Bluebells

Each spring as temperatures warm, there is a narrow window of weather suitable for plant growth prior to tree leaf out.  During this time, the forest understory begins to awaken as some of our earliest emerging native plants take advantage of the unique conditions. 

monarch

In recent years, gardeners have become increasingly interested in maximizing the benefits their garden spaces can provide for pollinating insects.  We know that these important insect friends are struggling with declining populations reported by research from around the globe, which had put additional emphasis on the need for more pollinator habitat. 

Pineapple sage is an interesting annual that is currently in full bloom, providing a rare splash of color late in the gardening season.

Earlier this week, I was visiting a neighbor and noticed an eye-catching plant in rare form for this time of year.  It was filled with abundant red blooms that almost glowed against the backdrop of green leaves behind it.  Whorls of the tiny flowers filled the spiky stalks that jutted out in all directions, creating a display that no human or pollinator could miss. 

 Daffodils are one of many bulbs that need to be planted in fall for an early spring flowering display.

As the last asters of the year are wrapping up their flower display and monarchs are migrating through to more southern latitudes, spring flowers aren’t always at the center of attention for most gardeners.  However, now is the time to set the stage for some of the most beautiful and early blooms of spring. 

Fall is actually the ideal time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  These amazing plant structures are tiny powerhouses of energy that can be planted now to explode with flowers and foliage as spring temperatures awaken them next year. 

The star shaped flowers of New England aster provide a much needed floral resource for migrating pollinators, like the monarch butterfly.

Fall flowers are some of the best of the year since they take a whole season of waiting to finally display their splendor.  Beyond their beauty, they provide a valuable food source for pollinators late in the growing, which can be especially important for migrating species such as the monarch butterfly. 

Roadside plantings of pollinator habitat can present some risk of insect mortality from passing traffic, but the benefits outweigh the risks.  Photo Credit: Jeff Kohmstedt, Prairie Rivers Network

Amid all the pollinator conservation efforts in recent years, many gardeners have transitioned areas of lawn and other uses to vibrant pollinator gardens.  As homeowners search for new spaces to install pollinator habitat, many have questions about how and where to place these important oases of floral resources in the landscape.

Common milkweed in bloom

Many gardeners are starting to integrate more and more milkweed into their landscaping in support of monarch butterflies.  Plants in the milkweed genius (Asclepius) are the exclusive food source for monarch caterpillars, making them incredibly important in the race to sustain imperiled monarch populations across our continent. 

Zinnias are spectacular annuals that produce abundant blooms throughout the season.

Landscaping is typically designed to provide functional beauty to our yards and community spaces by brightening up the build environment with plant life.  While beauty can lie in the form of interesting foliage, brilliant fall color, or unique growth habit, flowers are always the showstoppers of the growing season.  In fact, many gardeners plan their entire landscape based on flowering displays. 

Two-spotted bumble bee on a spirea flower

This week, June 21-27, 2021, is National Pollinator’s Week, which is a time set aside by congress to honor and appreciate the amazing process of pollination. Governors in all 50 states have also acknowledged this special week by making their own proclamations to recognize pollinators in their respective states.

Standing dead stems are important overwintering habitat that should not be removed from the garden until insects emerge later in spring.

This past week’s warmer weather has been an exhilarating blast of spring when contrasted with the icy, extreme cold just one week earlier.  The warmup has spurred many of us to get back out in the garden to start getting ready for spring.  While our landscape beds and gardens will be places of burgeoning spring beauty as plant life begins its annual revival in the coming weeks, they are also ecological hotspots of awakening spring life in the insect world.

Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ is a cultivar of our native wrinkle-leaved goldenrod that provides a spectacular display of fireworks-like flowers for up to 2 months in late summer and fall.

For many gardeners, an entire season of continuously blooming plants is a primary goal.  Not only do these fantastic flowers deliver ornate beauty throughout the year, but they are also greatly beneficial to pollinators by providing a continuous food source of pollen and nectar.  Since many plants have a limited flower display, sometimes only spanning a few weeks, it is often difficult to find the right arrangement of plants for an entire growing season of continuous blooms. 

Last Tuesday marked the 210th birthday of the famous botanist and naturalist, Charles Darwin, who is most well-known for his groundbreaking work on the science of evolution.  In 1859, Darwin published his most noteworthy book, titled “On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” which was a foundational work that defined our current understanding of evolutionary biology.  In this book, Darwin describes how all species on earth have descended from common ancestors over time, which has become a foundational concept in scie

The iconic monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has become somewhat of a poster child for the plight that many pollinators face, and for good reason.  Monarch populations have experienced drastic declines in recent years for a variety of reasons, some which researchers are still trying to explain.  The monarch’s charismatic appearance and large home range, spanning much of the US, has made it familiar to most anyone who has ever caught butterflies as a kid or observed visitors to their flower garden.

Eleven years ago, the US Senate unanimously approved the designation of a week in June as National Pollinator Week, marking a huge step in recognizing both the value of our pollinators and the plight they have faced nationwide.  Governors in all 50 states have also recognized the same Pollinator Week in their states.   This week (June 18-24) is National Pollinator week, the perfect time to reflect on the value of these hardworking animals.

Saucer magnolia is currently in full bloom in our area with an abundance of white to pinkish, showy flowers

Although spring was late coming this year, it has finally sprung, and with it both star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) are in bloom. These beautiful ornamental trees, native to Asia, provide about a month of spectacular flowers each spring. They are some of the first landscape plants in our area to deliver such a showy display; truly one of the most endorsing signs that spring is finally here.

Spring is a time of swelling buds and wildflowers in Illinois forests.  However, the flowering display of some plants may be overlooked if you aren’t observant.  

The annual ritual of fall garden cleanup can be a toilsome, yet rewarding task.  After racking up piles and piles of leaves, it is really nice to see some green grass poking through as one last gasp of summer.  Cutting back the old, dead stems from garden beds can create a more manicured look for the long and bare winter season.  However, it may be worth considering a scale back on fall cleanup tasks to save some needed habitat for wildlife this winter.