Saturday, June 29, 2019

5 More Bee-Friendly Perennials for Your Garden

These will also thrive just about anywhere.

bee on blossom

Trudie Styler – actress, producer and director – is quoted as saying, “I have a huge belief in the importance of bees, not just for their honey, which is a healing and delicious food, but the necessity of bee colonies that are vital to the health of the planet.” Quite so.

Why bees? 

Well, because they are essential in the web of life. How could we live without them? They contribute to the well-being of so many living things by going about their beesness of pollinating.
Did you know that there are over 4000 species of native bees in the United States? The honeybee – perhaps the first that comes to mind – isn’t even native to our continent, but was introduced. There are so many others that are less well-known, but no less worthy.

Bees need help.

In a previous article, I noted that bees are at a disadvantage. Loss of habitat, mites, pesticides, wax moths, and colony collapse disorder afflict them. They could use our help.
We can help in various ways. I listed several before. One of the easiest is to plant their favorite flowers.

Bees need flowers!

Flowers provide what bees need to live. They’re not particularly picky, but seem to prefer some flowers more than others, especially those that provide lots of pollen and nectar. I listed five of their favorites in my last article. Here are five more.
ajuga burgundy glowAjugaalso known as Bugleweed, Carpenter's Herb, Sicklewort, or Middle Comfrey – is native mostly to Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s a low-growing ground cover that flowers in early spring with short flower spikes in various shades of blue. Its foliage attracts the eye even when the plant is not in bloom. The dense mat suppresses weeds, so we like it in borders and as a lawn substitute. It grows well in zones 3-9.
CreepingPhlox – known as Thrift, Creeping Phlox, Moss Phlox – is superb as a ground cover in perennial gardens and borders, rock and alpine gardens. Of course, it is bee- and butterfly friendly. Plant it beside terraces and between stepping stones for eye-popping color in spring. Colors include blue, pink, lavender, white, red and striped. Creeping Phlox is right at home anywhere in climate zones 3-9.
dendanthrema sheffield pinkDendranthema – familiarly known as “hardy garden mum” – is a bright-flowered plant with blossoms shaped like large daisies. Colors vary, but my favorite shade is pink. It’s what you might expect to see in an English cottage garden, or around your great aunt’s back door. Maintenance is minimal. It blooms in late summer or fall. Dendranthema thrives in USDA climate zones 5-9.
Dianthus (Cheddar Pinks) flowers look like little carnations, and smell like them, too. These low-growing, clump forming perennials bloom spring through summer. Evergreen, blue-green linear foliage is attractive even when the plant is not in bloom. They’re quite easy to grow. Dianthus performs well in climate zones 3-9.
sedum flowerSedum (Stonecrop) attracts bees and butterflies, to the surprise of some. Maybe they’re overlooked because sedum grows so close to the ground. At any rate, sedum should be included in your pollinator-friendly collection. Sedum is a remarkable ground cover that fills cracks and crevices in rock gardens, and spills out of containers. It grows in the most surprising places. It’ll thrive in USDA climate zones 3-9.

Don’t fear the bee.

Fear of bees is called melissophobia. (It sounds like a disease from a pharmaceutical company or tort attorney’s ad.) Fact is, though, you’re probably not so much afraid of bees as you are of bee stings. But, take my word for it; bees are not interested in you. They only sting in self-defense or to protect their homes. If you leave them alone, they’d rather leave you alone.
By intentionally planting a pollinator-friendly garden, you’ll not only be enhancing the beauty of your space, but promoting the well-being of nature, from the little creatures below to those that buzz above.
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Saturday, June 22, 2019

5 Bee-Friendly Perennials for Your Garden.

They’ll Grow Just About Anywhere!

Echinacea with bee

Gardens and wildlife just seem to go together, sometimes too much so. (Deer and rabbits come immediately to mind.) Thoughts of flowers, birds and butterflies most often enter one’s head. But there are other creatures worth accommodating. I’m thinking of bees.

Why bees? 

Well, because they are very important. For example, bees are major contributors to the well-being of a host of living things by the not so simple act of pollination, which, by the way, they do by accident.

For many folks, “BEE” is synonymous with “honeybee.” But those aren’t the only ones that deserve attention. In fact, the common honey bee is not even native to North America. There are over 4000 species of native bees in the United States.  There are sweat bees, stingless bees, bumblebees, long-horned bees, cuckoo bees, leaf-cutter bees, carpenter bees, and a blueberry bee.

Bees could use our help.

Bees suffer from loss of habitat, mites, pesticides, wax moths, and colony collapse disorder. I doubt that any are actually in danger of extinction, though. (I expect someone will write to argue otherwise.) Still, it never hurts to be generous and help other creatures set upon by trials.

You can help in various ways, but some of the easiest and most obvious include the following:
    • Avoiding insecticide use when bees are present;
    • Providing nesting places, or leaving some plant litter around the garden so bees can find their own;
    • Providing a water source (Bees will line up around the edges of bird baths to drink.)
    • Providing lots and lots of flowers.

Bees LOVE flowers!

There are very few that bees will not visit. For some, any flowering weed will do. But there are some things that bees look for especially in a flower. These are:
    • Pollen
    • Nectar
    • Scent, even if imperceptible to us
    • Color (Bees especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.)

With that in mind, here are five flowers for you to grow that bees love, and they’ll flourish almost anywhere.

Achillea flowers
Achillea, commonly called Yarrow, is a perennial herb native to parts of Europe, Asia and North America.   Yarrow produces flat flower clusters in hues of red, pink, gold, yellow and white. Flowering begins in the spring and continues well into summer or even fall. Feathery, fern-like leaves are green or gray and have a fresh, spicy fragrance.  Yarrow is perfect for borders and naturalizing in mass plantings, fresh- and dried flower arrangements. It grows well in zones 3-8.

Coreopsis – known by the unflattering name of “tickseed” – is a bright-flowered plant with blossoms shaped like large asters. Color is mostly yellow, but there are some in pink shades, too. Maintenance is minimal. It’s a sunny summer flower that will lift your spirits. Coreopsis thrives in USDA climate zones 4-9.

Echinacea (Coneflower) is loved for its beautiful, showy flowers, and has been reputed for centuries to be an herbal remedy. It requires very little maintenance, too. Popular colors include pink and white. Echinacea is perfect for climate zones 3-8

Nepeta 'Blue Wonder'
Nepeta (Catmint), of course, is adored by cats and their servile humans, but bees go crazy around it, too. Catnip plants are wonderful for the herb garden. The alluring flowers and aroma are pleasing to all. Catmint colors include blue, blue and deeper blue. Though native to Europe, it is right at home anywhere in climate zones 3-9.

Rudbeckia (Black-Eye Susan) attracts bees, butterflies, and birds which love the seeds. All Black-Eyed Susans are reasonably drought-tolerant. They're especially suited to naturalizing, wildflower meadows, cutting gardens, wildlife gardens, native plant collections, heritage and cottage gardens. Colors are shades of yellow and orange. Rudbeckia is native to North America, and since there are very few states where it cannot be found, you know it’ll thrive in USDA climate zones 3-9.

“But”, you say, “I’m afraid of bees!”

That’s called melissophobia. Actually, though, you’re not so much afraid of bees as you are of bee stings. Am I right? Fear less. Bees are not interested in you. They only sting in self-defense or to protect their homes. As a former bee-keeper, I speak from personal experience. Many were the times I’d slowly approach the hives without protection of long sleeves, veil and gloves to sit and observe the wondrous little creatures. Some would fly up to inspect me. Sometimes another person would join me. So long as one of us didn’t thrash about, the bees would buzz off and go about their beesiness.
Think how much satisfaction you’ll feel with a garden full of flowers for the bees, knowing that you’ve done some good.

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

What's Your Soil Type

Bare foot farmer on soil

Soil is more than just something to hold your plants upright and in place.

Sometimes we think of it that way, though. Fact is, it’s that and more. It provides the elements that plants need to grow.

Unless you’re growing hydroponically (artificially in soil-less, nutrient-rich solutions), you need to know what type of soil you have, if you’re going to garden successfully. It’s true even if you’re growing in containers.

As noted in a previous article, soil consists of solids, liquids and gases. Let’s consider the solids. They include:

  • Minerals – Inorganic solids with definite chemical compositions in crystal forms formed by geologic processes. Examples include magnesium, sodium, iron, copper, and zinc.
  • Organic matter – These are left-overs of dead plants and animals. Examples include shells, bones, hair, feathers, leaves, grass, wood, and such cell structures in various stages of decomposition.
  • All of those help to nourish and support your plants.

These are the basic soil types.

I did a web search for soil types to see what answers would turn up. Some returned as few as four types. One search returned twelve! While it might not be as precise, I prefer the fewer.

With the exception of one type, the difference between the other three amounts to the size of the soil particles. Those would be:

  • Sand – This includes the largest of the particles. Each one is usually visible to the naked eye. Liquids and gases can easily flow between them, maybe too fast. Dry particles typically do not cohere.
  • Silt – Silt particles are somewhere between the size of sand and clay. They are produced by the action of water, becoming sediment. When wet, silt coheres, but remains somewhat crumbly.
  • Clay – Clay includes the finest of all soil particles. Many are flat in shape. When wet, clay is plastic. When dry it becomes brick-hard.
  • Loam – It’s a combination of the other three soil types. Here the combinations are many. They are named according to the particle sizes, their predominance, and, often, the location where they are found.

A good example is Tifton soil – a soil of Georgia. A Wikipedia article describes it like this:

A typical Tifton soil profile consists of an 11 inches (280 mm) topsoil of dark grayish brown loamy sand. The subsoil extends to about 65 inches, strong brown fine sandy loam to 22 inches; yellowish brown sandy clay loam to 40 inches; yellowish brown mottled, sandy clay loam to 60 inches, and strong brown, mottled sandy clay to 65 inches. Two distinctive features of the Tifton soil profile are the presence of more than 5 percent ironstone nodules in the upper part of the soil and more than 5 percent plinthite in the lower part of the soil.

Tifton soils are on nearly level to gently sloping uplands of the Southern Coastal Plain. They formed in loamy sediments of marine origin. Tifton soils are among the most agriculturally important soils in the state.

Learn more by observation or the official soil maps.

It’s important to know your soil type because it informs you about the possible success or failure of your plant choices and landscaping plans. You can learn your soil type by simple observation, but if you want to be more sophisticated about it, go to the interactive USDA Web Soil Survey web site. According to the site, “NRCS has soil maps and data available online for more than 95 percent of the nation’s counties and anticipates having 100 percent in the near future.” Thanks to your tax dollars at work, you can probably drill down to your own location, and get the official nitty-gritty about the dirt under your feet.

What about organic matter?

Well, that’s called humus. Humus is the organic component of soil. (It is not to be confused with hummus, which is organic matter of an edible sort.) Humus is made up of decomposed plants and animals. It helps with water retention in the soil, and also provides many nutrients to your plants in readily available form.

What you should do about your soil.

If you have sandy loam, loamy clay, or any of the other combinations, there’s not a lot you can do about it. If you have perfect garden soil, consider yourself lucky. But, what if  your soil is much less than ideal? Short of a major excavation project, you’ll always have it under your feet. Even then, you can only excavate so deep. I think you ought to just learn to live with it, but living with it still means you can improve it to some degree with the addition of soil amendments.

The helpful folks at your local Cooperative Extension Office can advise you about that. They should know what measures have been successful, and what have not.

For example, Iowa State Hort News states, “Advertisements for gypsum sometimes claim that gypsum will help loosen heavy, clay soils and improve soil drainage. However, the addition of gypsum to Iowa soils is of little benefit.”

Experts at Washington State University concur. “With the exception of arid and coastal regions (where soil salts are high) and the southeastern United States (where heavy clay soils are common), gypsum amendment is just not necessary in non-agricultural areas.”

Cooperative Extension agents in other states might advise differently.

Adding organic matter (humus) to your soil is always a good idea, and composting is one of the best ways to achieve it. My article, The Not-So-Magical Experience of Composting, gives a basic idea of the process.

Soil improvement is an ongoing project.

Keep in mind that soil improvement – especially adding organic humus – is an ongoing process. About 30 years ago, when I was intent on improving the organic matter of my Tifton loamy-sand, a farmer friend told me I could add it ‘til the cows came home, but it wouldn’t do any good. The reason being that the heat and humidity here breaks down organic matter so quickly it won’t build up on the soil. He was right. After three decades of growing and mowing clover and rye grass, there’s less than 1 inch of organic matter on top of my acres of loamy sand. I’m not saying it hasn’t done some good. I’m simply saying you have to keep on keeping on.

Building a thick layer of humus in a few flower beds or vegetable garden should be easier because you have less area to work. This would be especially true in raised bed gardening. Even so, dig down a foot or so; you’ll probably find your native soil just as it was before.

My last word on the subject…maybe.

Choose your plants to match your soil type, not the other way around. You have arid, sandy soil? Plant something that thrives in it – cactus, perhaps. (By the way, check the GoGardenNow – The Gardening Blog articles on xeriscaping.) You have heavy, clay soil? Select plants that love it. Same goes for any other soil type.

The bottom line is that knowing and understanding your soil type will help you make better decisions about how to manage it, and to select plants that will improve your chances of gardening success.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

4 Thinks You Should Know About Soil pH

Soil samples with beakers

Plant descriptions often include brief statements about the acceptable range of soil pH for those particular plants to thrive. So, there are four things you must know about soil pH. They are:

  1. A low pH indicates an acidic environment,
  2. A high pH indicates an alkaline environment,
  3. pH of 7 is neutral, or right in the middle, and
  4. You can take a sample to the nearest Cooperative Extension Office for lab analysis to find out the pH of your soil.

That’s all you really need to know. As with most things in life, a little basic knowledge is enough for us to function. If you’re satisfied now, please go to, and check out my plants. If you’re curious and want to learn a little more, read on.

The meaning of p and H

Believe it or not, no one really knows for sure what “p” is supposed to mean! It depends on whose speculation you adopt. According to Wikipedia on pH (which is the obvious authoritative source for everything),

“The concept of pH was first introduced by the Danish chemist Søren Peder Lauritz Sørensen at the Carlsberg Laboratory in 1909 and revised to the modern pH in 1924 to accommodate definitions and measurements in terms of electrochemical cells. In the first papers, the notation had the "H" as a subscript to the lowercase "p", as so: pH.

The exact meaning of the "p" in "pH" is disputed, but according to the Carlsberg Foundation, pH stands for "power of hydrogen". It has also been suggested that the "p" stands for the German Potenz (meaning "power"), others refer to French puissance (also meaning "power", based on the fact that the Carlsberg Laboratory was French-speaking). Another suggestion is that the "p" stands for the Latin terms pondus hydrogenii (quantity of hydrogen), potentia hydrogenii (capacity of hydrogen), or potential hydrogen. It is also suggested that Sørensen used the letters "p" and "q" (commonly paired letters in mathematics) simply to label the test solution (p) and the reference solution (q). Currently in chemistry, the p stands for "decimal cologarithm of", and is also used in the term pKa, used for acid dissociation constants.”

(If your eyes are now rolling back in your head, go to and check out the plants. If not, read on.)

As noted before, H means “Hydrogen”. That’s easy enough to understand. So, “pH” refers to the concentration of hydrogen ions on soil particles. More particularly, it refers to the quantitative relationship between hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions. (I’m not going to explain the difference.) The accepted scale of measurement ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Solutions with more hydrogen are lower on the scale, so are acidic. Hydroxide solutions are higher on the scale, so are caustic or alkaline.

Why soil pH matters to plants

Soil pH matters to plants because it affects the availability of soil nutrients to their roots. Their roots can only absorb nutrients in certain ionic forms, and this can only occur within certain pH ranges. If the pH range is wrong, the nutrients are not made available to the plants. Most of the plants that we grow in our gardens require a soil that is more or less acidic. So, plant descriptions tell us what pH range is acceptable to that particular plant. Thankfully, the acceptable pH range is usually fairly wide. You will find, however, that if the pH range creeps up or down, the plant will begin to suffer and show signs of stress.

How pH changes

pH changes due to environmental factors. It can happen by itself, or you can make it happen. A soil scientist advised me a long time ago to test my soil the same time every year because seasonal changes can affect pH. Though the changes might be minor, differences will show on the soil test results and influence the recommendations.

If you need to make it happen, you won’t know unless you take a soil sample to your friendly local Cooperative Extension Service for analysis and recommendations. If you’ve never had your soil tested, start by doing it annually. Learn what changes result over time. If you see the pH stabilizing at a proper level year after year, take samples less frequently. If you observe signs of stress – chlorosis, for example – have your soil tested at once.

When you collect your soil sample, follow the instructions provided. One such instruction will direct you take soil from more than one place in your garden, and mix it up so you have a general soil profile. When you receive the results, follow the instructions. (I don’t know why I feel like I have to keep saying so.)

Now, if you’ve read this far, you should check out the plants at Be sure to observe the soil pH recommendations.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Soil - First Things You Need To Know

Soil is perhaps the most overlooked part of the garden. It’s always underfoot, but seldom on the mind. Gardeners - especially those who are new to it - spend a lot of time thinking about colors, bloom season, days to maturity and landscape design, but not so much about what supports it all. Fact is, other considerations come to naught if the foundation, soil, isn’t carefully reviewed.
Unless you’ll be gardening in containers or hydroponically (artificially in soil-less, nutrient-rich solutions), you’ll understand that you can’t start with a blank slate, so to speak. What you have underfoot is, basically, what you’ll have to work with.
Want to skip ahead and dream about your future garden? Already an active gardener? Visit Want to know more about soil? Read on!

What is soil, exactly?

The USDA defines it like this:
Soil is a natural body comprised of solids (minerals and organic matter), liquid, and gases that occurs on the land surface, occupies space, and is characterized by one or both of the following: horizons, or layers, that are distinguishable from the initial material as a result of additions, losses, transfers, and transformations of energy and matter or the ability to support rooted plants in a natural environment.
Let’s break it down. Soil includes:
  • Minerals – Inorganic solids with definite chemical compositions in crystal forms formed by geologic processes. Examples include magnesium, sodium, iron, copper, and zinc.
  • Organic matter – These are left-overs of dead plants and animals. Examples include shells, bones, hair, feathers, leaves, grass, wood, and such cell structures in various stages of decomposition.
  • “But”, you might ask, “what about rocks?” Rocks are aggregates of different minerals – and sometimes even organic solids – bound together as a solid mass.
Liquids – Water, mostly. It’s estimated, though, that only 0.01% of all the water on earth is stored between soil solids.
Gases – Oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, radon. These fill the rest of the spaces between soil solids and liquids.
Layers or Horizons – These are easily identified one from another. Horizons are laid one upon another by age and subject, and moved around by water, wind, tectonic forces, and big machines. You might have bedrock at the very bottom, several layers of silt interspersed with layers of ash from fires or volcanoes, and a layer of soft, dead plant and animal matter at the very top.
The layers – horizons – have actually been named so we can wrap our heads around them. They are Horizon O, Horizon A, Horizon B and Horizon C.
  • Horizon O is the topmost soil that we tread. It’s pretty shallow, made up of dead and decaying organic material. It’s quite fertile.
  • Horizon A is just beneath Horizon O. It’s made of organic material in advanced stages of decomposition, helped along by fungi, nematodes and earthworms, eating and being eaten, adding further to the richness.
  • Horizon B, the one beneath A, is very thick and dense. So dense, in fact, that it is impenetrable by all but the most violent forces.
  • Finally, there’s Horizon C, the basis of all that lies above it. This layer consists of bedrock and other materials that long ago were compressed into stone.
Obviously, soil will present different colors – red, yellow, white, brown, gray, black – and textures – hard, soft, crumbly, gritty, sticky, slippery – depending upon the constituent parts.

Soil takes a long time to make

Soil-making is a natural process, and natural processes can take a very long time.
Creation of topsoil – Horizon O – probably takes the least amount of time. It doesn’t take long for leaves of grass, little critters and such to die and decompose to the point that they’re unidentifiable and look like plain old dirt. Much larger corpses, like humongous trees, will take longer.
The deeper we dig, the longer it took for those layers to become. We find, not just relics of the recent past, but ancient history right below our feet.
Because it takes so long to create, soil is a valuable resource. Let's take good care of it.

For Now and In The Future

In a future article, we’ll discover more about the soil that is the foundation of your gardening plans.
Meantime, check out our other articles in GoGardenNow  – The Gardening Blog. You’ll find lots of insights and tips on plants, gardening, garden tours, and answers to frequently asked gardening questions.
Our Gardening Resources page presents a wealth of links to just about every plant society and team of horticulture experts imaginable.