Thursday, March 31, 2016

Planting for Pollinators

Juneberry in blossom in late March.

Choosing the right plant material is a good start for a pollinator-friendly landscape. Since pollen is the main food source for pollinators, knowing the bloom time and making sure those flowering times overlap and extend through the growing season is also important.
      Early season bloomers flower January into April. They are essential to pollinators in late winter and early spring, since some pollinators emerge and begin searching for nectar and pollen as early as January. Diversity is important since bloom times can vary greatly from one year to another, especially with current weather trends and climate change.
      A good choice for very early bloom is native or hybridized witchhazel (Hamamelis). Its fragrance and showy color, in contrast to other plants in the winter landscape, lure in the pollinators that emerge this time of the year. Another early native shrub is Missouri River willow, Salix eriocephala, which blooms in February and produces excellent pollen for bees to make into high grade honey.
      Spring is early this year, so native Juneberry (Amelanchier), dogwood, redbud, cherry and plum may also be blooming in time for early-emerging pollinators. Fruit trees in general are great for pollinators.
      A native March-blooming perennial is pasque flower, Pulsatilla patens. It’s a great source for early-emerging bumble bees as an alternative to daffodils and tulips. Pasque flowers track the sun throughout the day while providing a generous amount of pollen and a warm place for pollinators to explore.
      Snowdrops, squill, and grape and regular hyacinth are all perennial plants grown from bulbs that give bees and other native pollinators a fresh source of nectar and pollen in late winter, sprouting up even if snow or ice is on the ground. Snowdrops and squill will naturalize over time and create a nice carpet. These early-blooming plants can be mixed in with perennials, or even turfgrass, that emerge later in the season.
            Brunnera, Brunnera macrophylla, a non-native with delicate blue flowers, blooms for a long period beginning in April.  It is an excellent shade plant with many different varieties to choose from, including the variegated Jack Frost. Brunnera mainly attracts bees, but other types of moths and flies will also pay the tiny blue flowers a visit.
            Lungwort, Pulmonaria saccharata, begins blooming in April in shady or wooded areas. Pollinators tend to prefer the early, pink-toned flowers which typically have more pollen and nectar than the later, blue blossoms.
            Whatever you choose to plant this spring, here are some options for early pollinators. Maintaining landscapes that have a diversity of flowering plants will encourage pollinators to return year after year.

Written by Allie Schiltmeyer

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Who's behind the plants you love?

“The change in seasons was always evident in our house growing up. My mother believed in bringing the outdoors inside with fresh cutting of lilacs in the spring, roses in the summer and hydrangea in the fall.”
Mark Canney, Park Planner and Urban Designer for Lincoln Parks and Recreation

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who's behind the plants you love?

“The smell of bridal wreath spirea and its spring bounty of white blossoms always takes me back to my childhood days playing under its arching stems along the front of my childhood home. I remember how those branches invited me to grab ahold and pull, gathering up a mini-bouquet in my small hands.  It’s such a visceral and complicated recollection. The mildly offensive, yet familiar smell of Spirea vanhouttii is bittersweet, like the memories I have of the only house my mother, father and I lived in together. The horticulturist in me knows lots of plants for the landscape with greater merit. My inner child still loves to come across it from time to time.”
Graham Herbst, Nebraska Forest Service

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tough Tree for the Great Plains--Chinkapin Oak

Justin Evertson

        Although nothing can replace bur oak as the king of Nebraska’s oak trees, chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) is definitely a tree that should be planted more throughout the state and central Great Plains region. Chinkapin oak has a wide native range and is relatively abundant in the woodlands of southeast Nebraska where it can grow to over 70 feet tall. Under cultivation the tree can be expected to reach a rounded height of 40 to 50 feet growing at a rate of one to two feet per year. Chinkapin oak gets its name from its narrow, serrated leaves that somewhat resemble those of chestnut (the word chinkapin refers to trees in the chestnut family).  Although not considered spectacular for fall color, the leaves do turn a nice soft yellow. 

        An important advantage of chinkapin oak is its tolerance of alkaline soils. In fact, the tree is often found growing on limestone bluffs where little else will grow. Thus, even on the high pH soils so common in Nebraska, the tree’s foliage will remain a dark, glossy green throughout the growing season. Once established, chinkapin oak can tolerate significant drought as well as the saturated soils of over-irrigated lawns. Other advantages include the tree’s strong branching structure, its resistance to storm damage and its ability to live for decades when properly cared for.

        Although still relatively uncommon in the nursery trade, chinkapin oak is becoming more available in Nebraska nurseries every year. In addition, NSA offers seedlings grown from native trees. For those with a little more patience, chinkapin oak can be easily started from seed. Acorns mature from late August through September and they are immediately ready to germinate when they fall to the ground. In fact, the acorn will send out its first roots within a few days after sowing in the fall. Be sure to protect the seeds over the winter from hungry animals by covering with a permeable material such as window screen or wire mesh. The covering should be removed the following spring (by late April) before the above-ground stem begins to emerge.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Time to Gather Wild Plums

Bob Henrickson
        It’s a banner year for wild plums. Along trails and roadsides throughout Nebraska, you should be able to find plenty of ripe plums for juices, jellies, jams and sauces.
        Wild  or American plum, Prunus americana,  is a small native tree or shrub that forms dense thickets with sharp-tipped twigs. The abundance of ripe 1-inch plums in late summer or early autumn makes this a favorite of wild food buffs. When ripe, the sweet yellow, red or purple fruits are fleshy and juicy. 
       Plums can be eaten fresh in season or processed into a sauce for meats or desserts. Plum jelly and jam are great for bread or toast and spiced plum jelly makes a great baste for roast meat, especially wild game. 
       The Omaha tribe often dried the fruit for winter use and planted corn, beans and squash when their fragrant spring flowers came into bloom. (Note: these aggressive, thicket-forming shrubs can be contained by surrounding them with mowed areas or other thicket-forming shrubs nearby for competition.)
4 cups plum juice
3 cups sugar
Mix in large, heavy kettle and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and allow to boil gently till it reaches jelling point, about 20-25 minutes. 
 k . It's delicious and easy to make as well. Kay recommends sauteing it with onion, mushrooms and butter, then adding a little flour, some milk, salt and pepper and maybe a dab of sour cream at the end. 
*Excerpted from the 2014 GreatPlants Gardener