The Watering Can - 8/4/2023

Summer learnin'

It’s unfortunate that so many of these have started with mentioning a lack of rain, but here we are again. We’ve had exactly two good storms come through our area in the last few weeks, and the plants have struggled in the meantime. Thankfully one of them dumped enough rain that we actually had some standing water for about 36 hours, the first time we’ve seen that in months. 

Even a lot of the hardier natives have struggled, especially in the more sun exposed parts of the yard. Late Boneset in particular, after coming up so strong and early, has mostly been holding on for dear life the last two months. The beautyberry has also struggled, though most of them have managed to hang on to their fruit, which are now starting to turn purple. But now even the River Cane's leaves are curling in the afternoon, and that really seems like things are in bad shape.

I’ve planted a couple more of the plants I was gifted recently, but it’s been tough to think of starting anything when it’s been so hot and dry. The existing plantings have mostly fared well, with a few new flowers popping up and a slowdown in the amount of damage from critters, though the damage has been pretty extensive at this point. 

It’s been a hard Summer to try to dive into all of this, with very little rain since April, and what bit we have gotten is pretty inconsistent. There have been some good lessons, for sure, and I’m happy to be doing all of it. But there’s a feeling that my approach might need to change, or even my plans and goals with the yard entirely. 

We’re planning on traveling for as much of this fall and winter as we can, so it feels like it's time now to start planning what few things I might be able to get going before we head out, and what those larger plans for this Winter and beyond might be. 

Red Mulberries (Morus rubra) — or are they?

The Mulberries are hanging in there still, with Mulberry 1 growing taller and taller, and Mulberry 2 near the house filling out a bit more noticeably, both are about par for the course compared to last year. I would have liked Mulberry 1 to fill out a bit more as well, but I think it's just been too hot and dry. The smaller Mulberry 3 in the circle was growing nicely after waning a bit, but just in the last couple of days suffered some damage from deer (this will be a recurring theme).

One interesting development is that I learned about notching trees to encourage root growth at a node, and I tried it with both of the large Mulberries to try to get some more branch growth in the area where their support poles was blocking sunlight for a while. So far, it seems to be working on Mulberry 1! Mulberry 2 looked like it was trying to start some new growth, but I think I might have notched it a little incorrectly — I think you need to notch it directly above the existing node, and I did it a little off-center and it feels like that may be the issue.

Another interesting development is that both of those two larger Mulberries might not be true Red Mulberries at all. Word has apparently gotten around that the plant wholesaler who sold the plants to our local nursery has maybe not been labeling these trees accurately, and they might be non-native White Mulberry (Morus alba) trees or hybrid cultivars. Either way, it's a bummer. I know that there are fewer and fewer true native Mulberries around and things like this don't help, especially if the wholesaler was truly just trying to take advantage of the increasing focus on native habitat and plants. I haven't confirmed it on my individual plants, but those two definitely came from that wholesaler, so I suppose they're suspect until further notice.

A small new bit of growth on a notched Mulberry trunk Some new growth emerging on the notched Mulberry near the pond. It would be great to get a bit of a branch going here before the fall!

Black Willows (Salix nigra)

The Willows continue to thrive and impress. Willow 1 is indeed about as tall as me at this point, which I think I guessed would happen in an earlier edition of the Watering Can. Willow 2 continues to bush out and be a beautiful young specimen. Both of their trunks have probably quadrupled in diameter, if not more, since they were bare twigs starting to emerge with new growth in February.

Another lovely surprise is that they are both supporting at least three Limenitis caterpillars right now! I spotted one on Willow 1 this weekend, and then when looking for it on Monday, I found two more even larger caterpillars. Then when inspecting Willow 2, I found three more small cats of the same genus. The genus Limenitis is the Admirals, and in our area they are likely either Viceroy or Red-spotted Purple butterflies if and when they're able to emerge.

The other caterpillar that was on Willow 1 weeks ago did eventually hatch, but I missed it, so it's very exciting that I might get several more chances to see some new butterflies emerge from these wonderful young trees.

Willow 3 and 4 are still doing ok, they haven't grown much but they've survived their transplanting well so far. Willow 4 did get nibbled on by deer recently, but I think it'll be fine based on how 1&2 rebounded from their damage last Winter.

Img 7097 The largest of the caterpillars is a stronger greenish color compared to the reddish color of all the rest
Img 7098 The second-largest of the caterpillars on the Willows, a lovely reddish brown with so many intricate details
Img 7102 Two small reddish caterpillars on Willow 2; hard to get any focus on these little ones!

Black Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis)

The Elderberries had been one of the more successful plantings so far, at least in terms of new growth and overall health, despite not doing any flowering this year. I think I did the transplant a bit too late for them this year, and if I'd put them in the ground when I first got them in the early Spring I think they might have even flowered.

Unfortunately, they were hit very hard by the deer this week, with the Oklahoma John elderberry having all of its major limbs snapped in half in the process of all the foliage being devoured. The Ranch just got nibbled back again, thankfully, but it was pretty devastating to see so much damage to the both of them.

I did salvage three large cuttings from the damaged parts, and just went ahead and stuck them in the ground in a few wetter spots around the yard. A piece of the Elderberry that Janine gifted me broke off a few weeks ago and I stuck it in the ground by the Old Pond area and it just rooted and kept on going, so I figure there's a chance that these three might do the same if they can keep their feet wet. We'll just have to see. I think the Oklahoma John will be ok and should recover next year, but what a brutal way to find out that the deer will go after the mature elderberries in addition to the baby volunteers.

A limb of an Elderberry snapped in half The tallest central stem/trunk/limb of the Oklahoma John elderberry, snapped and torn in half.
A deer-injured elderberry plant The Oklahoma John as I found it, battered and bruised. It was really doing well before all of this. Sad to see.

South Meadow (formerly the South Prairie)

I realized this area is technically more of a meadow than a Prairie, as it's not truly full sun and overall it's relatively more moist than what I feel like a true prairie would be. It also just feels more like a meadow now in the afternoons, with the high grass in spots and a few flowers coming up here and there.

Bank Patch (formerly Dry Patch)

The spot on the down-sloping south bank of the Pond has had a steady supply of golden yellow flowers of one species or another the last few weeks. After the Lanceleaf Coreopsis came out in early July, one of the Black-eyed Susans surprised me and tripled in size before putting out four beautiful blooms. The Coreopsis then kept the party going by putting out a second round of blooms, though this one struggled a bit more than the first with July's drought conditions.

The Purple Coneflower are still just growing their rosettes of leaves and planning on next year's flowering, and the remaining Black-eyed Susan and Coreopsis seem to all be doing the same. I don't really know what to expect from any one of them this year, so that we've gotten any flowers at all is wonderful, and that they're all still alive is great.

Wet Patch

This spot near the elderberries and eastern log pile has had some ups and downs. Unfortunately, the critter that was digging up everything finally dug up one of the Guara plants and one of the Swamp Milkweeds enough that they could not recover, and they are not doing very well. The Guara may still technically be alive, though it's really struggling, and the Swamp Milkweed is definitely dead.

On the brighter side, the larger of the Butterfly Weeds suddenly popped up a few buds, and much to my delight, they held on just enough to give us a lovely little bunch of bright orange flowers for a week or so. The plant has also doubled in height since blooming, which was a nice surprise too. It gives me hope that it'll be strong enough to hang on over the winter and come back next year.

The Stokes' Aster are just hanging in there. Not much in the way of new growth, but they haven't died, and seem to be doing fine so far. Once again I don't really know what to expect from their first year of growth other than not flowering, so they might be doing great! And once again, at least they're still alive for now.

The three Physostegia angustifolia plants that I planted nearby have all been dug up and through a couple of times already since planting them, and without much actual plant left it's tough to tell what's even still around root-wise. But hopefully at least one will be okay and some of the seed I try to plant will work out.

A small Butterfly Weed with a little bunch of orange blooms
A green lynx spider resting on a Black-eyed susan A Green Lynx spider rests waiting for potential prey on one of the Black-eyed Susan blooms.

Common Pawpaws (Asimina triloba)

The Pawpaws are both still doing good, with their nice healthy leaves still a lovely shade of green pretty much throughout. Once again, I really think this spot is going to be ideal for them. I can't wait to see how they do when we maybe get a little more rain.

The two fruit of Pawpaw 2 have been doing great, and then suddenly a few days ago one of them was gone! Based on the one fruiting Pawpaw tree I'd ever seen, I knew early- to mid-August would be around the time they might start getting ripe, but I was surprised to see it gone already. No traces of it or anything! I can only imagine a raccoon snatched it up and had a great somewhere else, and I can only hope that wherever they ended up, the seeds might start some more Pawpaw trees in the area. That would be really lovely.

I really hope to get a taste of Pawpaw this year, it would be really magical. They say that they're best when they've fallen off the tree, so I will really need to be staking it out until we head out of town to see if I can get a chance. They are apparently really good chilled. This will be a small one, but I think it would be a really lovely treat after a tough summer of growing.

Img 7081 The remaining Pawpaw, which I'll be checking on regularly in the hopes of getting a taste. It should be pretty much any time now.
Img 7082 The stem of the now-missing Pawpaw. I hope its seeds will make some new Pawpaws wherever they ended up.

Around the Yard

There are a few more updates from different places around the yard that haven't changed so dramatically but maybe warrant at least a note.

The Spiderwort plant that was put in a low spot near the gravel driveway seems perfectly happy so far. It got nibbled on by something one night, but it's growing back strong and putting out new growth pretty regularly. I bet if we were getting rain it would be doing really well, but I'll take it so far!

I installed the Frogfruit plant from Janine in the driveway circle low spot, where I tried the Lizard's Tail in June (it unfortunately did not make it), and so far it's hanging in there. Once again, if we were getting even semi-regular rain I think it would be doing great there, but so far it's mostly just hanging in there. I might try to move it to a little shadier place instead, maybe in the spot near where the Pawpaws are growing, because the ground there is a little bare and any kind of improvements in groundcover would be good.

The Mayhaws are doing well, though Mayhaw 1, the larger of the two plants, has had a pretty serious infestation of some kind of leaf-eaters. I haven't actually found any evidence of the culprits, but most of its leaves have had 90% of their green matter eaten off of them. Overall it still seems to be doing ok, but that was tough to watch. I also realized from watching some pruning videos that I'm going to need to so some work on the smaller Mayhaw 2 this winter to open it up and make give it some room for new growth and eventually fruit.

The Eastern Redbud is still alive, somehow! One little branch came back to life and started putting out leaves, and so far they are hanging in there. I trimmed off the other small dead branches for now, and I'm still planning on moving this to a shadier spot over the winter and replacing it with the Eastern Red Cedar that Janine gifted us.

The Swamp Sunflowers are growing big and strong and I'm mainly hoping we'll get to see a bloom or two before we head out in September. I would really love for them to fill in around the pond and have a lovely wall of sunflowers on the eastern bank throughout fall, shining in the afternoon sun.

The Titi are doing well, with Titi 2, the smaller of the two, consistent blooming and making fruit/seeds for the last few weeks. I think they'll both do great in their spots and I'm looking forward to them having a full season along the pond next year.

A tall Swamp Sunflower plant growing on the bank of a pond
Img 6703 2 The small, still-surviving (so far) branch of the Eastern Redbud with its little heart-shaped leaves.

Sages (Salvia coccinea and Salvia guaranitica)

The last bit of news is the beginning of what we hope will become our garden area near to our house, the Casita. There's a nice 15x20' patch of lawn that gets partial sun and I've been thinking it would be a really nice spot to grow some things closer to our carport/patio.

So to start things off, a couple of weeks ago I finally planted the six sage plants that my mom got for us in May! Three of them are the red Scarlet/Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, and three are the black-and-blue cultivar Salvia guaranitica. They'd been hanging out and doing well in their pots but had gotten so tall that it was a multiple-times-a-day effort to keep them upright, so I figured it was about time to get them in the ground and just see how it goes.

So far all of the plants seem to really like being planted there, and the red sages have even started to put out new blooms. I'm not sure if we're just a bit past the yearly prime of the Guaranitica or if they handled the transplant a little worse, but all of the plants are growing green and hanging in there even if they aren't putting out more flowers just yet. It feels like a great way to start things in this area, and De even caught a hummingbird flying low and nectaring on the small red flowers just the other day.

Img 6895 One of the freshly-planted Scarlet Sages, happy and perky in the ground. Really nice to see!

It's been a long summer and technically we're only halfway through, so here's hoping that I can continue to keep most of these plants alive until it's time for them to rest for the winter. I think the only potential new blooms at this point will hopefully be the Swamp Sunflowers, but I'd be happy to be surprised by some of these little guys growing in pots.

I still intended on writing up a little something about the rest of the plants gifted from Janine, how they're doing, and what I intend to do with them — so I hope to have that so share soon.

In the meantime, thanks for reading this far and I hope sharing my journey through all of this has brought a smile or two to your face, or made you think about planting some more stuff of your own. Maybe it's raining where you live!