- Author: Jenni Dodini
I don't know how many of you take the Daily Republic, but my mom and I still do. In a Friday issue before Mothers' Day, there was an article about a newer variety of Monarda that looked like lacy flowers. My mom called me and went on and on about how exotic and beautiful it is and how perfectly it would go in her yard. I read the article and looked it up online since it's easier to get her something she is raving about than trying to figure out a gift. Well, pretty much every place that said they had it in stock had not updated their site. Even Morningsun Herb Farm had a very depleted stock. So, I did what every good daughter should do, I passed it off to my sister since she lives close to Annie's. She was successful in finding Monarda, but not the lacy-looking variety. And since she is a good sister, she got one for me also. Both are red colors, but neither has bloomed yet, so I can't comment on which one will be prettier. So, I'll say it will be mine.
Now I have this plant that I know very little about and have to figure out where to put it in not one, but two, yards. What's a girl to do??? Research, of course. Here's what I found out...
Monarda didyma is also known as Bee Balm, Oswego tea, and Bergamot. It is a member of the Lamiaceae family. While it is native to the eastern area of North America, it does very well in California gardens according to The Western Garden Book, and grows well in our zone. The US Forest Service site was interesting to me in that it gave explanations of how the plant got its different names. Bee balm is the common name that came from the herbal use of the resin for healing and soothing bee stings. The name Oswego tea came from the early white settlers to North America who were taught by the Oswego tribe of Native Americans (in the area that is now Northern New York) the way to make herbal tea from the leaves. The name Bergamot came from the similarity in fragrance to the bergamot orange. Monarda is in recognition of Nicolas Monarda, a Spanish physician and botanist who authored the information which introduced the North American herbal plants to Europe. Didyma is the Latin word meaning "in pairs" or "twins" because the stamens occur in pairs.
Along with the USFS site, the Missouri Botanical Garden site gave the most concise description and care information. The plants vary in height from 1 foot to about 5 feet. Monarda is a clumping plant that spreads by rhizomes from the edges to about 1 1/2 feet in diameter. It also spreads by seed from the flower head after it ripens and turns brown. One can either break it open and spread the seeds or allow it to open on its own and self-sow. It can spread very widely in that manner. The flowers are unique and stunning. They range in color from scarlet to deep lavender. There were also pictures of spotted and white flowers on the Wikipedia site. They are grouped in dense heads on the ends of the stems and sometimes at the lower stem axils. The flowers are tube-like structures with two lips, the lower being slightly larger and can be up to two inches long. They bloom from late June to late August and bloom more when the spent flowers are removed. The stems are four-sided to square looking with the leaves on opposite sides of each other. There are little spreading hairs on the underside of the leaves. (I need to go outside and look at the leaves again!)
Monarda like to be in full sun to light shade in very hot areas. They like rich, humusy, moisture-retaining soil and will also do well in clay soil. They don't like the soil to dry out completely and are more prone to rust or fungus when that happens. If they get very crowded, they need more aeration to prevent fungus and powdery mildew. Monarda is easily propagated by dividing every three to four years in the autumn or spring.
Monarda attracts hummingbirds and butterflies and also other beneficials. The other good thing is that deer and rabbits tend to avoid them. When I visited the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum with my friend just south of Phoenix, there was a beautiful, big plant (which I didn't think to take a picture of while telling my friend what little I knew) that was well attended by the hummingbirds in the area. By big, I mean about 4 feet tall and easily 4 feet long in the garden with bright red flowers. I'm looking forward to seeing what my little plant does, and also to getting mom's planted and more purchased for her yard (as requested after she scrolled through the pictures on my phone).
- Author: Paula Pashby
I recently took some time to relax near our Salvia garden, which comprises Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans), Heatwave Glimmer Sage (Salvia microphylla), Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii), and Purple Sage (Salvia leucophylla). We chose these types of Salvia for their enchanting fragrance and also their high capacity to feed our vital pollinators. While I was relaxing and enjoying the fragrance and beauty of the Salvias, a carpenter bee (as seen in one of the photos) joined me, flying from flower to flower, enjoying the delicious sips of nectar that the flowers offer.
The carpenter bee has an interesting way of interacting with the Salvias, which is the reason they are often called a ‘robber bee'. It cannot access the flower from the small opening, so it bites a hole at the base of the flower to consume the nectar, bypassing the potential for moving the flowers' pollen. It is quite a sight to see!
I noticed that a carpenter bee would show up every 20 minutes or so and revisit the same flowers. This made me wonder about the flowers' nectar. Does the flower run out of nectar? If so, why does the carpenter bee return to the same flower over and over again?
So, a peaceful and relaxing moment in the garden, once again, turned into a research project. This time I set out to better understand nectar production and replenishment in flowers. Here is what I learned…
Plants have glands, called ‘nectaries', that produce and secrete the nectar. The nectar is a watery solution made up of sugars, fructose, glucose, and sucrose, and also contains traces of proteins, salts, acids, and essential oils. The nectar is produced to attract pollinators for the plant propagation cycle.
I found out that the nectar replenishing process will vary by flower species. Other factors also influence the nectar production cycle, such as the age of plants, seasonal and diurnal periods, and watering. Some flowers can replenish their nectar in a few minutes while others may take a full day.
I discovered that my relaxing afternoon curiosity about nectar has opened a door to a much more complex plant biology process than expected. I am just scratching the surface and look forward to seeing where this adventure lands - it likely leads to even more questions than I ever imagined.
- Author: Karen Metz
When I initially read the itinerary for the Inside Passage, Southeast Alaska cruise I was especially interested in the hike to an Alaskan bog, or muskeg. That certainly sounded unique. Well, of course, our June 2020 cruise never happened. I'll admit I was surprised that it was allowed to go in June of 2021. But it was a small vessel, with all passengers and staff vaccinated and testing negative twice in the three days before departure.
Well, our first full day of adventure had included traveling in Zodiacs to the face of a glacier and seeing harbor seals and their pups, as well as bears. I wondered how they would manage to keep up the momentum after a start like that. But on June 8 we docked in Petersburg and took a Zodiac over to Kupreanof Island. We hiked through a beautifully dappled forest and then continued up an incline to come out of the forest into a totally different landscape.
Although we walked on a raised boardwalk, it was very narrow. We had all been prepped beforehand to wear our tall, waterproof boots just in case. The ground was saturated with water the color of strong tea. Most of the plants were low growing and the scattered trees were twisted and stunted.
Our naturalist explained that the area had once been covered with ice. When the ice retreated it left behind rock, pebbles, and dirt that formed a base that didn't drain. Add copious amounts of rain and cold temperatures and you have the makings of muskeg or bog.
Then sphagnum moss joins the mix. It takes up minerals from the water in exchange for hydrogen ions which in turn makes the water acidic. Sphagnum sp. can hold up to 20 times the weight of water. This keeps the water from draining and decreases water movement which leads to decreased oxygen levels in the water.
These conditions slow both the growth of bog plants and their decomposition. Since growth is still somewhat greater than decomposition, you end up with layers of partially decomposed organic matter that accumulate as peat. The peat can end up being several yards deep.
In addition to the Sphagnum, there were three other bog plants that especially impressed me. The Shore Pines, Pinus contorta, were extremely bent and stunted. They can normally grow 25-30 feet tall. Here they were 5-10 feet tall. Our naturalist told us they were 200-300 years old. We did see a Stellar Blue Jay fly in and perch in one while we were there.
Next, our naturalist reached down and showed us a Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. This little beauty looks like an alien creature and is carnivorous. It secretes a sticky mucous that traps any insect that lands on it. Then the little tubercles lean in and encircle the insect. Enzymes are released that dissolve the insect and the resulting nutrients are absorbed by the plant. The plant wasn't very big, but there were thousands of them.
The next plant I had to include for sentimental reasons. Alaskan cotton is also known as Cottongrass, Eriophorum spp., can grow from 4-36 inches tall. They are in the sedge family. Their soft, fibrous, white seed heads look like cotton caught in the grass. The wind catches the fibers and disperses the seeds. Historically, the fibers have been used as wicks for oil candles or as stuffing for bedding.
When I was in the third grade my father was stationed on a small island in the middle of the Aleutian Island chain. Adak was our home for 18 months. I remember the stark beauty of the island and the incredibly harsh weather and wind. I loved the fuzzy little plant we called Adak Cotton. I remember fields of it. I even picked and pressed a little seed head in a book. I still have it in a framed memory box my father made for me. To see it growing again after all these years was magical.
- Author: Lanie Keystone
Before we get started on our August gardening, I'm curious where that saying, “Dog Days of Summer” comes from. So—here it is: The Romans started it all by using the term during the hottest, most humid time of summer. They associated these days with the star Sirius—the brightest star in the constellation—named Canis Major—a large dog.
Filled with that bit of trivia—let's look ahead to our August gardens--there is plenty to do to keep them healthy, bountiful, and beautiful for months to come.
Let's take it one step at a time.
- Water Realities: This is a tricky one, because, once again, we're in the middle of a California drought. However, if you're thirsty in this heat, so are your plants and trees. With the drought always in mind, deep soak your vegetable garden, fruit, and landscape trees in addition to your shrubs and perennials. Replenishing the mulch around each by 2”-4” is key to retaining moisture. And, don't let those drooping leases on hot afternoons fool you! Stick your finger down a couple of inches and water only if your soil is dry.
- August Pests: Warm season vegetables can attract sap-sucking whiteflies. Reduce these critters by removing infested plant parts. You can use sprays of water, yellow sticky traps, neem oil, or insecticidal soap. Follow the instructions carefully. Make sure to check out and treat the underside of leaves where whiteflies lay eggs. If a given plant is rapidly declining, remove it. Ants have been a particularly big problem this year. It's important to control them as that will help reduce sucking insects such as aphids that farm them. And, finally, watch those weeds. They love the water as much as your plants do! And, they'll compete for all the good stuff in your garden, as well. So, keep on weeding!
- Beautiful Beds and Borders: My herbs are giving us all such delight this summer and we can enjoy many of them well into the fall and winter and beyond. This is a great time to consider planting a tree such as a bay laurel. Think about perennials such as sage, lavender, and rosemary—they each make great structural contributions to our gardens and even can form shrubs. For low-growing herbs, think of creeping ground cover such as thyme. And, you can always let your annual herbs such as colored basils, parsley, or coriander go to flower and seed.
- Bountiful Crops: Our apricot tree was the definition of bountiful this year! What fun making apricot jam, cakes, and tortes and just eating them or giving them away to grateful folks. Now it's time to prune that “giving tree” as well as cherry trees. Don't wait until winter for these two—you want to prevent the fungal disease Eutypa. August is the time to give young fruit and citrus trees the second half of their annual fertilizer dose. As for ripening melons, pumpkins, and winter squash—set them on boards to avoid rot and insect damage. Be sure to pick up fallen fruit on a regular basis. Leaving rotting fruit on the ground encourages pests and diseases.
So, that's the August garden routine. Enjoy these wonderful “Dog Days of Summer”. Stay cool and watch the night sky for Canis Major—the bright and glorious Dog Star.
- Author: Nancy Forrest
Ever hear of benign neglect? The term is used frequently in politics, psychology, and the medical world. Basically, it is an attitude or policy which by ignoring an issue or problem will benefit it more, than trying to solve it. But in gardening?
Perhaps it means that it's okay not to take immediate action…let nature take its course. In the garden, sometimes not watering and fertilizing constantly is a good thing. Plants can suffer from too much love. Over the years I have had plants indoor and out that looked like they were dying, only to discover that when I thought they had died and I left them alone, they came back in abundance. Several were drought tolerant and I was over-watering them, others I had over-fertilized. The UCD website has a list of plants that are drought tolerant which do well with minimum care. I happen to have some of them. They seem to thrive by my not interfering with their care; Aloe Vera, Jade, Rosemary, String of Pearls, Mint, Orchids, and Succulents.