Shade Gardening

Notes from Scott Woodbury’s presentation.

Scott prefers leaf litter rather than mulch.
You may want to mulch public/presentation areas, but leave leaf litter in the back areas
Leaf litter provides habitat for insects during the winter.

Bush honey suckle is an invasive which you can take out in the fall.
Pull or cut it out and use herbicide on the stump.
Note – I typically pull 20 small honeysuckle and wintercreeper plants every time I weed at Whitecliff Gardens.

He puts in about 40 plants per square yard with 26 species.
Note – in a traditionally planned garden, you would probably have a mass of one species in a square yard and have mulch cover the entire area.

Whitecliff Gardens
Typical “Professional” Landscaping – San Francisco.

He plants plugs and uses a dibble bar.
Note – I have never been able to buy plugs, but I do buy small plants and use a an auger drill bit.

Fire Pink – most people have trouble growing this…….that has been my experience.
It might need more acidity.

Dry Shade – Round Leaf Groundsel, Erigeron – Robyns Plantain, wild columbine, Heuchera americana, parviflora,

Deer – tend to avoid sedges, switch grass –
Link for Shaw PDF.

Maple trees – are hard to grow underneath them.

Here’s a good list of shade loving plants from Grow Native.

Grow Native Shade Garden Plan

Shade Garden #2

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Butterfly Gardening Class

Note – the first two sources are a bit dated, but will give you the basics.

Start by reading my free Butterfly Gardening Book.

2nd – Watch my Butterfly Gardening Youtube video.

3. Start thinking about a location.
Think small, sunshine and water.

I’ve got a shop light I’m giving away for seed starting.
If you’re interested email

If you are interested in starting your own seeds inside, here is my latest light recommendation.

Potting Mix Recommendation
The “Pros” use Pro-Mix – it’s on sale right now at Menards.
You will also need to add slow release fertilizer – I use Osmocote Plus.
According to one video, the Myco will last up to two years.

Seeds – I usually start planting around May 1st in St. Louis so I start my seeds inside around March 1st.
You can buy inexpensive seeds at …..

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Lavender in Missouri

I have tried to grow lavender numerous times over the years with poor results.
The problem is that I top-dress with compost every couple of years to create rich soil and I water when necessary with a sprinkler. Most of my butterfly plants thrive under these conditions, but not lavender.

Veronica – a good lavender substitute

Veronica and perennial salvia are great substitutes that will have two bloom periods if you cut them back in July.

If you still want to try and grow lavender, here are some notes from the Mo. Extension Service.

  • Control the amount of water going to the plants. Keep it on the dry side.
  • Use raised beds ….at least 12 inches.
  • Try different cultivars.
  • Plan on losses – 20% to 25%
  • Plants do well in hot and dry weather.
  • They use weed cloth to reduce weeding.
  • They also have training available during the year.
  • There is a good section in the video below on propagation.

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Free Butterfly Gardening Program

Click Here to Register – Oct. 8th.- 10 am – Powder Valley

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Dragonflies – Another Migration

Chuck Evans Mcevan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Common Green Darner

About a week ago, I noticed about 20 dragonflies hovering in my backyard and wondered where they had come from. It turns out that some dragonflies migrate between the Southern states and Canada.

Yvonne, a local expert said, “Almost certainly those Common Green Darners were migrating. Others that migrate are Variegated Meadowhawk, Black Saddlebags (they also breed here), Wandering Glider, and Spot-winged Glider. Maybe more. I’ve noticed an uptick in the #of CGD at ponds. Also Wandering Glider. Whenever you see that many at one time, it’s a migrating flock. “

According to a Washington Post article, there are three generations of dragonflies. One flying north, one flying south and one staying in the south for winter.

It appears they have moved on since their first visit, but if they come to visit your garden enjoy them in your yard.

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When Monarchs Aren’t Around

Cloudless Sulphur

While the Monarch population is currently non-existent in my garden and many others in the St. Louis area, there’s a good replacement in early August – The Cloudless Sulphur.

This lemon colored butterfly is slightly smaller than a Monarch, but it’s still striking in the garden.

The trick to getting these in your garden is to have Partridge Pea growing in the garden. It’s a magnet not only for bumble bees, but it’s also the host plant for the Cloudless Sulphur. Once you get these plants started in your garden, you never have to buy them again. They are an annual which will gladly freely reseed itself and provide you with plenty of plants the next year. You can also save the seeds and plant the seeds in the fall anywhere you want them to grow next year.

I like them to grow as a second flowering annual. Usually I have bulbs, milkweed and coreopsis flowering in spring and then Partridge Pea comes on strong in August.

The eggs are tiny, white and football shaped.

What I’ve found is that the butterflies even like petunias for nectar.

Lobeila cardinalis and red salvia are also favorites of theirs.

Lobelias cardinalis

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Song Sparrow Nest

Song Sparrow Nest on the Ground

A first for me is to find a bird nest on the ground with eggs. It was camouflaged in a patch of weeds I was dispatching. I initially thought it might have fallen out of a nearby Hydrangea, but now have learned that Song Sparrows do commonly nest on the ground if they have cover.

One lesson I learned from this is that the common practice of planting one flower at a time in it’s own isolated location won’t be a good practice for these type of song sparrow nests. They need plants close together to provide privacy and cover.

It appears that the Brown-headed cowbird has also laid eggs in this nest, although I can’t tell which is which.

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Pruning in May

Ironweed in good soil.

Also known as the Chelsea Chop, cutting back certain plants by 1/3 to 1/2 is a common practice to maintain control and size in the garden.

One of the things I’ve noticed with native plants is that when you find them in parks with poor native soils, lots of competition, no extra water other than the rain and certainly no fertilizer, they seem to maintain a diminished size. Once you buy that same plant and put it into good garden soil with compost, fertilizer, lots of space and plenty of water, the native turns from dwarf to GIANT. In the past, I end up staking many of these plants just so they don’t fall over.

I am making a conscious effort this year, around May 15th, to cut back all of these giants by 1/2.

Here’s a list of plants which I plan to trim back.

  • Downy Skullcap (Scutellaria incana)
  • Echnacea purprea – Purple coneflower – only doing this with some so I can get some later blooms.
  • Helianthus silphioides – Silphium Sunflower – 2020 N
  • Heliopsis helianthoides – Ox-eye Sunflower
  • New England Aster
  • Oligoneuron rigidum – Rigid Goldenrod
  • Salvia – cutting back half of the plants.
  • Senna marilandica – Wild Senna 
  • Shasta Daisy – I’m also going to try this with part of my plants to see if I can get some later blooms.
  • Solidago rigida or Oligoneuron rigidum – Rigid Goldenrod
  • Vernonia p. Ironweed 
  • Veronica – cutting back half of the plants.

Here’s a video on the technique.

Technique #2 – Pinching Your Plants

Many annuals and some perennials can have more branches and blossoms by simply cutting back the main stems – called pinching since you can use your fingers to make the cut.

When you pinch the main stems, you usually force the plant to send out side shoots which will make the plant bushier and increase flower production.

Here’s a good video on the process.

Technique #3 – Chop half the plants.

October 4, 2020

I noticed one year that the bunnies had taken a liking to some of my echinacea and kept them trimmed low most of the early part of the season. While most of my echinacea bloomed normally, the bunny-trimmed echinacea bloomed later in the summer and into the fall. I thought I’d try this technique by chopping back half of my echinacea so I theoretically will have echinacea blooming all year round.

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Recent Garden Videos

The St. Louis County recently sponsored a number of excellent gardening videos which are now available on YouTube. This is one of the finest collection of speakers and instruction that I have ever seen. Enjoy!

Below is a summation of the videos and their location.

Keynote: Let It Be An Oak by Doug Tallamy

A 3-Year Suburban Landscape Makeover by Dave Tylka

Life in the Soil by Jerry Pence

Native Plant Gardens Bring Pollinators by Nina Fogel and Jenny Mullikin

Investing in Native Trees and Shrubs by Meridith McAvoy Perkins

Garden Maintenance for Wildlife: A New Way to Garden by Scott Woodbury

Rainscaping with Native Plants by Allison Joyce and Cody Hayo

Homegrown National Park by Jean Ponzi

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Spindly Seedlings

If you are in the process of starting seeds inside, here are a few tips to make your seedlings strong and robust. There are four steps.

  • Light
  • Fan
  • Fertilizer.
  • Potting Mix

The more light the better. I use a shop light with four bulbs and keep the lights as close to the plants as possible. You want to give the plant as many lumens as possible. The string in the picture is a way for me to move the lights up and down.

Use an oscillating fan to blow on the seedlings. You want to exercise them by moving them back and forth to strengthen their stalks.

Add a slow release fertilizer to your potting mix. I use Osmocote Plus plus I use a 1/4 tsp water soluble fertilizer in my watering can.

I use Pro-Mix potting mix. It includes Mycorrhizal fungi which helps plant growth. They have a number of different versions, but any will do. This mix usually does not include fertilizer.

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