Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday: Planning for Next Season

It's Wildflower Wednesday, and usually at this time of year I still have one dependable wildflower blooming--Aster pilosus, also known as Frost Aster.

Frost Aster in October 2012
But not this year.  My husband has been on a weeding and trimming mission around all the farm buildings this past month, and the only remnants of this weedy wildflower were a few puny specimens whose blooms had already turned to fluffy seedheads.  That's too bad, not only because the bees enjoy the nectar of this late-season bloomer, but the name is so appropriate this week.  We had our first hard frost Monday night, and overnight all the annuals turned to mush.

What I do have this week are two late blooming coneflowers that seem unfazed by the cold.  The little specks of white on the center disk are the remains of the frost two hours after sunrise. The frost has jolted me from my denial that winter might be on the way and shifted my fall garden chores into high gear.  I've brought in some annuals to overwinter and transplanted some perennials from containers into the garden.  A few spring bulbs have been planted, but many more need to be planted, not to mention a clean-up of the garden in general.

Prairie Area at Chicago Botanic Garden, Spring '09
Also on the fall to-do list is some seed planting.  It may seem strange to plant seeds at this time of year, especially here in zone 5-6, but many wildflowers need cold stratification to germinate.  I first saw Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea, at the Chicago Botanic Garden during Spring Fling in '09, and was so taken with them.  But it wasn't until this spring that I finally purchased some seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery.  By the time it was dry enough here to plant them, however, it was also too warm, so I decided to wait until this fall.

Image from Prairie Moon Nursery website

Golden Alexanders not only provide these pretty yellow blooms, but they are an important source of nectar in the spring for short-tongued bees, wasps, and other insects.  Bumblebees, small butterflies, and the caterpillars of several butterflies and moths, including the Black Swallowtail, also visit these plants for nourishment.

Image from Prairie Moon website
Included in my order from Prairie Moon was a free packet of seed for Ascelpias incarnata, also known as Swamp Milkweed.  I've been wanting to plant some type of milkweed for some time, and these pretty rosy blooms look different enough from the common milkweed that grows freely around here that I don't think my husband will mistake them for "weeds."  Swamp Milkweed is the only Illinois milkweed that favors wetland conditions, so I will definitely have to be careful about keeping this watered during the summer.

According to Illinois Wildflowers, Swamp Milkweed is a favorite of a whole host of insects, butterflies, caterpillars, and even hummingbirds.  But for me, the main reason for planting milkweed is for this creature...

A late visitor this past weekend--I certainly hope he made it safely out of the area before the frost!
As most readers know, the number of Monarch butterflies has been in serious decline in recent years.  There are many factors which have contributed to this decline, some of which we have no control over.  But one way in which we as individuals can help this magnificent butterfly is to provide more of its host plant. I'm going to sow some of the Swamp Milkweed seeds as well as the Golden Alexanders and some other wildflower seeds I have this fall, and then sow the rest in late winter over the snow, which has proven successful with poppies and larkspur in the past.  I don't know which timing will be the most successful, but I hope at least one of these, if not both, will provide the pollinators with some important food sources next year.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by our hostess at Clay and Limestone.  Thanks, Gail, for reminding us of the importance of planting for all the important little creatures that visit our gardens!


  1. If your Golden Alexander doesn't take I have plenty of seeds you can have. I doubt if you have any trouble getting it going. You will probably be finding it popping up all over. I love it though. It is so dependable and not really trying to take over. Happy WW.

  2. I love your winged visitor, dressed in orange and black for Halloween!

    No frost here yet, although the cold is coming in the next few days and it may do to my garden overnight what it has done to yours. That coneflower certainly didn't mind a little frosty icing : )

  3. Lovely coneflower!
    Below freeezing temps expected here in North Mississippi this week-end - much too soon! I still have bulbs that must be planted and butterfly weed seeds to sow. I am putting my extra butterfly weed seeds in the refrigerator to chill, and will sow them in the spring. I've been told either way (Fall or Spring) gets good results. Let's hope so. I did not see any Monarchs here this year.
    Have a beautiful day!
    Lea's Menagerie

  4. I've been waiting with my wildflower seeds for the frost. I have planted this way for a couple of years and have had pretty good success. I always feel like Johnny Appleseed, when I am out there sowing these seeds.

  5. I love your last photo of Swamp Milkweed, I think it grows here as well. I've seen last butterflies in my garden in weekend, think they are last insects before frost. I see you have a long list 'to do', so I wish you nice weather!

  6. Those milkweeds are so beautiful, though we don't have them here. But they multiply so rapidly maybe, so they are targets of those weedicides in the west. And they look very much like the inverted umbels of our hoyas. No wonder as they are in the same family of the Asclepiaceae.

  7. It must be great to have as much space in your garden as you do have Rose. It's great you think about wildlife when you are planting. I love your butterfly. It's so gorgeous.
    Have a wonderful day.

  8. I think I need to get some Golden Alexander seeds! I saw them in my research for the wildflower field but did not specifically purchase them. I like that prairie look in spring! I did transplant three swamp milkweeds and I tell you I really like them. I had purchased them at BB last year during the fling. They've done well here and I hope for even more in the wildflower field. I saw a few monarchs just the other day at the land. They are easy to spot this time of the year. I try to note when I last see them and the hummers. It's a great idea planting for them:)

  9. Oh and your aster is covered with honeybees. Great. Love the milkweed and all those blooms. Still no hard frost here although it is chilly and the heat is on. Pretty soon....snow!

  10. Lisa, Thanks; I will remember you if my seeds don't germinate. I'm glad to hear the Alexanders don't like to take over!

    Laurrie, I never thought about the Monarch having the perfect Halloween colors:) Not only have we had frost, but it was spitting snow this morning! And it's still October!!

    Lea, It doesn't seem right that you should have frost warnings already in Mississippi, too. So sorry you didn't see any Monarchs this year; they're my favorite butterfly.

    Balisha, Thanks for the info--I'm glad to know planting this time of year works. As cold as it is, I'm going to look like Nanook of the North when I go out to plant:)

    Nadezda, The swamp milkweed looks like such a pretty milkweed; I do hope it's successful here.

    Kalantikan, Milkweeds can cause big problems for farmers, so it's understandable why they're one of many weeds targeted by herbicides. But I've noticed them more in recent years allowed to grow along country roadsides, and many people are planting them in native gardens, all of which sounds promising for the Monarchs.

  11. Marijke, I do have lots of space, but most of it is lawn...I only wish I had the energy and stamina to dig up as much as I'd like for a much bigger garden. I claim a few more square feet for the garden every year:)

    Tina, Yes, you should add some Golden Alexanders to your prairie! The photo taken in Chicago was taken from a moving tram, as I recall, and didn't do this field justice. They were really impressive in this mass planting.

    Layanee, The bees do love this late aster. It looks like a weed, though, all season until October, so it may not be for everyone. I'm afraid we may be in for a cold winter...Brrr.

  12. Your evocative post inspires, giving me a boost in my planning of a prairie-style garden. I look forward to late winter-early spring with great anticipation. Cheers!

  13. More power to the Monarchs! Cheering them on from across the Atlantic Ocean.

  14. That Golden Alexandeer looks wonderful as a carpet of cheerful yellow, but it is that milkweed that I really love, what a great colour. I'll be sowing more seed soon for the same reason, to make sure it gets plenty of stratification before Spring. Plus just popping trays of seeds outside in a sheltered corner is so much easier than nursing seed in the propagater...

  15. Frost already? It's unseasonally warm here at the moment. But we do have storm warnings currently.

    Your garden must be a haven/heaven for insects, Rose!

  16. We are having a storm but its unusually mild, apart from that. Quite sunny in between the gusts and rain. Very weird. Difficult to say when the frosts will come.
    Love all the flowers and the brilliant butterfly.
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

  17. I have both white and pink milkweed and think you are going to love having them in your garden Rose. They are tall and I found the pink ones flopped so I will add some supports in next summer. I am unfamiliar with Golden Alexanders. What a pretty flower!

  18. I hope more frost asters come up next year, and don't get weeded. I also hope your seeds come up. The several kinds of seeds I got from there did not come up, but they were not the same as what you are getting. I may have planted them too soon, and the birds ate them.

    I deadheaded my Golden alexanders last year, but they did not bloom more, so this year, I let them go to seed, and am enjoying the look of all the seeds on it, along with the top leaves turning reddish for fall.

    Thanks for stopping by for my WW post.

  19. Beautiful post, the first frost is always a tough one. The Monarchs have arrived in my Texas garden this week so at least some have made it safely past the frost line. I planted native milkweed instead of the tropical variety and so far they have ignored it. Monarchs seem to love the gomphrena though. Whatever works.

  20. We unfortunately don't have Monarchs in our area, what beautiful butterflies. Your frost report is timely, there is a frost warning for tomorrow night here, so tomorrow I will have to be bringing in some tender plants, etc. It might be worthwhile to cover a few plants in hopes that making it through the first frost might make them last a little longer. Most of the plants are not flowering anymore though.

  21. I love those new wildflowers you're sowing. You know, I got to thinking about what you said with regard to cold stratification. Seems like I have more trouble getting ideas to germinate in my brain during summer. Maybe now with cooler weather coming, they'll finally sprout!

  22. Marvellous photos. You have such beautiful flowers. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  23. I love the photo of the frost on the Coneflower! How wonderful that you captured that! We missed the frosty nights last week because we were in London, but the evidence was here when we got back. Most of my annuals were done for--but I can't believe the Fuchsias, Begonias, Swiss Chard, and Umbrella Grass are still going strong. I sowed my first autumn seeds this fall--usually I plant in springtime. It will be fun to see what comes up next season. I think you'll be happy with the Swamp Milkweed, Rose. It definitely attracts the Monarchs, although I didn't have any eggs or caterpillars on mine--maybe next year. I also saw hummingbirds nectaring on it. And it smells great--like vanilla!

  24. You know, I hadn't thought about planting seed at this time of year but that's a really good idea. I have some aster seed that would probably do well to sit through the winter.

  25. Lee May, good luck on your prairie garden!

    Diana, The Monarchs are such beautiful butterflies; I hope they have a much better year this year!

    Janet, I'm hoping the milkweed does well here. I've started all kinds of native seeds indoors in the spring without much luck, so I'm hoping this more natural way is more successful.

    Liz, I was never much of an insect person until I started gardening and also learned more about them through blogging. The bees have become my friends--it's said they're a sign of a healthy garden!

    Maggie, We've had some rain the last week and warmer temps, so my garden is really a sodden mess at the moment. I'm just hoping the real cold holds off until I get all my fall work done!

    Jennifer, I really liked the looks of this milkweed; I hope it does well here. I hadn't heard of Golden Alexanders until a few years ago either.

    Sue, I was thinking about ordering some wild ginger seed, but then I noticed in the description that it doesn't start well from seed, which made me wonder why they sell it:) Thanks for the tip on Golden Alexanders in the fall--I'm not very diligent about deadheading anyway.

  26. Lovely photos of both flowers and butterflies. I enjoy wildflowers on other people’s blogs, but I don’t really have the space or type of garden for such plants myself – although I have managed to sneak in a couple of asters, Echinaceas and heleniums :-) Here in London we have had a good year for butterflies with the best summer in many years, the bees have had a very good year too. Winter is still a long way away and hopefully we won’t get frost this side of Christmas – fingers crossed!

  27. Shirley, Glad to hear some of the monarchs made it safely to Texas! My husband would be aghast if I planted the common milkweed here, because it's a nuisance in farmers' fields. But I'm hoping he won't recognize this swamp milkweed:)

    Hannah, I covered a few plants the first few nights, but with several nights of frost warnings, I gave in to the inevitable. I brought a few inside--I'm hoping they'll make it through the winter.

    W2W, Winter just makes me want to hibernate--let's hope a little cold stratification gets both our brains to germinating ideas:)

    Cuban, Thanks for visiting! Always enjoy your comments on Sarah's posts.

    PlantPostings, There would have been more frost on the coneflower if I'd gotten my camera out first thing in the morning:) I've been surprised, too, by a few plants that were unfazed by the frost. Thanks for the info on the milkweed--if the hummingbirds like it, too, that's another bonus!

    Marguerite, This will be the first time I've tried this, but it makes sense, doesn't it? So many of the natives in my garden self-seed over the winter, so I hope this will work, too.

  28. Helene, I have a small garden, too, but it's not for lack of space--in my case, it's lack of time and energy:) Natives do seem to sprawl, especially the more aggressive self-seeders. Glad to hear you had lots of butterflies this year--I'm hoping this year was just a fluke and they'll all return next year.

  29. I really love the variety of prairie wildflowers that do so well in your area. And it's great that you're planting more!!

  30. The butterfly is so beautiful. I am grateful many of you are doing what you can to plant those things which attract such wonderful creatures. I love the stewardship that you are taking over your corner of the world to make it beautiful and a place where insects have a sanctuary.

  31. Great photo of the frost hanging onto the coneflower! It is always a sad day for me when the frost arrives, sigh. I hate seeing all the beauties go to sleep but on the bright side of life, no more humidity to deal with for a few months. So a biter sweet time for me I reckon. I have bulbs yet to plant and need to get a jump on them too....

  32. You're going to love the swamp milkweed. It's really beautiful in flower. Have you tried purple milkweed? That's a prairie milkweed that has very showy wine-colored flowers and the bees just love it.

  33. Lovely photos of both flowers and butterflies!
    Greetings, RW & SK


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