The Watering Can - 6/19/2023

"And I start to complain that there's no rain..."

This has been a rough week. We got a little rain but still not enough to really keep the plants happy, especially with the unrelenting heat. The potted plants are being babied as much as I can, which has been a good lesson in watering techniques for them. I still have a lot to learn as we don't have that many and it's already a good bit of work.

The hardest part of this week, though, has been an unwelcome fellow gardener. Every morning for the last week I've woken up to find a handful of the plants I've recently put in the ground freshly dug up and left to dry out. At this point almost all of them have been dug up at least once. The larger Partridge Pea got dug up twice in one day, and spent so much time with its roots exposed in the heat of the day that it's now dead. It's extremely discouraging... but at least whatever it is hasn't actually eaten or deliberately damaged the plants so far.

Some friends from Wild Ones suggested placing something heavy over the soil to prevent the culprit from doing any more digging, and if I knew for sure that it was raccoons I'd probably go that route. But we have armadillos around here too, and my fear with a physical obstacle is that they'd get more determined and potentially cause even more damage in the process. After stewing on it this morning for a while, I realized that red pepper might be a good option, and found some reports online of people having success with it to deter both of the potential perpetrators.

So this evening as I watered everything, I dusted the soil around the plants with some red pepper powder, and I'm hoping it does the trick. Other than the Partridge Pea, the plants have recovered from all this digging, but I can't imagine I'll be able to keep this up much longer without lasting damage. We'll just have to see. (Note: Night one with the pepper was a success!)

Other than that, there's not ton to say about the plants this week — it's mostly been an effort in keeping things alive, and it's been way too rough out there to put anything else in the ground. But some things are handling it better than others.

Pawpaws (Asimina triloba)

The Pawpaws have handled being un-staked well so far, with a couple of blustery, if very brief, storms that have come through in the last few days. The branch with the two fruit was very droopy this morning, which makes me nervous, but I can only hope it's because the fruit are growing nicely. If it continues, I might figure out a way to keep it propped up because it would be a huge bummer to lose them like that at this point.

South Prairie

These have been hit the hardest by the digging bandit, with almost every plant having been uproot at least once so far. But these new friends are hanging in there!

The Black-eyed Susans and Lance-leaf Coreopsis in particular seem to have really taken off. Both are showing significant new growth since planting, with one Black-eyed Susan easily three times the size it was at first. The Purple Coneflower are looking good and are growing a few small new leaves.

The Swamp Milkweeds and one of the Butterfly Weeds are doing really well too; the Swamp Milkweed especially looks really happy in its place and has recovered well from the replantings. It would be really nice to get some blooms this year, and it seems like the most likely candidate other than the Beeblossoms that've been blooming since I got them. The larger Butterfly Weed keeps adding new layers of leaves and looks strong and healthy; the smaller of the two has been dug up at least three times and spends a lot of its time slumped over. I am still debating re-potting this little one for a while until it gets a bit stronger

A small milkweed plant uprooted by an unknown animal The smaller Butterfly Weed uprooted for the third or fourth time already. Still hanging in there, but I don't know how much more abuse it can take.
A small but thriving Butterfly Weed plant with no flowers yet The larger Butterfly Weed is looking great; wouldn't it be lovely if we got to see some beautiful orange blooms this year? We'll see.
A Swamp Milkweed plant with two major stems growing well in some deep grass The "double" Swamp Milkweed has been uprooted but it's still hanging in there. You can see some of the pepper powder on the soil here at its base.

Black Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis)

Still going strong; both are steadily showing new green growth which makes me really happy. I do need to mulch these two a bit. They're doing ok because their soil stays pretty moist in this location, but I wonder if mulching would help them thrive even more.

Red Maples (Acer rubrum)

Not much change for most of these guys, though I guess that's because most of them are dead by now. But Pond Maple 1, which showed so much activity last week after removing its dead leader, continues to put out new growth! The leaves that emerged last week have quickly become the largest and healthiest leaves on the tree, and it really seems like it has begun to establish itself and will hang on quite nicely in this spot.

Young green leaves on a Red Maple sapling Pond Maple 1 and all of its lovely new growth

Black Willows (Salix nigra)

All four of the Black Willows continue to do their thing in their sunny, wet spots. The only "setback" that one of them has had, Black Willow 1, was a welcome one. It lost a couple of small branches' worth of leaves feeding a beautiful Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) caterpillar that has now begun pupating on one of the lower limbs. My first butterfly host! I was so thrilled to see the caterpillar on there and even more excited that I might get to see it emerge sometime in the next week or two.

A Viceroy caterpillar on the branches of a young Black Willow The Viceroy caterpillar last Friday, looking happy and healthy as it searches for new leaves to munch.
A brown and cream-colored butterfly pupa hanging from the lower branch of a young Black Willow tree The Viceroy pupa, just two days later on Sunday, hanging in there and looking beautiful.

As for the rest of the yard there's not much to report, but mostly that's good news because it means they're still alive. The Titi are still doing good at the edge of the pond, putting out more and more racemes of flowers, the Buttonbushes continue to have happy and healthy leaves, and the two Swamp Sunflowers seem like they are going to do just fine in their spot too (though one of them did get dug up once).

The Eastern Redbud is still very sad and I'm just hoping it hangs on long enough to move it once it gets cooler. I think I'm going to try out the Eastern Red Cedar that Janine gifted me in that spot once I do, because it should be able to handle the dry soil and sun exposure in that area.

The smaller Partridge Pea is still doing well in its spot and hopefully it can hang on and flower so that we can get some seed and more to put along the ditch.

The two Aquatic Milkweeds in the back in the Old Pond area are doing great, and continue to consistently have pollinators. There are quite a few seed pods on them too! So I'm hoping we'll have even more next year.

Until next week — hopefully it'll be a bit happier news!