Bug watcher

Montrose last Saturday was a great place for insect watching.

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on gomphrena

Fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on gomphrena

Pollinators were out in force, making the most of the glorious fall day.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)?  on butterfly bush.

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)? on butterfly bush.

I particularly enjoyed watching these bees, their pollen sacs full of neon-orange pollen, coming in to feast on the dahlias:

honeybee with full pollen sacs coming to a dahlia honeybee with orange pollen sacs landing on dahlia DSC_6805 multiple bees landing on dahlia

More of a good thing: Propagating trilliums and other rhizomatous plants

My favorite time of the gardening year is when my trilliums come into bloom.

Trillium luteum

Trillium luteum

These plants, native (in the case of Trillium luteum) to North Carolina, grow in deciduous forests. Slow-growing and typically reproduced by tissue culture, they command hefty prices at nurseries and garden centers, in the range of $15-20 for a quart pot containing one plant. Please don’t use this as an excuse to harvest them from their native habitat; that’s strictly taboo.

I have been waiting patiently for perhaps eight years for these plants to multiply. This year, I think the oldest of my three plants may send up a second bloom. Growing trilliums is a bit like watching children mature, I suppose; the gardener must exercise a great deal of patience as the subject slowly and rather invisibly matures, showing exciting glimpses in brief bursts of what lovely and graceful specimens they will become.

Well, my patience is not where it ought to be. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I read in Nancy Goodwin’s delightful book, Montrose: Life in a Garden, about how she increased her stand of Trillium catesbaei by pricking the rhizomes with a pin to stimulate new growth.  She describes a ninefold increase in her plants in one year using this technique.

I contacted Nancy to ask about the process and she assured me it was extremely simple. Uncover the rhizome (easiest to do now, when the flower is visible), and prick it with a pin beneath the growing point, found at the end of the rhizome. The injury stimulates the plant to produce additional tubers, she writes. Perhaps while the plant photosynthesizes, it pumps more energy into additional tuber/rhizome (I will grasp this one day) formation, yielding a greater increase than would occur if, say, the gardener tried this technique during the plant’s dormancy.

Yesterday I gave it a try. I dug gently down with my fingers, not wanting to risk severing the rhizome with a vigorous plunge of a trowel (perhaps an irrational thought, given what I was about to do). I found the growing point, or what I think is the growing point, and, not having a pin to hand, gave it a timid poke with the tip of a pair of scissors. I made an incision only detectible by the droplet of white fluid that emerged from the rhizome. I filled the hole back up and firmed it well. I tried the technique on two of the three plants, so if I’ve erred in my execution, next year I can be assured of having at least one plant surviving (the one that’s sending up two flowers this year).

Feeling a bit bold, I tried it on the single specimen I have of Trillium sessile as well.

Trillium sessile (red)

Trillium sessile, dusted with pollen

Next year, we’ll see what emerges. You may want to give this technique a try in your own gardens. If you do, please let me know your results.

First dates: Plants I’m trying this year

This week, I will share some of the plants I’m trying out in my garden for the first time.

Mina lobata

Mina lobata uses numerous aliases, including firecracker vine, Spanish flag, and exotic love vine. This sun-loving annual grows quickly to 10 feet long and produces lush, trilobed leaves similar to those of Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato vine, to which it is related. In late summer to early fall, Mina lobata produces red flowers that fade to orange, yellow, and white. Those tubular (as in tube-shaped, not as in surfer-speak) flowers attract swarms of hungry hummingbirds, so plant it where you can enjoy the show. The vine will reseed to come back year after year, but do be mindful that the seeds are poisonous so keep them away from children and pets.

Mina lobata

By Magnus Manske (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Synonymous with Ipomoea lobata, this plant is related to morning glories and I expect similar habits. I’ve not had much trouble with reseeding morning glories, but I keep an eye out so nothing gets out of hand.  Mina lobata is said to cope well with heat and humidity, which I can guarantee in my neighborhood.

I thought I first saw this plant growing at Montrose last fall, combined with Helianthus, cosmos, and other fiery flora. But upon closer inspection, I’ve discovered that what I thought I was admiring was not Mina lobata, but Cuphea micropetalum.

Border at Montrose with Helianthus, Cuphea micropetalum, and orange cosmos.

Border at Montrose with Helianthus, Cuphea micropetalum, and orange cosmos.

This is what I thought was Mina lobata. It's not. It's Cuphea micropetalum.

This is what I thought was Mina lobata. It’s not. It’s Cuphea micropetalum.

To grow from seed:

Scarify the seed (scratch with sandpaper or nick the seed coat slightly) and soak in water overnight or up to 24 hours to improve germination. Sow seed outdoors after the last frost, or sow indoors and transplant after the frost risk has passed. Give its twining stems a trellis or tuteur to climb upon, or train it against a fence or wall you’d rather not see. Like clematis, its roots prefer some shade, and it likes rich soil, neutral to slightly acid pH, and moderate water. Do not overfeed Mina lobata with high-nitrogen fertilizer, or you will have lush vines and few flowers.

If left to dry on the vine, the seed heads may be harvested, cleaned, and stored in a cool, dry place.