Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer Xeriscaping Series: Part 4 of 9

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In the Farmer’s Market and the fourth installment of the Summer Xeriscaping series. The two plants covered today are Yucca filamentosa, Spanish Bayonet and Delosperma cooperii also known as Ice Plant. Also as part of the topic I thought it might be important to cover a critical agricultural resource without which we might have a greatly reduced yield of some of our favorite foods. Indeed the sub-topic today is all about pollenators, and what you can do to keep a reliable bunch of them coming to your garden to help increase productivity.

Let me start by stating that pollinators are a diverse group that includes our well known favorites such as Moths, Butterflies, Bumblebees and Honey bees. Additionally  did you know that wasps, beetles, certain types of fly, midges, thirps and even ants all play roles in the entire picture that makes up the insect pollinator group. If you add in certain species of bat, humming birds and even some kinds of lizard and non flying rodents the chain of creatures that can be considered a pollinator gets even larger.
In today’s post however what I am focusing on today is how to attract and support populations of pollinators for the purposes of keeping natural balance. Biological balance is important because it often can reduce pest problems assure heavier fruit set and can reduce the amount of pesticides and chemicals you use. Reduction of pesticide and herbicide use can reduce the risk the targets of such chemicals gaining any form of immunity which makes it easier to get what you want without going out of your way to obtain it.

First off,  supporting most pollinators is easy while planning your gardens, you must remember to leave space for multi- season blooming perennials and annuals. These long bloomers are the plants that sustain the pollinators, and as they go about their business they will hit up the stuff that’s producing food materials for you. For instance, Echinacea or cone flower if healthy will start blooming in late string almost through the fall, paired with Asters, Chrysanthemums, Zinnia, Sunflowers and French Marigolds you have a nearly constant supply of both pollen and nectar. Plus given the variety of cultivars the color choices are incredible so this mix works in any landscape with a decent amount of sun.
Expanding the mix don’t for get the wasps and hornets. I know what your thinking, ‘why the hell would I help wasps and hornets?!’ The group known as Hornets/wasps or vespidaceae have a bad rap. I’ll admit that yellow jackets, bald-faced wasps, European hornets, and most paper wasps are not my favorite creatures, but I know they serve a purpose and if given a decent clearance should never be a problem. Prime example, have you ever seen a wasp just hovering over the foliage of a plant for no real reason? What they are doing there is hunting they’re looking for the colonies next meal. Typically that meal will be something like a caterpillar which works in your favor. Even with the bad reputation there are some good wasps out there that don’t get much notice. Beneficial wasps include the Fig wasps without which the figs we eat might not be so plentiful, and the Cicada-Killer which acts as a biological control for adult cicadas, and lets not forget the tarantula hawk, a large wasp that hunts tarantulas keeping them in check. Then there are the parasitic wasps that hunt garden pests such as tomato horn worms and take care of the problem. Generally wasps are heavily attracted to the nectar of a few things, Mint, and surprisingly they love the flowers of mature ivy. I might add if you want to see biological diversity, plant a stand of mountain mint and wait until it blooms, there will be more species of pollinator on those blooms from the wasp family alone then most have ever seen. Just remember don’t get too close and always give wasps a wide berth, also killing their nests don’t do it unless it poses a clear and unavoidable danger. For instance if the nest is at head height in a tree over a path that’s a hazard, if it’s under the overhang of a roof where people might pass, that’s a hazard, but if it’s thirty feet up in a pine and not near any frequently used structure, leave it alone.

The key is to plan your garden to provide them what they need from spring through fall, as though you were planting to provide yourself with materials to survive. Any garden with a decent number of pollinators will also have a better fruit set and will support it’s gardener/s far better. Also remember which pesticides harm pollinators the most, for instance use Malathion and Imicloprid carefully as both have a effect on honey bees and honey bees are known to forage distances of up to 30 miles.

Honey bee swarms can have between a few hundred to thousands of individuals. I might add that is a White Pine they are on, and more then a week later they are still there…apparently having taken up residence in an old Carpenter Bee nest.

Bumble Bees despite producing no useful amounts of honey are excellent pollinators and are one of the few alternatives for greenhouse pollination of tomato crops. This one is on the flower of a cotton rose, a member of the hibiscus family.

This is some sort of wild bee species visiting the Jerusalem Artichoke, which for note is in the sunflower family and attracts bumble bees and honey bees as well.

Yucca filamentosa – Spanish Bayonet 4-10

In most general use for the garden I tend to think of yucca as the most aptly named plant in the universe.  The issue generally is that most gardeners then to plop the plant down as they see fit with little consideration for its shape and form or requirements. What you get is a large angular plant that often does not look very good by itself. Thus, the joke that ‘yucka’ is aptly named.  Most yucca in common cultivation have the rough form of especially coarse grass that happens to flower in late spring or summer. Additionally yucca also tends to form dense impenetrable ‘colonies’ by virtue of its heavy rhizomatous growth when it is happy and placed well. Newer cultivars bear yellow or white variegation, and may have differing foliage colors ranging from exceptionally dark green to almost chartreuse colorations. Additionally select varieties of yucca are available in more clump forming shapes to single-stalked varieties that are more columnar and contained.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Clark – Spanish Bayonet (Zone 7-8)
This cultivar is one I’ve developed unlike the normal yucca it’s got a waxy-blue-green color that holds up in full sun and seems to have a faster then average growth rate.

There are even incredibly slow-growing types that remain small for a long time and thus can be inter-planted as a plant anchor for a normal scale garden bed. Finally when you start looking at other species of yucca there are shapes and forms resembling immature long leaf pines.
That said, yucca is often horribly misused,  the key to yucca is remembering it resembles exceptionally coarse grass and does it’s best when supported by lower growing plants of finer foliage in front and larger contrasting foliage plants to the rear. The columnar forms of yucca can be used as a ‘faux’ tree or palm substitute as a centerpiece. I might add the flower stalks are quite impressive but only mature yucca will produce these so if the plant you buy is too small it may be a while.  As I mentioned before; most common yucca are rhizome forming, and thus will spread at a relative rate to how soft the soil is and how well cared for they are. In fact a yucca kept in a plastic pot too long will eventually puncture the pot. Additionally Yucca are useful in the garden as they will tolerate the hottest driest areas with poor soil. With fertilizer and good soil yuccas like Prickly Pear respond well and show noticeable growth. Lastly the one thing a Yucca will not tolerate is being constantly wet, like the cacti and succulents a yucca will begin to suffer root rot if planted in constantly wet soils.

Delosperma cooperii – Ice Plant

Ice plant is one of those garden center staples that is still picking up proverbial steam as its recognition increases. As far as the garden is concerned Ice Plant is a welcome addition to the succulent & cacti arsenal as it can do two things reliably whereas any number of succulents and cacti cannot do both at once. Unlike a lot of succulents Ice plant gets its name from the appearance of its foliage which is covered with a sparkling coating of frost or ice. The appearance of an Ice Plant’s foliage can be striking when light hits a mass planting of Ice plants the right way and the best part is it appears this way all year.  Just using the foliage alone with some

Remember that second thing that the ice plant does well? Surprisingly when it comes to the Ice Plant half of its appeal is the veritable sea of flowers they produce between late spring into early fall.  Typically Ice plant is found in some shade of bright pink, however yellow, red and orange tones are occasionally seen making the Ice plant an excellent performer as far as succulents go.

As another advantage to using the Ice Plant as a bedding perennial is that it propagates easily from cuttings without rooting hormone. All you need to do to make more Ice plants is to take stem cuttings 3-5” long from stems that are not actively blooming. Take the cuttings you have collected, trim off the leaves off the lower parts of the cutting and insert in moist but not wet soil. The cuttings if kept reasonably moist should root in a few days to a few weeks depending on the vigor of the mother plant.

With all that covered, next week will be part Five of the summer xeriscaping series and the plants covered are Eucalyptus and Madagascar Periwinkle.  I hope you found today’s post useful, and are considering some of the stuff covered so far, if you’ve got a suggestion or drought proof plant idea feel free to send it in. Thank you again for reading and as always Keep ‘em Growing!

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