Monthly Archives: April 2015

Sneezeweed growing in the kitchen gardens at Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield MA

Sneezeweed: All Smiles, No Sneezes

If you enjoy growing new and unusual perennials, take a look at the yellow-flowering Fall Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) for cheerful late-season blooms. Actually not new at all (only at nurseries), sneezeweed is a native plant that grows wild in wet areas across most of New England, providing nectar and pollen to butterflies and late-season pollinators.

Fall sneezeweed grows right on the edge of the pond at Garden in the Woods in Framingham MA

Fall sneezeweed grows right on the edge of the pond at Garden in the Woods in Framingham MA

Although a wetland plant in the wild, sneezeweed doesn’t require wet soil, and really shines in decent garden soils that aren’t too terribly dry. Long-blooming, sneezeweed (also called Helen’s Flower) begins blooming in August and continues right until a killing frost here in central MA (Zone 5).

And despite its name, Sneezeweed does NOT cause hay fever! Its pollen is heavy and pollinated by bees rather than wind (which carries lighter-weight allergenic pollen dust).

The native yellow-flowering Helenium autumnale is still very hard to find at nurseries (at least in New England), available only at Project Native (please hit Reply if you know of others!), although hybrids bred in Europe are beginning to become widely available in nurseries. The hybrids are bright and showy, usually with flaming orange-yellow flowers.

A note on hybrids and cultivars: On my own Massachusetts habitat farm, I’m moving from growing cultivars of natives (nativars) to growing locally-native plants — this is helping to maintain native strains with adaptations to local climate and co-evolved wildlife. Most sneezeweed cultivars such as ‘Mardi Gras‘ and ‘Moerheim Beauty‘ originate from European breeding programs. Depending on their seed provenance, they may contain some native genetic materials, but because they’re selected from plants growing in faraway garden climates, they may not be best adapted to local conditions, and there is no guarantee that they have the characteristics that local wildlife rely upon. Read more about the complicated issues of choosing native plant hybrids for wildlife value.

Sneezeweed growing in the kitchen gardens at Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield MA

Sneezeweed growing in the kitchen gardens at Salem Cross Inn, West Brookfield MA

 

Native New England Shrubs for Pollinators: New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

Thriving in lean soil and attracting the good bugs, New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is a low flowering native shrub for full-sun areas of the garden.

Click below to read my profile of New Jersey Tea on Houzz:

Postcard from the Hummingbirds: We’re On Our Way!

The hummingbirds are coming! The hummingbirds are coming! As of this week, ruby-throated hummingbirds have been spotted making their way north into the Carolinas and Virginia!

Hummingbird Migration Map

Disinfect feeders with a dilute bleach solution and fill with a sugar/water solution of 1 part sugar: 4 parts water

Fill feeders with a sugar/water solution of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.

There’s still a foot of snow on the ground here on our farm, so I’m guessing no hummer will even consider making their way to New England for another 3 or 4 weeks yet, when bugs are flying and sapsucker wells are flowing freely. The males usually arrive here in central MA sometime in April, scouting out good breeding habitat. Females don’t usually arrive til later in the spring, when nectar plants begin blooming and insect food is plentiful.

But if they could, I’m sure our summertime visitors would send a postcard saying “We’re on our way. Looking forward to our visit! See you soon. p.s. Get those feeders up and please plant more of that Coral Honeysuckle for us! Love, the Rubythroats”

So it’s time to get those sugar-water feeders cleaned and hanging! They’re coming soon! Keep watching the migration map and please help out by reporting any sightings!

Hummingbirds love the red tubular flowers of Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Hummingbirds love the red tubular flowers of Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

p.s. and plan to grow some native Coral Honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempervirens) in a sunny spot on your property this year. The hummingbirds will appreciate it, and may well decide to return to your habitat every year if they like what you have to offer!

Hardy New England Hummingbirds: It’s always hard to believe any tropical bird would consider the cold New England climate as a good place to live and breed, but our few months of warm and wonderful summery weather with a glorious variety of blooming flowers and plenty of flying insects means that many ruby-throated hummingbirds DO consider our New England “rainforest” region to be a perfect place to raise a family. At least, in the summertime. Come August and September, they’re on the way back to the tropics for the winter, and after this particularly brutal winter of 2015, I can’t say I blame them!