One of a handful of plants that doesn’t just tolerate, but absolutely loves shallow, dry and rocky soil, purple poppy mallow features a low, mounded foliage and cup-shaped bright magenta flowers on upright stems. Once established, it blooms profusely in late spring and early summer (May and June) and then intermittently throughout the rest of the summer. An excellent ground cover, it has a sprawling form that is not intrusive to other plants. It will self-seed, but is difficult to transplant because it has a very long tap root which helps it withstand drought conditions. Beautiful in a naturalized setting, purple poppy mallow acts as a host plant for butterflies and moths. It is typically rabbit resistant.
If anyone had told me, even ten years ago, that I would be designing my yard to accommodate bugs, I would have called them crazy. Back then any and all bugs were the ENEMY and needed to be immediately eradicated — with powerful insecticides so that death would be almost instantaneous. Today the shelf that used to hold toxic chemicals now holds reference books, a few of my plants are a little “munched” on and my grandchildren play in a safe and healthy environment. All in all, the changes have been good.
Through the years, I have found that relying on beneficials to control pests is more complicated than just sitting back and waiting for the good guys to appear and demolish the bad guys. I have learned that two things are necessary. The first requirement is to eliminate the use of all pesticides, both chemical and organic. Pesticides are non-discriminatory and upset the prey-predator balance. The second is to create an environment that is inviting to predatory and parasitic insects. With ideal conditions, they will remain in the area working, living and reproducing, providing another generation of ecologically sound pest control.
An insectary garden is such an environment. An insectary is a space intentionally planted with an assortment of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees attractive to a variety of beneficial insects. It supplies food in the forms of both pollen and nectar, gives access to water and provides shelter as well as spots to lay eggs. An insectary typically is planted in layers to accommodate various habitat preferences and has a variety of plants in bloom from early spring throughout the fall.
Although there are no absolutes in terms of size requirements for insectaries, Jessica Walliser in her book Attracting Beneficial Bugs to your Garden recommends a target of just 1% of the total yard area as a beginning goal. The insectary can be designed as just one space, or it can be a series of smaller spaces or even individual plant species incorporated into the overall yard design. Try to keep some of the areas undisturbed; these provide breeding grounds for predators.
Depending on personal preference, insectary gardens and borders can be wild and free areas, or they can be formal and restrained. Either way, allowing a few weeds to remain helps to provide the biodiversity that beneficial insects need.
Location of the insectary is important, however. As much as possible, beds should be located where they can receive six to eight hours of sun each day, as both the plants and the insects benefit from the sunlight. Also, a fairly sheltered location helps those insects that find it hard to fly when it is extremely windy. Finally, closeness to the targeted pests increases the likelihood that the beneficials will not only control their prey, but also remain in the area.
The type of soil preparation an insectary needs varies, depending on the types of plants selected and the existing soil conditions. Those built with native perennials will tend to need fewer amendments since most natives are naturally adapted to a wide variety of soil types. Blooming annuals tend to perform better in a rich, well-drained soil. Regardless of soil type however, all insectary gardens and beds will benefit from periodic additions of compost. The deteriorating plant materials make especially comfortable homes for insects.
Insects are living entities and like all other living things need access to water to survive. In mild, rainy seasons, puddles give adequate water for insects. During hot, dry periods it may be necessary to provide water daily. Including a simple watering hole ensures that the beneficials have a consistent place to drink. Insect watering holes shouldn’t be too deep; bowl shaped rocks work well as do shallow saucers covered with rocks.
Selecting appropriate plants for the insectary is critical to its success. As mentioned earlier, both nectar and pollen must be available from early spring until late fall when insects prepare to overwinter. If a food source is not immediately available when beneficials hatch, then they are likely to move on in to find one and not return. By the same token, beneficials will leave if food sources disappear too early.
One important food source is nectar. Nectar, which is essential for energy, is a combination of water, sugars (primarily glucose, fructose and sucrose), amino acids, certain oils, fats (lipids), proteins and even alkaloids. Because the presence and/or combination of these elements varies from plant species to plant species, the quality and type of nectar also varies from species to species. Having a variety of nectars available gives beneficials the opportunity to consume the best nectar for them.
Where the plant’s nectar is collected is also a factor to consider when choosing plants for an insectary. Not all insects eat in the same way because there is a huge variety of mouthparts in the insect world. Some, such as butterflies and moths, drink nectar by sucking through a straw-like member called a proboscis while others like walking sticks chew in a scissor-like motion. Matching flower shapes, for example tubular versus flat, to the targeted insects’ mouthparts helps assure that the beneficials will be able to access the nectar.
Most people are aware that pollinators and pollination are necessary for plants to produce seeds and fruit. Without pollination, species of plants would disappear. What many are unaware of however is that pollen is a source of protein for many beneficial insects. Without pollen those insects would not be able to reproduce effectively and they would, like the plants, eventually disappear. Numbers of pests would then dramatically increase causing further disruption in the ecosystem.
For the novice, designing an insectary can seem to be a daunting task with too many variables to consider. Luckily, there is a wealth of valuable information available through the various state extension services, published online and from landscape designers committed to maintaining a healthy environment.
Even with insect season in full swing, it isn’t too late to begin inviting the beneficials to your home. Join us next week as we show you just who to invite and what to plant to entice them to stay. See you then!
Offering pinkish-white late summer blooms and winter structural interest, this fragrant native perennial prefers full sun and fertile, medium moist soil. Mountain mint grows in a clump form, often reaching 3 feet in both width and height. It spreads more slowly than other mints and is excellent for naturalizing. When crushed, the dense, dark green foliage gives off a delightful scent of peppermint which is especially welcome in the winter. Mountain mint is a favorite of butterflies and bees.
When I started my gardening career, and I hate to admit how many decades ago that was, dealing with bugs in the garden was easy. See a bug? Kill it — preferably with a strong, extremely toxic chemical.
Today my relationship with bugs in the garden is much more complicated. I can’t honestly say that I like most of them any more than I did 50 years ago but I have come to realize that many of the bugs in my gardens are beneficial and need to be nurtured rather than squashed. The problem for me comes in knowing the difference between friend and foe — and learning the most effective, environmentally sound practices to control the enemies.
Although I call them all bugs, not all of the tiny creatures who fly or crawl through my garden are scientifically classified as such. Technically, an aphid is a true bug (Hemiptera), but a spider is an Arachnida while a centipede is a Chilopoda. Regardless of their class, order, family etc, each is an arthropod, which means that each has a body that is segmented, appendages that are jointed and an exoskeleton, which is defined as an external covering used for protection and support. And each arthropod, whether friend or foe to the garden, is a vital and a necessary link in the environmental chain.
In her book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to your Garden” Jessica Walliser states and there are “two hundred million insects for each living human…and less than 1 percent of the insects we come across in our lives are actually harmful.” She contends that the other 99 percent are either helpful to us or what she terms benign, causing neither harm nor good.
There are, of course, the obvious insect allies that we immediately identify. We recognize that pollinators such as honeybees, butterflies and moths perform an essential service to mankind in pollination and need to be protected and even encouraged.
Getting less acknowledgement of their value is a different group of insects — the underappreciated but beneficial predatory bugs. Predatory bugs eat other bugs. That darling little ladybug (lady beetle) that legend proclaims is good luck is a beneficial predatory insect. In one year, which is the average lifespan of a ladybug, it will voraciously consume over 5,000 aphids. If one female ladybug lays up to 1000 eggs in its lifetime, think how many unsuspecting aphids, mites and whiteflies all of those ladybugs will devour in a season!
Ground beetles are another common beneficial predatory bug that we often disdain. Primarily nocturnal, these smallish brown, black or sometimes iridescent insects often startle us as they scurry for the safety of darkness when they are unexpectedly exposed to light. Although the first instinct may be to squash them, letting them escape is a wiser course. Both adult and larvae ground beetles are carnivores and eat caterpillars, slugs, snails and a variety of other harmful insects. Some species also eat weed seeds, making them doubly valuable.
Like predatory insects, beneficial parasitic insects also dine on other harmful insects. Unlike predatory insects, parasitic spend a period of time attached to or inside of their host. They are typically much smaller than their prey. Although most parasitic insect helpers do their work unseen, their favorable results can’t be missed.
Perhaps the most common and productive is the parasitic wasp, a tiny almost microscopic, sting-less wasp that deposits its eggs inside of its prey. The eggs then hatch and tiny wasps grow inside the host for a period of time. When they have adequately matured, the young wasps escape through a hole they cut in either the head or the body of the host and fly off to repeat the cycle elsewhere. With thousands of species, parasitic wasps attack and kill a huge range of harmful insects including aphids, whiteflies, leafminers and caterpillars.
Relying on beneficial insects to control garden pests requires a huge mindset shift. Living in an era of instant gratification, we have come to expect the same in our pest control. We spray toxic chemicals and get the immediate results of dead bugs. Unfortunately, the chemicals do not differentiate between the “good” bugs and the “bad” ones; the chemicals kill both, which results in some unintended consequences.
One unintended result is the development of a resistance to a particular pesticide, particularly if the same chemical is repeatedly used. Although most pests are killed by chemical applications, some do survive and continue to feed and reproduce. The young become genetically immune to the pesticide and thus more difficult to eradicate.
Another unintended result of unnecessary chemical applications is actually an increase in pest populations. When synthetic chemicals kill off the beneficial pests, then the problem ones have no predators to worry about. Instead, they have an unlimited food source on which to dine. Numbers and types of harmful pests in the garden escalate, making control much more difficult.
Allowing the environmental chain to work as nature intended takes a change of expectations. It means accepting some munched-on leaves and withered stems as a natural element of the garden. It also means having the patience to wait for solutions. Beneficial insects always take longer to appear than their harmful counterparts. Given enough time and tempted with the right buffet, the good bugs will find their way to your garden and begin their amazing work.
Join us next week as we show you how to design a garden that will invite beneficial insects to come for a visit and stay for a lifetime! See you then.
Striking purple-blue blooms in the spring followed by unique seek pods later in the summer are the hallmark of this showy, easy to grow native perennial. False indigo prefers full sun, where it will grow 3 – 4 feet tall, but also tolerates some shade .It needs only average to poor soil, thriving in clay soil as well as thin, rocky soil, and remains strong in drought conditions. The blooms are attractive to butterflies and the charcoal black seed pods are beautiful in dried flower arrangements. A true winner!
The words of John Lubbock, an early British statesman and naturalist, hold enormous truths for us today. We live in a tumultuous and often chaotic world, tethered to our devices and intent on being productive throughout our waking hours. In the midst of all of the noise of the world, we often forget that our souls and our spirits need peace and that time spent in nature, especially near water, can help to keep us relaxed and healthy.
Having lived lakeside for ten years, I can attest to the tranquility of living near water. There simply is no more soothing sound and mesmerizing sight than that of the waves rhythmically lapping up against the shore or ribbons of water flowing through the woods as they head toward the lake.
Unfortunately, most people, especially those in the heart of a city, do not have the opportunity to reap the benefits of living next to an actual lake or river. Fortunately though, the addition of a professionally designed, installed and landscaped water feature can bring an oasis of serenity to your home.
Although many of the DIY sites would like you to believe that installing a water feature is no more complicated than digging a hole in the ground, throwing down a liner and adding water and a pump, the creation of a properly functioning and natural looking water feature is much more complex. It takes a form of engineering skill to determine the optimal size of both pond and pump. The wrong size pump or an inadequate water capacity can result in a burned out pump or overflow problems. Mistakes in pond building can be difficult — and costly– to fix, so it’s important to do some pre-planning and to hire a landscape company with experience in building the type of water feature you want.
Dan Nelson, senior designer at Embassy Landscape Group, recently sat down with me and shared some of his valuable insights. When working with his customers, Dan begins with four important questions:
“What do you want to achieve?” is a deceptive question. On the surface, the answer seems relatively simple and blatantly obvious. (I want a water feature in my yard.) I soon found out that it was actually the pivotal question of the project. Before Dan can begin designing, he needs to know why his customer wants a water feature. Is it for the sound that water makes as it falls or flows? Or the sight of water as the breeze swirls it? The rich scents of the water plants? The gathering spot it becomes for birds and butterflies and other creatures?
How the spot will be used is the next piece of the puzzle. Will it be viewed from a distance or inside the home as well as nearby? Will this be a space in which to sit in solitude or is it a gathering place for people all ages to enjoy? Are there children, grandchildren or pets to consider?
Finally, it is important to know what the vision in the client’s mind is. What should the feature look like? Should it mimic a roaring waterfall in the Colorado mountains or a quiet stream in the Missouri Ozarks? Perhaps the serenity of a Japanese inspired setting is what the client prefers. Although any would be achievable, each would require a different design approach.
How much maintenance do you want to do? Just like other features, maintenance requirements vary considerably. A pondless waterfall, for example, has no open water and thus needs little regular care beyond an occasional water level check. A stream or pond that must remain absolutely clear at all times will require a complex (and expensive) filtration system plus almost daily cleaning and monitoring. The maintenance of most water features lies somewhere in between these two extremes.
Surrounding landscapes too can vary in the amount of routine care they need. Once established, native landscapes need little pampering, while highly ornamental ones may need constant weeding and trimming. A talented designer matches the landscape to the time restraints of the client.
What is your existing terrain and environment? Choosing a water feature is somewhat dependent on the existing environment. The feature should remain in scale with the space and the existing buildings as well as blend into the environment. Having a waterfall abruptly rise out of absolutely flat ground would be jarring and would look unnatural. Instead, an experienced and talented designer will present alternatives or will create a more extensive landscape that naturally includes a waterfall. Smaller water features can fit well into larger spaces, but only if the landscaping creates an intimate space for it.
Some soil types are more pond friendly than others, while some terrains just call for a meandering stream or a series of gentle water falls. If plants are an important element, then the amount of sun is critical. If bird, butterfly and wildlife watching is part of the goal, then proximity to trees, shrubs and other cover is desirable. Professionals can help you think through and plan for these issues.
An important but sometimes overlooked detail is the access to electricity and water. Power is needed to run the pump as well as any night lighting or filtration systems that are added. Easy access to water makes upkeep less complicated.
What is a realistic budget for your project? Water features and their surrounding landscapes can be designed to be as simple or as elaborate as you want and as you can afford. The larger the scope of the project, the more expensive the expenditure will be. Using locally sourced materials and native plants can help reduce cost and can create a welcome sense of place.
Although some people are reluctant to share a dollar amount with the designer at the initial meeting, those who do find that it typically simplifies and improves the design process. If the designer has a sense of the budget, then he or she can make adjustments that fulfill the client’s dreams but stay within the budget, eliminating multiple time consuming design updates.
Although the discussions resulting from these four questions are essential for honing in on the client’s vision and needs, Dan also appreciates it when he is presented with images of water features that his clients love. Those pictures often give insights that can’t be put into words. A vision board, whether online or in hand, is a valuable tool for both designers and customers.
Hiring an.experienced company like Embassy Landscape Group guarantees you a design that is uniquely you and an installation that is worry free. Call them today.
This collection of images is representative of the scope of work that Embassy Landscape Group has designed and installed over the past few years. For more information, contact information is available above.
True to its name, this native perennial will give you a long-lasting blaze of vibrant purple or pink color beginning in late July and continuing into September. Unlike most flowers, Prairie blazing star also known as Prairie gayfeather and Prairie liatris, features a spike of stalkless flower heads densely packed onto a tall stem which bloom from the top down. The flower spikes, which make excellent cut flowers, cover nearly half of the leafy 2 – 5 ft tall stems and may require some staking in the garden. They are extremely heat and drought tolerant, will stand moist conditions in summer and thrive in full to partial sun and poor soil. Butterflies flock to them.
I have to admit that when I was a beginning gardener I ( more than once) designed my annual flower beds based on ideas I “borrowed” from one of the flower beds in front of a restaurant I frequently visited. Even though it was in the blazing hot sun by a concrete sidewalk, it was always striking. It was obvious that whomever had designed and installed it really knew plant material and design elements.
I never did find out who had designed that bed, but in the years since then I have found myself judging flower beds on commercial properties against my memories of that one. Many I see are attractive and hold up well in the harsh Midwest summers, but the ones that are designed and installed by Embassy Landscape Group are always outstanding.
Instead of just admiring their beds from afar, this time I decided to get some “trade secrets” from the design and installation experts at Embassy. Even though they are in the height of their busy season, Joann took the time to explain their processes and answer my questions.
Every year I begin dreaming about my flower beds in midwinter. I flip through magazines and imagine color schemes, but the reality is that nothing is really determined until May, when I step foot in a garden center and peruse the available choices. My beds then flow out of what appeals to me at the moment. This undisciplined approach has resulted in some VERY interesting gardens over the years and obviously wouldn’t work on a commercial scale.
Designers of commercial beds have to be much more structured in their approaches. Planning for summer flowers actually begins the winter before. Commercial designers first must assess the conditions in each bed. Will the bed sit in full, hot sun or be in deep shade? Is the bed adjacent to a sidewalk, parking lot or street? Is there signage that cannot be blocked? Is it likely to have foot traffic through it? What type of watering system will be available?
After assessing conditions, commercial designers begin considering appropriate varieties and color schemes. Customer preference and budget help control these aspects, but often the designer is free to make the final decision. Extensive knowledge of plant material is necessary to make the best, most appropriate selections for each bed’s environment. More than just what new colors are available, designers need to understand what improvements have been made in each new cultivar. Is it more resistant to disease, or is the plant more drought tolerant? Is it suitable for a container? How will it tolerate the tough environment of a parking lot?
This year, Joann has selected a few floral combinations that she thinks will be particularly outstanding. She recommends orange zinnias, especially the zahara series, and purple salvia for a striking full sun show. For a little more subdued but still dazzling combination she suggests pastel shades of vinca paired with raspberry and purple Angelonia. Finally, she is using a tried and true combination of red zahara zinnias and Taishan yellow marigolds. All beautiful combinations worth imitating.
Instead of heading to the garden center to examine and then purchase plant material, commercial designers place specific orders with their favorite growers. Not only are varieties, colors and numbers specified, but exact sizes of each are ordered as well. Of course ordering in massive quantity assures a better price than retail, but, barring any disasters, also guarantees that the plant material will be available when it is needed.
This season, Embassy holds seasonal color contracts for over 100 properties. In order to fill those beds, the maintenance department has purchased literally thousands of bedding plants so far this year.
Designing the beds and purchasing the plants are only the beginning steps in the creation of beautiful beds. The care that go into planting are also part of Embassy’s success story. Each planter and bed is thoroughly cultivated before planting. Beds are machine tilled to break through the crusty surface and to loosen the soil while planters are worked by hand. The loosened soil allows for better root development and gives the plants easier access to water, resulting in less wasteful water run-off. Compost is always added to enrich the soil and to improve its ability to drain water. Because of Embassy’s commitment to environmentally sound practices, no chemical fertilizer is added at planting. Instead, throughout the growing season, crews add two applications of Embassy’s 100% organic liquid soil amendment. (For more information on their organic approach, please see our March 14th blog.)
While the beds and planters are being prepared, Joann reviews the plan she created much earlier in the year and selects the best material from Embassy’s holding area.
At the job site. plants are laid out before any planting begins, making it easy to do any necessary modifications before any plants are in the ground. Typically, 4 inch plants are placed 6 to 8 inches apart to give a satisfying burst of initial color while still leaving space for healthy growth throughout the summer. The beds are mulched to help prevent weeds and given a deep watering to help the plants settle into the ground. The precise planning and thorough preparation pays off; the results are amazing!
Having a wealth of knowledgeable staff who share an appreciation for beauty, concern for the environment and attention to detail is what sets Embassy Landscape Group apart from other landscaping companies. Contact them today and let them transform your surroundings from ordinary to extraordinary.
Blooming throughout the summer, this beautiful native perennial is a lightly scented, evening blooming prize. Missouri evening primrose is perfect as a ground cover or for the front of the bed, reaching only 6 to 10 inches in height. It features 4 to 5 inch yellow blooms that provide nectar for butterflies and moths. It prefers full sun in a limestone soil with good drainage but will tolerate light shade, poor soil and some drought. Under good conditions, it self-seeds. After the blooms are finished, then it sports winged seed pods.