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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While my main planting date is around May 1st, one of my tricks to go out into the garden around mid-March, dig up a healthy plant, divide it and grow it inside under garden lights. In the case below, I have divided Calamint into 8 plants which I will plant around May 1st. I also do this with Asclepias incarnata – Swamp milkweed, Allium, Shasta Daisy plus any other plant which catches my eye. Since most perennials need dividing after a few years, this is an easy way to get a head start in the garden and increase your plant supply.
Unless your soil is just rock and hard clay, there’s a new way of gardening which is much easier – No Till.
The basics of No Till are to cover you soil and weeds with cardboard and then six inches of compost. I would probably cut the grass and weeds as close as possible to the ground, but you don’t need to till or dig the soil. Brand new compost which you buy from a supplier can be quite “hot” literally so you may need to let it cool off before you do any planting. Ideally, you would put it on in late fall. I buy my compost from https://www.stlcompost.com/compost. If you have a friend with a pickup truck, you can buy compost for $28/yard.
Even though I put down a tarp, I burned the grass since this compost was so hot. I now have it delivered to my concrete driveway.
Another advantage to using compost is that you don’t need any fertilizer.
Below is a demonstration of the No Till method. He calls it No Dig, but it’s the same as No Till.
Note – I used a 2 x 6 because that’s what I had in the wood pile. You could even use 2 x 4’s or 4 x 4’s. The 2″ x 6″ are actually only 1.5″ x 5.5″.
Mason Bee Tips
Have a clay source nearby. Bees won’t nest if they can’t find clay.
Point the houses toward the East or South to get the morning sun.
Have plenty of flowering plants close to the mason bee house.
May 15 – Mason Bee Report
As of May 15th, the mason bees have filled up ten of the 8mm holes. It seem like a new hole is filled around every day or so.
The larvae need natural summer temperatures to fully develop into adult bees. Don’t open any nesting materials, place in refrigerator, or harvest cocoons until mid to late fall.
Protect developing bees over the summer. Place nesting materials in a Bee Guard Bag (or other breathable bag), mud capped ends up, in an unconditioned garage or shed. They need natural summer temps to develop, so don’t place in an air conditioned area. If you don’t have a garage or shed, they may remain outside, just make sure they are sheltered from direct sunlight and rain.
Bee mindful of rodents! Mice love to snack on mason bee larvae.
Promix is my favorite potting mix. Menards is the only place which had some this time of the year. Promix is also what the professionals use. This “Organic” blend claims to have nutrients which the regular mixes don’t have. I’ll test that claim later in the year.
Dec. 31 – Started the day off by planting native seeds and testing Verbena bonareinsis outside. I’ve planted native seeds as late as March 1st with good results in St. Louis.