Delightful Daffodils

Dutch Master Daffodil
‘Dutch Master’ Daffodils in Bloom. Photo: Rachel J. Rhodes

The signs of spring are everywhere from the sounds of spring peepers in the woods to the red hues of maple buds to the yellow blooms of daffodils. The tidbits of spring trickle in like the mist of early morning fog slowly then all at once. As if waking up from a long winter’s nap, you see buds on trees swell or the tiny green stems of bulbs that gently peak through the mulch. The next day, you hear the sounds of spring peepers. Then, all at once, the baby pink blooms of cherry trees are floating like confetti in a ticker-tape parade while crocus shine like amethyst and daffodils glitter like drops of gold in flowerbeds and all of a sudden, spring is here.

daffodils near the woods
Photo: Rachel J. Rhodes

As the daffodils I planted last fall leisurely woke from their long winter’s nap, I began to think about how beautiful they would be in a few weeks with their golden yellow cups and their egg yolk petals, my mind wandered to their name “Daffodil.” When I became a mother, names and the meanings behind them captivated me. As a parent, when you name your child you research everything: the meaning behind a name, where it originated from, the many spellings, and so forth. When the time came to hold my sons for the first time, I was completely and utterly prepared with names that would suit them. The names that would help define them and would help guide them as they traversed through our uncertain world. Did I put too much
weight on a name? Maybe.

As Juliet said to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” There is a great name debate between Daffodils, Narcissus, and Jonquil. Daffodil refers to the common name for the spring-flowering bulbs in the genus Narcissus. Jonquil is the common name for Narcissus jonquilla within the Narcissus genus. To avoid any ambiguity, you can never go wrong by calling these flowers by their genus name Narcissus.

According to the American Daffodil Society, there are between “40 to 200 different daffodil species, subspecies or varieties of species and over 32,000 registered cultivars (named hybrids) divided among the thirteen divisions of the official classification system.” Daffodils range from the tried and true yellow trumpet to ones with double flowers and clustered flowers, to small cups, and ones with open cups. Flower colors come in an array of white to yellow to orange. There are even some with splashes of pink.

daffodil in bloom
Photo: Rachel J. Rhodes

Daffodils are hardy spring-flowering perennial bulbs that should return year after year. During blooming, they require generous amounts of water. After blooming, always deadhead the spent flowers. Even though daffodil foliage can get unruly, allow the leaves to remain for at least six weeks. You will see people braid or tie the leaves together with rubber bands. This timely endeavor results in the leaves manufacturing smaller amounts of food for the bulb, which in turn results in smaller blooms the following year. After the allotted six weeks have passed, you may remove the leaves.

For Maryland’s hardiness zones, plant daffodils in the fall (from late September to late November). The soil needs to be cool but the ground should still be workable and not frozen. Picking out bulbs is just like picking out the perfect apple. You want a bulb that is firm without blemishes. Bulbs should never be soft, damaged or moldy.

Daffodils are an easy dependable flower that is ideal for the beginning gardener. Don’t forget to pick some up in the fall for your garden!

By Rachel J. Rhodes, Master Gardener Coordinator, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, University of Maryland Extension. Follow the Queen Anne’s County Master Gardeners on Facebook. Visit the UME Master Gardener webpage to find Master Gardener events and services in your county/city.

Helen’s Flower Hails Pollinators

common sneezeweed flowers
Helenium autumnale. Photo: Beverly Turner, Jackson Minnesota, Bugwood.org

Helen’s flower is an underdog when it comes to native plants. It is not as well known or as popular as butterfly milkweed, bee balm, or black-eyed Susans — but perhaps it’s time for its day in the sun. It makes a nice addition to a pollinator garden.

Helenium autumnale is the species name of this North American native perennial plant. It goes by the (somewhat unfortunate) name of “common sneezeweed” because dried parts of the plant were formerly used for making snuff to induce sneezing. As an ornamental garden plant, it is not known to prompt sneezes from pollen dispersal (it relies on insects for pollination) and I prefer to address it by its lovelier common name, Helen’s flower… or just plain Helenium.

Wild Helenium autumnale boasts cheerful yellow button-like flowers tended by a skirt of turned-down petals in late summer to fall. Its natural habitat in Maryland includes swamps and moist riverbanks, so in your garden, it will like a location where it has some regular soil moisture. It can grow in full sun or partial shade and stretches in height from 2 to 5 feet tall. The flowers support a variety of pollinators such as bees, wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies, and beetles.

A wide variety of cultivars of Helenium are now available. They range in color from bright canary yellow to orange and crimson and various combinations in between. Many of the cultivars tolerate drier soil and have a more compact habit.

Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware conducted field trials of 44 Helenium species and cultivars from 2017 to 2019. They evaluated plants for their habit, vigor, disease resistance, floral display, and pollinator visits.

helenium flowers in a garde
Helenium flowers in a garden, “The warm glow of early Autumn” by hehaden, Flickr

Given the high interest in pollinator gardens right now, I was curious about their observations of pollinator visits in particular.

The native Helenium autumnale had the most observed pollinator visits (162), while the cultivar H. ‘Zimbelstern’ came in second (151). Both of these had excellent powdery mildew resistance as well. Other cultivars such as Helenium autumnale ‘Can Can’ and H. ‘Tijuana Brass’ also had excellent ratings for these two characteristics. The best performers in the study overall (considering all the characteristics evaluated) were ‘Kanaria’, ‘Zimbelstern’, and ‘Can Can.’

The native Helenium autumnale had the most observed pollinator visits (162), while the cultivar H. ‘Zimbelstern’ came in second (151).

For all the details and results of the evaluation, read the report online.  

If you plan to start (or add to) a pollinator garden this spring, do consider adding Helen’s flower if you have a moist site in full sun or partial shade. Mt. Cuba’s report provides good information on plant care, including staking and pruning tips and recommendations for managing the two most common diseases — powdery mildew and aster yellows.

To purchase plants, check the Maryland Native Plant Society’s website for spring native plant sales and nursery sources.

Visit the Home & Garden Information Center website for additional resources on native plants and gardening for pollinators.

By Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, Digital Horticulture Education, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Read additional posts by Christa.

Winter Sowing: How I Get a Jump Start on My Summer Flower Garden

poppies
These June-blooming flowers were started by winter sowing. Photo: C. Carignan

Winter sowing is a technique gardeners can use to start growing seeds outdoors during the winter months. If you have limited space for starting seeds indoors, winter sowing might be an option for you, depending on what you want to grow.

I first tried winter sowing last year with several types of flower seeds. Winter sowing works best for plants that are cold tolerant or even require a period of cold in order to germinate. When you are looking at seed descriptions, look for words like “cold tolerant,” “cool season”, “hardy annual,” “perennial”, “sow in autumn”, “sow in early spring”, or “self-sows”. These words indicate the best candidates for winter sowing. Continue reading

Black-eyed Susans Attract Pollinators and Other Beneficial Insects

Black-eyed Susans are easy to grow and will attract many pollinators to your garden. The dark center or eye of the flower head holds 250 to 500 individual flowers, and to pollinators, each one of these is a shallow nectar cup. These are shallow enough that even small wasps and flies can drink from them, and many small wasps and flies are predators or parasitoids of pest insects. These tiny, dark flowers bloom from the outer rim of the eye and progress inwards with time. It’s a buffet that attracts a wide variety of small to medium-sized pollinators, including many species of insects beneficial for pest control. This blog provides a few examples of the wonderful insects you can attract to the home garden by planting Black-eyed Susans.

Black-eyed susan

A Black-eyed Susan isn’t a single flower, it’s actually hundreds. Notice the individual corollas of the “eye”, and the yellow pollen along the outer ring which indicates those flowers are in bloom. Watch a pollinator visit, and you’ll notice that they rotate around, drinking nectar from each one of the tiny blooms in this ring. The Metallic Green Bee, shown here, is a good example of the small bees that enjoy Black-eyed Susan’s big, soft, landing pad and shallow flowers. Notice the pollen packed onto the bee’s hind legs. Continue reading

Cardinal Flower Is for Hummingbirds

Cardinal flower
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Photo: C. Carignan

I gave up on my hummingbird feeder years ago. It was more than I wanted to do to keep up with changing the sugar solution every two to three days, as recommended to keep the food free of spoilage that could be harmful to the birds. I saw that hummingbirds would visit some of my garden flowers just as much as the feeder, so I decided just to provide flowers for them. More flowers for me, more natural nectar for them. A win-win.

In my garden, ruby-throated hummingbirds most often fed at my scarlet bee balm, blue salvias, brilliantly colored zinnias, and orange butterfly weed. This year they have an additional choice that appears to be their new favorite. It is the flower whose color resembles that of a different bird, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).

This Maryland native plant produces 2-4′ tall spikes of bright, cardinal-red flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds in mid to late summer. In fact, hummingbirds are an essential pollinator of these plants.

Cardinal flower was easy for me to grow from seeds sown directly outside. In the fall of 2016, I scattered seeds in a low area of my yard where water frequently would puddle after heavy rain. They sprouted and grew low foliage and a few small flower spikes the following season. This year I have plants that are well established and the flower spikes are tall and brilliant. Cardinal flower grows best in moist to wet soils, so this has been a fabulous year for it!

If you have a shady or partially shaded area that tends to stay moist in your yard, cardinal flower might be a great choice for you. Allow these plants to reseed naturally so you’ll have flowers — and a natural hummingbird feeding station — year after year.

Additional Resources

By Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center

Plants for Monarchs: Milkweeds and More

asterQ: I planted seeds of what I thought was a milkweed (Asclepias). The plants look somewhat like milkweed, but they are close to 4 feet tall with no sign of flower buds to confirm their identity. There are leaf buds at the axils, which I don’t see on other milkweeds. What is this plant? I would like to have milkweed plants for Monarch butterflies.

A: What you have here is not a milkweed. It is Tall White Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, and the good news is, it is actually what the Monarchs need more at certain times of the year than Asclepias. More on that in a minute, but first, a few notes and a caution about planting milkweeds.

As many people know, milkweeds are essential host plants for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. We commend people for adding milkweeds in their gardens to support butterfly conservation!

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Bottlebrush Grass – Gorgeous Native Ornamental For Your Garden

A wild Bottlebrush Grass plant in the Potomac River floodplain
A wild Bottlebrush Grass plant in the Potomac River floodplain

Elymus hystrix got its common name, Bottlebrush Grass, by having seed heads in the shape of a bottle-washing brush. Both the seed heads and the stems are coated with a white wax, making this a gorgeous ornamental grass for your garden, especially when situated against a dark background.

The Nature of Bottlebrush Grass

In the winter, the basal foliage is lively and green, even during the coldest of winters. As a cool-season grass, Bottlebrush does most of its growth in spring. Flower stems are sent up in June and seeds are set in July.

Bottlebrush is native throughout Maryland, but only in soils with good calcium availability. That makes it uncommon in the Coastal Plain, where soils tend to be nutrient poor. Even there, it does grow wild where shell deposits have enriched the soil.

Many insect species use the Bottlebrush Grass as a host plant, including the Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly. Photo by MDF, via Wikimedia.
Many insect species use the Bottlebrush Grass as a host plant, including the Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly. By Mdf GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 from Wikimedia Commons

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