhododendron, winterberry, and ninebark won’t be too far behind either.

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Fiddlehead Frolic

Now is one of my favorite times of the year, when the fiddleheads are just coming up! As the namesake of our nursery it comes as no surprise to those that know what fiddleheads are that I enjoy them greatly – but I am always surprised by the number of people that don’t seem to know – and that ask me what our nursery name means. (Sometimes it is hard to remember that not everyone is as much of a plant nerd as I am)!

All of our ferns have fiddleheads, tightly curled fronds that come up in the spring and then unfurl into the fern fronds that we see the rest of the season.  For northern New York, late April is the time of year when you can see (and collect if you like) these tasty treats!  Now – the second question that I get asked a lot is can you eat just any fiddlehead you see? And the answer is No.

Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are the species of fern that are the ‘fiddlehead fern’ that you want to eat.  They are native to much of the northeast and northern centralpart of the US. You don’t want to just go out and eat any fiddleheads you see, you could make yourself very sick!  Some sources say that you can eat the fiddleheads of some other ferns – such as Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) but they don’t taste nearly as good – so it is not usually recommended. And other sources say that these same ferns are carcinogenic and to avoid them – so I think it is best to play it safe and just stick with Ostrich Ferns.  You never want to take any chances if you aren’t sure.

To enjoy fiddleheads in the spring, you want to collect them when they are just a few inches out of the ground.  They come up in clusters, with brown papery scales around the base.  Ostrich ferns look like a number of other ferns, including Cinnamon Ferns and Interrupted Ferns, so be sure you have properly identified the fiddleheads first.  If you don’t have fiddleheads on your property, you can buy some to grow your own (and then you know you have the right thing!). For more details on just how to go about it, the University of Maine Extension has some great reference information about how to identify and sustainably harvest fiddleheads here. 

After you properly identify and collect them, you need to cook them. There have been reports of people getting sick from consuming them raw(Although some folks will tell you that they do this).  Some people boil them. Again, there are many sources with lots of different information about how to prepare them and lots of yummy recipes you can find online as well.  I saute them lightly in a pan with a little olive oil and S&P so that they are still nice and bright green and crunchy – however, I will admit that this cooking method is not recommended by some sites such as the University of Maine Extension (in fact they expressly say not to do this – eek!).  Again, do your homework, and don’t take any chances.  Here is what the University of Maine Extension has to say about preparing fiddleheads to eat. They have a great shrimp and fiddlehead medley recipe on the site that I think I might try for dinner tonight!

The bottom line is that you need to do your homework.  These days there are lots of websites with info online – and lots of fellow gardeners that will tell you what they do – but be sure to look for reputable sources of information such as state extension publications or similar.  Some people might have a reaction to eating fiddleheads, just like some people have peanut or other food allergies.  So if you have never eaten them before, I would suggest following the guidelines from a site like University of Maine Extension – and just trying out a small amount to start.  I know it might sound like a lot of work, but for many of us – their fresh green flavor that is hard to describe – somewhere between fresh asparagus and just ‘green’ I guess – is a reward well worth all the hard work!

And then of course – you still have the lovely Ostrich ferns to enjoy the rest of the year as well.   They  are beautiful ferns for the garden – large and vase shaped.  The fiddleheads are just a tasty bonus in the spring!

This post was originally written for Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

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Bunny Bustin’ NY Natives

bunny in garden photo

photo courtesy Better Homes and Gardens

Many people might just think of rabbits trying to get into veggie gardens and eating all those yummy carrots, but some gardeners have troubles with rabbits in their flower gardens as well.  They sure are cute – but just like deer and other wildlife that we all love – when they are devouring your garden that you have been working so hard on – sometimes they can start looking less cute! And just like deer, rabbits can come in large numbers, that can devour quite a number of plants in little time. Common garden plants including marigolds, salvia, veronica, astilbe, lavender  and daylilies are noted as rabbit resistant – but what about native species?

Certainly, there must be many- since native plants and native bunnies have evolved together for many years.  But it turns out finding a list of such native species isn’t as easy as one might think. Deer resistant native plant lists are pretty common (we have one of plants that we grow on our, but rabbit resistant seems to be less so. There are some rabbit resistant lists out there – they just aren’t specific to native plants.  And not all natives lend themselves to rabbit resistance. We certainly have a number of rabbits that hang around the production area in the nursery nibbling on some of our native grasses  - mainly the Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa) and sometimes the Northern Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).  So, in honor of Easter Weekend, here are a few New York native plants that are noted for being rabbit resistant.

spotted beebalm

Spotted Beebalm

Natives for sunny gardens include Monarda sp., Penstemon sp., Iris sp., Anemone sp., Heuchera sp., and Lupinus sp. Butterflyweed, Black-eyed susans, and Wild Columbine are also rabbit resistant.

Monarda species you can try include Beebalm (M. didyma), Bergamot (M. fistulosa), and Spotted Beebalm (M. punctata). Beebalm and Bergamot are common in many gardens, but Spotted Beebalm less so. This beebalm is shorter and can take drier soils, making it a great find if you have a sunny, dry garden. It is also loved by pollinators and covered in them all summer long. We grow all three at the nursery.

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine

If you have a dry, sunny garden – along with the M. punctata you might also want to try Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis),  and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). I’m not sure if the other milkweeds are rabbit resistant or not. I haven’t found info on them – and don’t have any personal experience – but maybe someone has some experience with them and can comment.

blue flag and tall white beardtongue

Blue Flag Iris and Tall White Beardtongue

With a little more moisture, you can add Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor), Nodding Onion (Allium cernum) and Tall White Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) to your Beeblam and Bergamot if you like.  All of these are pretty strong plants, holding their own against each other, as they spread and fill in the garden quite nicely. There won’t be any room left for the bunnies before long!

If you need some groundcovers, try Alumroot (Heuchera americana) or Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) in the sun, or Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) or Wild Ginger (Asarum canadensis) in the shade.

In shady gardens, try some of our native Goldenrods for shade, such as Blue-stemmed (Solidago caesia) or Zig-zag (Solidago flexicaulis). Jacobs Ladder (Polemonium reptans) and Solomons seal (Polygonatum commutatum) are other good choices. I often use Solomons seal, Jacob’s Ladder , and Foamflower together in shade gardens – they are a great combination.

Solomon's Seal

Solomon's Seal

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

If you are looking to add in some shrubs, try Ilex sp., Hydrangea sp, Elderberry sp., Rhus sp., Spiraea sp., Viburnum sp., and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Inkberry (Ilex glabra), Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica), Meadowsweet (Spiraea latifolia),  and Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) are all shrubs we grow at the nursery that would all be good options depending on your garden conditions. You could also try some of the many Viburnum species we have, but in general, I now avoid these in most plans because of a pest we have a problem with in New York, Viburnum Leaf Beetle. The one exception is Mapleleaf Viburnum. It is a great small shrub for shade, and seems to have much better resistance to the beetle than the other species.

In working on this article, I found a good rabbit resistant list through Penn State Extension that I used as a reference. You can check it out for other non-native rabbit resistant plants as well.

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In a Dicentra State of Mind…

Well – I know Valentine’s Day has come and gone – but being February for another few days – I still have hearts on the mind.  And with spring on its way  – I can’t help think about the spring ephemerals that will be here before we know it as well. So I guess I just am in a Dicentra state of mind right now…

D. cucullaria, dutchmen's breeches

D. cucullaria, dutchmen's breeches

Dicentra canadensis, squirrel corn

D. canadensis, squirrel corn










Our two native species in New York are very similar in appearance, in fact, it wasn’t until recently that I saw both  (or at least that I happened to notice both!) while out on a walk in the woods just last May. I’m sure they have both been out there all along – but you really have to be paying attention to notice.  Both are small, dainty plants with white flowers and delicate, green-blue foliage. Dicentra canadensis, or squirrel corn, is the more heart-shaped of the two, while Dicentra cucullaria, dutchmen’s breeches, looks more like an upside down pair of pantaloons – hence its common name.

spring ephemerals

Spring ephemerals in the NY woods: dutchmen’s breeches, spring beauty, and red trillium

I see dutchmen’s breeches every spring, mixed in with the Red trillium, hepatica, and spring beauties, and have quite a nice patch growing in my garden.  It is also the one native Dicentra that we grow at Fiddlehead Creek. Dutchmen’s breeches is the more commonly seen of the two species I think, and the better well known ( at least from what I have found in our area). Squirrel corn, looks more like the other Dicentras, Dicentra eximia and Dicentra spectabilis, but isn’t available commercially as far as I know – and I think is less common to see – at least from my own experiences out in the woods.

dicentra eximia, wild bleeding heart

D. eximia, wild bleeding heart, image courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Dicentra eximia, wild or eastern bleeding heart, is considered native to much of the eastern US (Dicentra formosa, western or Pacific bleeding heart, is its counter part on the west coast).  While the USDA PLANTS database and the BONAP database list it as native to NY, our NY Flora Atlas does not. They do note that it appears to be growing in ‘natural areas’ in NY – however at this time they do not think it is native to NY – but rather more likely a result of escapes from gardens. I would be interested to hear if anyone has seen it while out walking in the woods in NY.  It is also small and dainty like it’s realtives, but the flowers are pink instead of white. Either way, it really is quite a lovely flower as well.

Perhaps the most well-known Dicentra by the gardening public is Dicentra spectabilis, or old-fashioned bleeding heart. This is a staple in many gardens, and available at most garden centers.  There is even a white variety that is quite nice. This species is much larger than our US natives – reaching 2-3 ft in size rather than just the 6-12 inches that our native Dicentras reach. While it is a lovely plant, and not invasive, this bleeding heart is not a U.S. native, but rather is native to eastern Asia.

I have found that many people mistakenly think that this is in fact a US Native plant.  Similar to hostas and astilbes, I guess it has that ‘natural’ look that people assume means ‘native’. My husband actually got into quite a heated discussion with a customer at our nursery one day over this plant, who asked if we carried bleeding heart. He told her no, it wasn’t native to NY so we didn’t.  She informed him that he didn’t know what he was talking about, and it most definitely was! No matter, as I am still partial to our native Dicentras, particularly dutchmen’s breeches.  Even though they are small and short lived, spring ephemerals as such a joy each spring, and definitely worth adding to your garden in a shady corner if you haven’t already!

Dicentra spectabilis, old fashioned bleeding heart

Dicentra spectabilis, old fashioned bleeding heart

D. spectabilis

D. spectabilis, old fashioned bleeding heart white variety


This article was originally posted on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. to see comments, or to join the conversation, click here.


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Winter Wear for Shrubs?

Last month,  before we had any snow (now we have about a foot!) I started to notice something that I notice every winter since I moved to upstate NY over 10 years ago…  Shrubs wearing clothes! No, I’m not crazy. Many arborvitae in the area have burlap wraps on for the winter months.  And other foundation shrubs are covered by burlap, A-frames, or a combination of the two.

Now the reason for these extra layers in the winter is to protect the shrubs from the cold, the wind and sun, the ice, the salt, or some combination of all these winter stressors.  Rather than embarrassing your shrubs all winter (can’t you just imagine what the other plants are saying about them!), if we think about the old gardener’s adage, right plant, right place, you should be able to avoid such a winter wardrobe for your landscape.

Arborvitae are hardy to zone 2 – so why in zone 4/5 do they need so much protection? They are susceptible to winter damage from dessication due to winter sun and winds on their south, southwest, and windward sides. They can also be  broken by heavy snow or ice, losing their ideal shape that many of the various cultivars are planted for. They are relatively salt tolerant, however, not highly, so they are not the best choice for being planted right along a roadway that is heavily salted in the winter.  If you think you have salt damage problems with some of your shrubs, the Morton Arboretum does a great job explaining the different types of salt damage and the symptoms and lists a variety of salt tolerant trees and shrubs to try.

And what do we know about how arborvitae are often used in the landscape? If you don’t already know, a quick drive around whatever town you live in should show that landscapers and homeowners love using them for privacy, as living fences along the road or along their property in place of a fence. Often in very exposed locations where they are very susceptible to winter damage from the sun, wind, and salt spray.  When planted in more protected locations, and in more natural plantings, rather than straight rows, you can enjoy these popular evergreens year-round without the winter hassle or worry. We have a number of arborvitae planted on our property and I have never done anything to them for the winter, and they seem to be doing just fine! I think arborvitae have fallen victim to becoming so popular as hardy, evergreen privacy shrubs for landscaping that their susceptibility to winter damage when not planted in the right place is just overlooked most of the time – that is, until the winter arrives!

The second trend in winter-wear that I see this time of year is the A-frame. This is mainly over foundation shrubs, to protect them from heavy snow falling off the roof.  Again, this can be avoided if we take some time to think through landscaping the front of our house.  A line of yews is standard for the front of many houses around here. Evergreen and short, they hide ugly foundations year round. But if they have to be covered in ugly A-frames all winter – are they really worth it?  I think not.

One simple fix is moving shrubs farther out from the front of the house so the snow doesn’t fall so directly on them.  This also helps year-round, as having shrubs right against your house traps moisture, encouraging rot, or insect damage if you have wood siding.  Moving them out not only protects them from snow damage in the winter, but increases air circulation year round.

Think about using large structural perennials or ferns in place of shrubs.  Solomon’s seal is a great choice for shady locations.  It’s height is just about perfect for covering most foundations, and you don’t have to worry about it in the winter since it dies back.  The same goes for many of our taller ferns, such as Ostrich Fern or Goldie’s Wood Fern. Or try some Smooth Hydrangea.  These usually get trimmed back each year anyway – so a little winter breakage is no big deal! Shrubs such a Red-Twig Dogwood that have more open branching, are less likely to have damage from heavy snow, and can also be a good choice.  And their red twigs add a great pop of color in the winter. There are lots of great native plants that you can use – that don’t require a winter wardrobe. Many of which are highlighted on this very blog year-round! When landscaping in the summer, just don’t forget to think about how those plants will do in the winter as well.

You can avoid all this extra work with the right landscaping!

If you want to learn more about winter damage, there are lots of great resources available, but this Minnesota Extension page about winter damage is a good place to start.

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Shoreline Staples for High and Dry Shorelines

Water quality in many lakes across the nation is being greatly impacted by shoreline and watershed development.  In New York State, stormwater runoff is the number one cause of waterbody impairment. After it rains, runoff carrying sediment and pollutions rushes across parking lots, roadways, and other impermeable surfaces and ends up in streams, lakes, and rivers.

As shoreline homes are developed around many lakes, the forest is removed and replaced with large houses and lawns right down to the shoreline of the lake.  Many states are now working to educate homeowners about protecting their investment in their waterfront properties by maintaining – or restoring a shoreline buffer of native vegetation. Shoreline buffers stabilize soil and prevent erosion, filter pollutants and absorb nutrients, and provide food and habitat for local wildlife.  And even if you don’t live on a shoreline, there are other ways you can use native plants in your yard to help protect local waterways from the effects of stormwater runoff.

Last month I attended the North American Lake Management Society’s Annual International Symposium in Madison, Wisconsin. A great conference about everything lake related, one of the talks I attended was about native plants for shoreline buffers on Wisconsin Lakes. The project involved restoring 100 ft of shoreline with native plants and woody debris for habitat cover on 5 different lakes.

When many of us think of shorelines, we might picture wetland plants like cardinal flower, blue flag iris, and rushes and sedges.  These are the kinds of plants we have been planting along the shoreline of our new pond – and there are definitely shorelines that look like this – but there are also a lot of  shoreline areas that are pretty dry – understory of mature forests – not wetlands at all.  It was mentioned during the talk that after some trial and error, they were learning which plants were the hardiest and working the best on their sites. After the talk, I chatted with some of the staff involved in the project about just what these shoreline buffer workhorse species were.  Pennsylvania sedge, bearberry, poverty oat grass, and bigleaf aster were some of the plants they were finding to work well on the shorelines on restoration situations in drier, shady to sunny sites.  Besides being hardy, these species also happen to be native to NY and many other parts of the US as well. They aren’t the showiest species, so they may not be as familiar as some other species – but these natives are clearly deserving of our attention. Besides providing benefits for local wildlife, they also can help protect our local waterways in drier shoreline sites. So if you have a drier shoreline area – including the understory of large pines – here are some species you should give a try.

Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica):

Pennsylvania sedge forms a ground cover in the forest (spreads by rhizomes) and is resistant to deer grazing. It grows in low clumps, 6-12” high and gets an attractive cluster of brown seed capsules clinging high on the stem that attracts birds. Foliage is pale-green in spring and summer, turning sandy-tan in fall.  This is a great alternative to trying to grow grass in shady, forest understory locations where grass doesn’t like to grow anyway! And its deeper roots will help stabilize shorelines from erosion much better than turfgrass. Native range covers much of eastern North America.

Poverty Oat Grass (Danthonia spicata):

Not a very well known species, this is a cool season grass with blue/green color that grows in wiry clumps with curly basal leaves. This native grass adds nice texture to the garden or is a good choice for part of a low maintenance native grass lawn. Thrives in poor soils of old fields or open woodlands. The curly-Q leaves are characteristic of this grass. Native range covers most of North America.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi):

Also called Kinnikinnick – I can’t say enough about this evergreen groundcover. A spreading, evergreen shrub that makes a great groundcover in sandy, acidic soils. Attracts bees, butterflies, and birds – and provides winter interest in the garden with the dark green leaves, red berries, and red, exfoliating branches. Avoid soil compaction and fertilization around bearberry. If you have a dry, infertile area where you think nothing will ever grow – try bearberry! Native range covers most of northern and western North America.

Big-leaf Aster (Eurybia macrophylla):

This aster has large heart shaped, fuzzy leaves. Forms a dense spreading groundcover. Big leaf, heart-leaved, and white wood aster are all native asters that can be found in woodlands and make great additions to the shade garden. Taking shade as well as sun, it takes a drier soil than asters such as New England or New York – and it doesn’t tend to ‘lean’ quite as much as some of its taller aster relatives. Native range covers much of northeastern North America.


Remember – a healthy plant community isn’t always about lots and lots of variety of the showiest species out there.  You need a few good workhorses to be the backbone of of a healthy and happy plant community.  Next time you are taking a walk around a lake or stream, pay attention to what species you see growing there. Chances are you will see a few species repeated over and over again than a new species everywhere you look. Try to mimic these natural patterns in your own landscape.I’m sure there are many other great species for drier shorelines as well – these are just a few that seem to work well on Wisconsin shorelines.

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A Match Made in a Wetland: Cardinal Flower and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Cardinal flower is a favorite source of nectar for the Ruby-throated hummingbird. Photo courtesy Larry Master,

There is nothing like the scarlet red color of a cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, in bloom along a stream bank or lakeshore in late summer.  Besides being one of my favorite flowers, it is also a favorite of the ruby-throated hummingbird. And while as many as 19 species of plants found in the Eastern US have probably  co-evolved with hummingbirds, the cardinal flower is the most well-known.  The range of the ruby-throated hummingbird and the cardinal flower are very similar, demonstrating how closely the two are linked. The long tubular flowers of cardinal flower and the long, narrow bill of a hummingbird are a perfect match.  By reaching all the way down into the bottom of the five-petaled flower in search of nectar, the hummingbird gets food, and in return, the cardinal flower gets pollinated.

The hummingbird pollinates Cardinal flower by transferring pollen on its forehead. photo courtesy Larry Master,

Hovering mid-air, the hummingbird laps up nectar with its long tongue from the bottom of the tubular flower. While doing so, it brushes up against the flower, getting pollen from the stamen stuck to its feathers, which it then inadvertently transfers to the pistil of another flower – in the same way a honeybee pollinates flowers. Many hummingbird pollinated flowers have long, tubular flowers with long stamens, which are the male flower parts carrying the pollen.  That way, the pollen is brushed off on the hummingbirds’ forehead as it reaches in to take a sip.

In the case of cardinal flower, besides the unique relationship between the shape of the flower and its main pollinator, the flower is  also ‘protandrous’ – meaning the flowers start off as male and then become female.

The male, pollen producing stamens develop first and stick out. As the stamens fade, the female pistils develop and stick out in their place.  This ‘sex change’ occurs from the bottom up along the stalk of flowers.  The male flowers are the most nectar rich, so the hummingbirds visit them first, spending most of their time at the top half of the stalk of blossoms.  So the hummingbird transfers the pollen from the newer blossoms that are still male to the older blossoms that have turned into female flowers – all on the same plant.

While hummingbird favorites tend to be red, orange, or pink in color, they will visit other colors including white and blue.  One rainy afternoon at the nursery, I sat and watched a hummingbird visit the small, white bell-shaped flowers of Solomon’s seal in the shade, protected from the rain by the large sugar maple trees above.  Other white flowers that hummingbirds are known to visit include Tall White Beardtongue, New Jersey Tea, and Summersweet.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to the eastern US every spring form their over-wintering ground in Central America and Mexico. Once they arrive in NY in the spring, early blooming flowers such as pinxterbloom azalea and wild columbine are important sources of nectar.  Beebalm, bergamot, beardtongue, and trumpet honeysuckle are great nectar sources during the summer.  Cardinal flower and other late blooming flowers such as the orange colored spotted jewelweed become important nectar source for late summer/early fall – as hummingbirds are beginning to prepare for their fall migration. And the reward is worth all the hard work – the sugar content for hummingbird flowers averages 26% – more than twice the amount of sugar in a soda!

This male ruby-throated hummingbird is visiting Beebalm, another favorite flower. photo courtesy Larry Master,

Cardinal flower planter!

Cardinal flower makes a stunning addition to the garden.  Or you can even enjoy them in a planter if you like.  I keep one on the porch.  While often considered a perennial, Cardinal flower is not actually a true perennial.  The plant and associated roots die after going to seed. However, new offsets grow from the axils of the lowermost leaves, putting down new roots.  So it is these new young plants that overwinter as rosettes and then bloom the next summer. In northern climates, including New York, sometimes it can be a bit tricky to get these new young plants to overwinter.  A little extra care, and some mulch to help protect it, should do the trick. And they are well worth the extra effort to enjoy their beauty in late summer.  In moist areas, cardinal flower also readily reseeds.  Hardy in zones 3-9, I usually see cardinal flower along stream banks and lakeshores, however you can grow it in the garden in an average soil, it just won’t reseed in and spread on its own.

Popular nursery cultivars, such as ‘Queen Victoria’, are usually hybrids the Mexican species of Lobelia, and are not usually hardy for this area – so watch out.  Be sure to check the plant label, and make sure you are getting Lobelia cardinalis – our native cardinal flower. The hummingbirds will thank you!


Cardinal Flower is still blooming at the nursery right now!


Cardinal flower along a lake shore earlier in the summer.


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Late Summer Color at the Nursery

New York Aster

New York Aster

Well, fall is just around the corner (the fall equinox is Sept 22) – and it sure feels like it finally with the rain and cooler temps we have had this week. We still have lots of great selection at the nursery for fall planting projects – including lots of plants that are great for fall color in the garden. Here are a few pictures from around the nursery this past week.

NY Ironweed

NY Ironweed

New York Ironweed is great late season color. It just looks like another purple flower from a distance – but when you get up close – it is quite beautiful.

NY Ironweed

New York Ironweed up close - looks like a yummy apple pie!


cutleaf coneflower

cutleaf coneflower

Cutleaf coneflower is our native ‘coneflower’ but it is actually a rudbeckia (Rudbeckia laciniata).  When most people think of coneflower – they are picturing the purple coneflowers – that also now come in an array of other colors. These are Echinacea purpurea – and are not NY natives. They are native to the mid-west prairies.  Cutleaf coneflower is tall and bold, a great specimen plant – it is a real attention grabber!




cardinal flower

cardinal flower

Cardinal flower is absolutely one of my favorite plants. It was always so special when we saw them growing up as kids, along the lakeshore where we spent time in the Poconos with my family.  My dad always told me that it was protected, and a very special plant.  They are protected in the wild, but luckily  – nursery propagated plants are available – so you can enjoy these stunning plants in your garden. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about the close relationship between cardinal flowers and our ruby-throated hummingbird – it will be coming soon!

showy aster

showy aster

This is our first year growing showy aster at the nursery – and what a show stopper it is! It is jut covered in beautiful lilac purple blooms.  It stays shorter and works in drier soils than New England Aster and New York Aster -making it work well in smaller gardening spaces.

red twig dogwood berries

red twig dogwood berries

Blooms aren’t the only way to have color in the garden. The white berries and red stems of red twig dogwood are a striking contrast – and also attract our feathered friends as well!

northern bayberry

northern bayberry berries

Not only does northern bayberry smell amazing when you brush into the leaves, but the white, waxy berries are an important source of food for birds. It is one of our favorite shrubs to prune in the nursery – because it smells so good!

false dragonhead

false dragonhead

thinleaved sunflower

thinleaved sunflower

woodland sunflower

woodland sunflower



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September’s Plant of the Month

rose mallowCrimson-eyed Rose Mallow   Hibiscus Moscheutos

Most hibiscus bring to mind sandy beaches and tropical getaways. I remember watching iguanas eat hibiscus flowers on a family vacation to the British Virgin Islands when I was young – it was very exciting to watch. While there are no iguanas here, we do have a hibiscus that is native to New York.  Out of 40 species of hibiscus, crimson-eyed rose mallow is the only one that is native to New York; able to survive our cold, snowy winters. Crimson-eyed rose mallow is native from Massachusetts  and New York to Wisconsin and south and is hardy in zones 4-9.  Also known as swamp rose mallow because it likes moist to wet soils, crimson-eyed rose mallow is another common name because of the bright crimson in the middle of a large white flower.  There is also a variety (var. palustris) that is pink instead of white.

rose mallow

Rose mallow is an excellent showy species for moist, sunny sites.  Large, 6-8 inch blossoms with 5 petals cover the plant and are enjoyed by hummingbirds.  While the individual flowers only last one day (yes – only one day!), the plant is so covered with individual blossoms that it blooms for quite a long time.  The Rose mallow in the display garden by the pond started blooming around August 20 last summer and bloomed until October 16th.

rose mallow buds

Rose mallow is covered in buds. It's hard to imagine that each flower only lasts for a day - but it does! The ground under the rose mallow in the display garden at the nursery is littered with spent flowers - so big that they look like cigars!

This summer the rose mallow started blooming on August 19th in the garden.  Down south hibiscus are woody shrubs, but this far north our native hibiscus is an herbaceous perennial.  This might surprising to hear to someone that has seen one of these plants 7 feet tall in late summer covered in blossoms, but yes, it grows it all in one year, and does it again the next year.

You can deadhead the spent flowers if you don’t like their appearance, but they fall off on their own in a day or two. In very wet conditions, rosemallow will reseed readily.  If this is the case and such reseeding is unwanted, just deadhead and cut the stems down for the winter.  Otherwise you can let the stems and seed heads stay for winter interest and then cut the dead stems back in the spring to make way for the new growth.

With large woody looking stems that reach 5 to 8 feet tall, this tall plant doesn’t need staking because the stems are so strong.  And since rosemallow is an herbaceous perennial,  if you want to keep your plants shorter, you can.  Cut them back by one half in early June.  Flowering will be delayed by 1-2 weeks, but you will get flowers on a shorter plant. Just remember, these plants are late to emerge in the spring.  Many people assume their plant must be dead since everything else is already up.  But just wait – they will come up – and they are well worth the wait.

Established plants don’t like to be bothered, so just let them be. They get large – so plan ahead – giving them plenty room to grow where you decide to plant. Plant three to four feet apart. They seldom need to be divided.  The only downside is that all hibiscus species are loved by Japanese beetles, however ours got some slight leaf damage early on in the summer and then do fine.  Japanese beetles tend to me more of an issue earlier in the summer around here, and since our hibiscus blooms so late because we are so far north, it seems to avoid most of the damage from the beetles.

rose of sharon

Crimson-eyed rose mallow is a great native alternative to Rose-of-Sharon, pictured here.

Crimson-eyed rose mallow looks similar to the non-native Rose of Sharon making it a great native alternative.  Many people are surprised to learn that Rose of Sharon is actually considered very invasive in much of the mid-Atlantic. Sure, we aren’t in the mid-Atlantic, but based on the current climate change models, we may have the climate of the Mid-Atlantic sooner than any of us can really imagine – so I advise against planting Rose of Sharon in NY as well.  We have already seen warmer winters and longer growing seasons, both changes which can allow invasives from warmer climates to begin to invade in our area.  Why leave behind an invasion of Rose of Sharon on your property for your kids or grandkids to have to inherit and deal with?  Instead, leave them an amazing native landscape for them to enjoy!

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