Happy Winter Solstice!!
This is the third post in this series on native plants that any gardener can grow and love. First I focused on reliable, hardworking native perennials, and followed that up with native plant alternatives to invasive plants commonly used in gardens. This time I am spotlighting fall natives.
With today being the winter solstice, I have been reflecting on my wildlife garden. Fall has just officially ended, and since it has not been a snowy fall, I have been witnessing much more wildlife in the fall garden.
The solstice marks the longest night or the first day of winter.
The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the gradual lengthening of the days. We will start to see the sun earlier in the morning and later in the day. The winter solstice usually occurs on December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.
For weeks I have been watching chickadees, juncos (pictured right), sparrows, nuthatches, woodpeckers and finches flitting about the garden overturning leaves, scouring branches and stripping seeds as they find food naturally in the garden. The bluebirds will hang out looking for food from time to time, and we occasionally see cardinals and blue jays. All this activity brings me joy knowing I am helping these friends make it through the winter. Just when I think there is no food left, they come and feast again.
So what makes a great fall native perennial? I think it is the fact they are supplying color, pollen, and nectar later in the season when other plants are done blooming. The fall natives bloom later in summer or not until fall. They also offer food after they bloom in the way of seed.
There are so many fall native perennials to consider that I will break the post into 2 parts. I don’t want to leave out any of my favorites. Here are my picks for great fall native plants-Part 1.
Let’s start with one of the best, aster. There are so many native asters. For my area it is New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. These purple flowers grow from 3-6 feet tall and work well in a meadow or at the back of a garden bed. They will bloom from August through October although this year I had one close to the house blooming in December. It likes a part sun moist area which is a large part of my fall garden. The flowers attract bees and butterflies especially monarchs as the aster is the nectar source for monarchs. In my meadow this fall, I had dozens of monarchs covering the asters. You could watch them from the house flitting up and around just as happy as could be. Asters are also the larval host plant for Pearl Crescent butterfly. Be wary though because asters can be aggressive given the right conditions, but they are so gorgeous I don’t mind them sowing themselves all over.
A much maligned fall native is goldenrod, Solidago Canadensis. Another tall fall native, it grows from 3-6 feet tall and enjoys many growing conditions from sun, to part sun and moist to dry conditions. It draws in hundreds of pollinators. My plants in the meadow and at the back of some beds are covered with pollinators from September through November. And let’s dispel the myth once and for all; it does not cause hay fever.
A favorite of the hummingbirds in my garden is lobelia, Lobelia cardinalis. Commonly named, Cardinal Flower, because it reminds people of the bright red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. It relies on hummers for pollination because other insects find it hard to reach the nectar that is stored in the long tubular flowers. Although, I have found ants partaking of this fall native. Lobelia adores moist even wet conditions so it is a must for my fall garden especially the rain garden and near the edge of the pond. It tolerates sun to shade as well, and I have not found it to be aggressive. Lobelia can reach heights from 3-6 feet and start blooming in May through October. My plants never grow over 3 feet and they don’t start blooming until August most years.
An often overlooked plant is turtlehead or Chelone. Its flowers are said to look like the head of a turtle. I am not sure if they do, but I love the shape of the flower and the way they grow up the stems in clusters. If you look carefully at this pink variety, Chelone lyonii, you will see the butt of a bee sticking out of the top flower. Bees will crawl in to this flower and come out drunk. Turtlehead is also supposed to grow upwards of 3-6 feet. Mine never get over 3 feet. They are not aggressive in my garden, and like moist part sun conditions. Chelone will bloom from August to October. Chelone glabra, the white flowering variety, is a host plant for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly. Chelone glabra is native while Chelone lyonii are in reality naturalized in the Northeast after they escaped cultivation.
Black Cohosh or Bugbane, Actaea racemosa is new to my garden. This particular variety of bugbane has a purple (chocolate) leaf/stem that is quite lovely although an unknown origin since it was a pass-a-long plant (update: Chocolate varieties are usually not natives). Bugbane blooms in white. You can see who loved the bugbane in my white garden. This monarch would not leave the flower, and allowed me to get right on top of the plant to take pictures. I plan to buy more Actaea racemosa and let them grow 3-6 feet tall showing off their white spiky flowers in late summer and into early fall. Bugbane blooms rather late in my garden and loves this shady spot. It also loves moist locations although this one is under a large white ash tree. They are known to thrive in woodland openings so it is right at home here. It is larval host to the Spring Azure butterfly, and has a history of medicinal uses.
So when you are planning your garden beds, and are looking for fall native perennials to give you long bloom time and draw in wildlife, consider these plants. In two weeks, look for Falling for Favorite Natives-Part 2 for even more ideas for planting fall natives in your garden.
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.~Aristotle
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