Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Tired Time of Year in the Garden: Time to "Tolerate the Uglies"

As I look around my garden these days, there are definitely places where it's starting to look worn out and ratty.

For example, what's the end result of this sight, on August 25th?

This sight on September 9th!  And LOTS of gulf fritillary butterflies gracing our yard, too.  Just recently a seemingly unpenetrable wall of green, the passion vine (Passiflora incarnata) is literally skeletal now.  All of its leaves - literally ALL of them - have been eaten by gulf fritillary caterpillars (Agraulis vanillae), leaving nothing but awkward stems with the remnants of a few fruits hanging on.  I'm not worried, though.  The passion vine will be back next spring, as full and pretty as ever.

Also, did you notice?  The leaves of the vines were beginning to turn yellow by the end of August anyway.  They weren't going to last much longer even if the caterpillars hadn't been eating them.

The victim of twin onslaughts - monarch caterpillars and advancing age, the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is looking rather pathetic too.  It's a battle to see whether the caterpillars will eat the leaves first or whether they'll turn yellow and fall off from the bottom up.  (The tall, leggy plants in the photo above are the swamp milkweed, planted just behind the birdbath basin on the ground.)  It's the legginess and ugliness of this stage of their life cycle that encourages me to generally plant swamp milkweed in the back of the border, hopefully behind some "fluffy" lower plants like red sage (Salvia coccinea) or short species of asters.  If you look closely at the left side of the photo, however, you can see that the monarchs aren't upset by the state of the milkweed at all. 

There are still many flying in the yard, with females frequently seen laying eggs here and there - even on "ugly" plants.  

Flyr's nemesis (Brickellia cordifolia) is just about done blooming, so its small, cotton candy pink pom-poms of flowers are fading into grayish lavender mush.  The leaves still look good, but the stalks have sprawled everywhere, thanks to the weight of all those beautiful blossoms over the last couple weeks.

I've got these few stalks held up with stakes because they were lying flat on the lawn.  Our 3 year old grandson gives a good sense of scale against these shortest of the Flyr's nemesis stalks.  Despite the waning number of blooms, the monarchs, gulf fritillaries, and little bees are all still enjoying the Flyr's nemesis immensely.

Declining in the same way they grew, from the bottom up, the Dr. Seuss flowers of spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) are past their prime as well.  There are still individual flowers in the upper bloom clusters, but the bottom clusters are turning brown and drying out.  Like the Flyr's nemesis, the stems have sprawled from the weight of bountiful blossoms.

Looking up into the trees, numerous nests of fall webworms (Hyphantria cunea) pockmark the ends of the branches of the pignut hickories (Carya glabra).  I've noticed an increased number of birds like bluejays up in the canopy since the webworm nests appeared, so I'm guessing that the birds are having quite a nice, seasonal, tree top feast up there.

In the front gardens, even the tidy green mounds of the trailing pineland lantana (Lantana depressa) are showing signs of decline, although thankfully you have to look fairly closely to see them. 

Many leaves have been used as caterpillar food by some sort of leaf rollers this summer and they have become gray ghosts of themselves.  Empty flower stalks are numerous now, too, although the blossoms still attract most of the attention, especially from a distance.  Luckily, again, the butterflies, skippers, and other creatures don't seem to mind at all.

When I worked the phone line for the Master Gardener office, we'd always get concerned calls at this time of year, "My plant leaves are looking so sick.  What should I spray on them?"

My response then was the same as it is internally to myself now, "It's the end of summer.  The leaves have been working hard all summer and they are tired and worn out.  It's almost time for them to fall, where they will continue working to make the garden healthier as they decompose into rich topsoil.  Don't spray anything.  This is all just part of the natural cycle of life.  Nothing is wrong at all."

Or, in other words, it's the time of year to remind ourselves to "tolerate the uglies" as the seasons begin to change yet again, moving us into the release of fall and the quiet peace of winter.  This, too, shall pass.


Corner Gardener Sue said...

Thank you for the encouragement! Yes, I am noticing some uglies as well. Part of the problem here is disease on a number of plants, I am thinking, because we had way more rain than usual the last few weeks. They are still blooming, though.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Yes, Sue, I find that too much moisture can be almost as bad as not enough, as far as plant health goes. The diseases can get very nasty and ugly. Glad the plants are still blooming - that's a big plus!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you could be
a great author. I will make certain to bookmark your blog and may come back from now on. I want to encourage continue your great job, have a nice day!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Kind words. Thank you!