I hate to even complain about the snow and ice we’ve gotten this week. It is nothing compared to my friend and fellow blogger, Michele at The Salem Garden, who has had to deal with 87 inches of snow fall since Jan. 23!
It’s been extremely cold, too, making chores not so fun. My grandson stayed with me for a couple of days this week and has helped me gather eggs (which is one of his favorite things to do) and has kept me entertained with his sweetness.
We’ve also made sure to feed the birds and spent many minutes (which is hours in toddler time) at the window watching them go back and forth from tree to feeder.
Like I’ve said before, winter is a great time to research different types of shrubs, flowers, and vegetables you might want to plant in the garden.
I have been transitioning to native plants over the last few years. I’ve noticed over the years that pollinators, (butterflies and bees), seem to congregate on the natives more than the non-natives. I’ve also noticed that natives tend to be less fussy, more disease resistant, deer resistant, and take all kinds of weather that Arkansas has to offer. I hate to say carefree, but they are pretty close.
Let’s start with the old-fashioned hydrangea.
This species is Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’. This particular hydrangea will always bloom white. (Hydrangea macrophylla are the ones that turn either blue or pink depending on your soil type.) I chose white because of the contrast with my dark red brick.
This is a deciduous shrub (meaning it loses its leaves in winter).
It likes mostly shade but could stand more sun if you wanted to keep it watered. Mine gets about 4 hours of morning sun.
This particular hydrangea blooms on new wood which means you can prune it back in late winter
and still get massive blooms a few months later.
Knowing whether your hydrangea blooms on new wood or old wood is very important. If it blooms on old wood, pruning at the wrong time may cause your shrub to be all leaf and no bloom (which is something like all work and no play.)
It’s also good to know how tall your shrub is going to get. ‘Annabelle’ gets about 3 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide for me but information I’ve read says it can get up to 5 ft. tall. A good, detailed website to peruse if considering hydrangeas is http://www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com/
Another overlooked shrub is Amsonia hubrichtii or Arkansas Blue Star.
My largest one is about 4 ft. in diameter and 3 ft. tall. It gets full sun but would tolerate some shade. It’s not easy to relocate, so I would make sure you have it where you want it. It does send up shoots close to the plant but it’s not invasive. If I’m feeling energetic, I will pot those shoots up and let them grow all summer and then plant them in the fall. I love free plants! It does die back in the winter which means you don’t have to worry about pruning. Amsonia impressed me most when we had an extreme drought and a plague of grasshoppers one summer. This was the only shrub that came through totally unscathed causing me to fall deeply in love with it and pledge to always sing its praises.
Another favorite native is Asclepias tuberosa or Milkweed.
If you want to attract monarch butterflies to your yard, this is the plant you need. Not only do they (along with bees and other pollinators) love the flowers, milkweed is the only plant monarchs will lay their eggs on. When a monarch egg hatches, the caterpillar will eat the leaves and grow to become a monarch. I have raised hundreds of monarchs on my milkweed to the delight of my granddaughter. Nature and kids just go together.
Milkweed is a perennial (meaning it comes back every year) in zones 3-9. It dies back in the winter and starts to emerge a little later than most perennials. Mine usually starts sending up shoots by the end of April/first of May. Until you remember where you planted your milkweed plants, it would be a good idea to mark them (I circle them with golf tees) so you won’t plant over them like I have been known to do (more than once I hate to admit)
A. tuberosa will grow about 2-2 1/2 ft. tall and 1-1/2 ft. wide. It sends out a long taproot making it hard to transplant once it gets growing. I have moved mine before when the shoots were about 6 inches tall and it did ok but the ones that have done the best are the ones I’ve not touched since I planted them.
And you can’t beat the color. Bright orange really pops in the garden. In the fall, the seed pods are interesting as well. Collecting the seeds are easy and a great way to get more plants or share with friends.
Now, moving on to the vegetable garden.
An easy, tasty, dried bean to grow in the garden is the Lina Sisco Bird Egg Bean.
I’ve grown this bean for years. I hate to jinx myself and say I’ve never had a problem with bugs or diseases on this veggie, so I’m going to shut up right now. Trust me, it’s a good bean to have on your side.
Once planted, let the beans grow until the pods go from green to completely brown (about 85 days from planting) Brown pods mean the beans have completely dried and are ready to pick and shell. Call me weird, but shelling beans has always been very relaxing to me. I have fond memories of sitting under the big shade tree in my grandmother’s yard shelling beans and talking. It’s funny how doing small things like this can bring back such good memories. I miss her to this day.
After the beans are shelled, you can either bag or can them. Since I am usually busy with other veggies when they are ready, I put them in a Ziploc bag and stick them in the freezer until I have time to can them.
Don’t use all of them, though. These beans are not a hybrid and can be saved for next years garden or to share with friends and neighbors if you have a bumper crop. Can you tell I like free plants?
Free Plants+Happy Friends=Happy Gardeners.
Now that’s math I can understand.