UD Botanic Gardens announce annual benefit plant sale

April 1, 2014 under CANR News

Hydrangea, Redbud Forest pansy, Mentors' Circle,  S. College Ave. by Lane McLaughlin 7/7/03The 22nd annual University of Delaware Botanic Gardens Benefit Plant Sale will be held on Friday and Saturday, April 25-26, on the South Campus in Newark.

The sale will be held from 3-7 p.m. Friday and from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday – the latter in conjunction with Ag Day — in the fenced area across from Fisher Greenhouse. Admission is free.

Those with interest can view the plant sale catalog at the UDBG website to see an array of summer’s grande dames of horticulture — the hydrangea, a prime selection of magnolias, maples and iris, along with hundreds of additional select treasures.

UDBG Friends enjoy an exclusive day to shop at the sale on Thursday, April 24, from 3-7 p.m. To enjoy other exclusive member benefits, join the Friends online or contact Melinda Zoehrer at 302-831-0153 or BotanicGardens@udel.edu.

Hydrangeas featured

The featured plants, hydrangeas, though a small portion of the many ornamental shrubs available to modern gardeners, embody all the best attributes of horticulture as a hobby and, for some, an obsession. This beautiful group of plants exhibits a stunning diversity of species and cultivated varieties that satisfy a wide range of tastes and garden settings. All members of the genus share a common name, but in some cases the similarities end there.

The impressive floral prowess of many hydrangeas is arguably their most exciting and endearing feature. Interestingly, the impressive diversity of the family means this characteristic is itself subject to a number of different factors. These traits, long admired by hydrangea aficionados, include flower color, size, shape and the season in which they are at their best.

Next, the specific growth habit, growth rate and mature size of the various hydrangeas dictate their appropriate landscape placement. Finally, their varying foliage characteristics, from spring through fall, combine to provide a plethora of exciting options. When it comes to hydrangeas, there is truly something for everyone.

The genus hydrangea consists of over 70 species worldwide, but the best choices for Mid-Atlantic gardens can be narrowed down to five main groups. Each group consists of one or more “hallmark” species that exemplify their prime ornamental features and any number of named varieties, known as cultivars.

The first four groups consist of shrubby plants and include Smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens), Oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia), Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata) and the classic lacecap and mophead types (H. macrophylla and H. serrata), whose colorful blooms have graced gardens for centuries.

The fifth and final group includes the handsome pair of vines known as Climbing hydrangea (H. anomala ssp. petiolaris) and its cousin the Japanese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides).

Each group offers its own personality, distinct ornamental attributes and respective place in the garden.

About the hydrangea groups

First, Smooth hydrangea is a native shrub found in shady forest nooks throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. It becomes a prominent garden feature each May as large creamy flower clusters cover its leafy framework.

This plant, perhaps best known by the popular variety Annabelle, often droops to the ground under the weight of its floral might. Dedicated breeding work in recent years has led to the availability of pink flowered types such as Invincibelle Spirit and Bella Anna.

The second group also consists of a shrubby denizen of the southeastern United States. Oakleaf hydrangea is so-named for its deeply cut foliage that mimics the familiar look of many oak tree (Quercus spp.) leaves. This fascinating textural attribute alone would be a great reason to grow this species, however it also offers an excellent display of white, conical flower panicles in late spring.

Fall brings yet another season of interest as the leaves take on gorgeous shades of burgundy, orange and scarlet. Many selections have been made for flower size and growth habit over the years. These even include an intriguing cultivar with glowing chartreuse foliage known as Little Honey.

The next group of hydrangeas is one that has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years. The Panicle, or PeeGee hydrangea, is a feature of older farmsteads and the confines of “grandma’s garden.” It is an Asian import that became quite popular during Victorian times. Athletic in its physiology, it is a plant of impressive growth rate that springs into aesthetic action during mid to late summer.

Prominent white flower panicles decorate the landscape at a time when most other trees and shrubs have faded into the background. Interest in this old favorite has been rekindled by newer varieties bred for compactness and reduced size at maturity — perfect qualities for today’s smaller gardens.

The exquisite, showy blooms of the fourth group represent the quintessential concept of the genus hydrangea. Bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla) and Mountain hydrangea (H. serrata) are closely related species that serve similar ornamental roles. The first species has been cultivated for centuries and offers flowers in either a “mophead” (ball-shaped) appearance or a “lacecap” (flat or horizontal) arrangement. Cultivars have been bred in a dizzying array of color combinations, including white, pink, red, blue and purple.

Mountain hydrangea differs mainly in its smaller stature and proclivity toward the “lacecap” floral type. These species are the hydrangeas famous for exhibiting varying flower color depending on soil chemistry. Acid soils (higher pH) encourage flowers that tend toward blue, while neutral to basic soils (lower pH) lead to pink flowers. Newer reblooming varieties such as Endless Summer all but guarantee a captivating floral show from spring through fall.

Finally, two additional species typify a decidedly non-traditional concept of hydrangeas. Both are climbing vines quite adept at scrambling up walls, fences and even the sides of buildings. Though differing in small fairly obscure botanical traits, Climbing hydrangea and the Japanese hydrangea vine are used similarly in the landscape. Both offer lacey white flower clusters in late spring and add a new dimension to how hydrangeas beautify our gardens.

UD Botanic Gardens

The UD Botanic Gardens are open year-round to provide ideas and inspiration, or for a quiet stroll.

UDBG contributes to an understanding of the relationships between plants and people through education, research, cooperative extension, and community support.

Article by Jason Veil, UDBG curatorial graduate teaching assistant

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Amidst spring color, unfurling ferns offer different kind of beauty

May 17, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The May landscape at Winterthur is reminiscent of a child’s finger painting. Here, a bright splash of red and coral from azaleas. There, luminescent lavender on lilacs and phlox. Throw in a cheerful dab of gold from Rhododendron luteumand a dash of pastel pinks from dogwoods, too.

Amidst this riot of color, Linda Eirhart was a woman on a mission one recent morning. Oblivious to the rainbow hues around her, Eirhart drove a golf cart down Winterthur’s pathways, searching for new ferns unfurling their fronds.

fernsAt first glance, one might wonder why Eirhart, Winterthur’s assistant director of horticulture, would bother chasing down ferns. Unlike spring blooms, there’s no immediate wow factor. All the ferns are pretty small now, even the ones that will ultimately reach two to three feet high. It’s easy to overlook a tiny fern growing just a few inches from the ground. However, if you crouch down for a closer look, you’ll enjoy a sight as spectacular in its own right as the brash blooms of spring.

Take, for example, emerging hay-scented ferns. These clusters of chartreuse apostrophes twirling in the breeze resemble some bizarre plant from a Dr. Seuss book. Another fern that looks other-worldly now is cinnamon fern. Its fronds are tightly wound in a circular clump, encased in white hairs.

“Ferns are a real favorite of mine,” says Eirhart. “They’re fascinating as they emerge. Then, once they unfurl and mature, they provide interesting foliage and texture throughout the growing season.”

Not to mention the way they seem to lower the thermometer once the steamy hot days of summer arrive.

“Ferns create a cooling, peaceful effect in a landscape,” says Sue Barton, UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture. “The March Bank at Winterthur is a great example of this cooling effect.”

The March Bank’s main claim to fame is its spring color. In the early 1900s, H.F. du Pont began planting thousands of bulbs on a hillside near his home that he dubbed the March Bank. He mixed ostrich, cinnamon and New York ferns amidst the bulbs for season-long interest. Du Pont would go on to inherit Winterthur from his father and, a short time after that, establish the property as a museum.

Come summer, the ferns that du Pont planted will create a thick, lush carpet of green in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. There’s the almost chartreuse green of the New York fern, which contrasts with the multi-colored hues of the cinnamon fern. The cinnamon fern has two types of fronds – large green sterile ones and smaller fertile ones that start out bright green and soon turn a cinnamon color. Some of the taller varieties include the ostrich fern, which can reach 5 feet and the New York fern, which tops out at 2 feet in ideal conditions.

“I love ferns,” says Chris Strand, director of garden and estate at Winterthur. “Growing up in Colorado, ferns weren’t common. We didn’t get 39 inches of rain annually like Delaware gets, nor did we have the right soil conditions for ferns. When I moved East, I was amazed by all the ferns here. It’s beautiful now, when the bluebells are fading on the March Bank and the emerging ferns are coming in. All the fronds waving in the breeze look like waves on the ocean.”

Delaware has 67 native ferns, according to Bill McAvoy, a botanist with the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Winterthur doesn’t have all those ferns but it’s certainly got a lot. In addition to the March Bank, there are good collections of ferns in the children’s garden, Enchanted Woods; as well as in the Pinetum. And what was once a small fern collection at the Visitor’s Center has been given a big boost recently. Over the past five years, Eirhart, her staff, and volunteers have added thousands of new ferns to this area.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is another great place to search for unfurling ferns now and enjoy their cooling presence later this summer. There are painted and Christmas ferns in the Dunham Garden, at the main entrance; autumn and Christmas ferns by the Creamery ice cream shop; and still more Christmas ferns in the native garden.

In shady or partial shady conditions, ferns can be the workhorse of the garden. They can be used as groundcover in places where few other plants will thrive and also spotlighted as specimen plantings, notes Barton. Most varieties are low maintenance, drought tolerant and deer resistant. A few ferns will even tolerate full sun, as long as they have adequate moisture.

Learn more

On June 19, Linda Eirhart will lead a fern workshop that covers the basics of fern botany and cultivation as well as an introduction to the best ferns for this area. 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Winterthur Museum and Gardens. To register, call 888-4600.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Ag Day to feature interactive exhibits, demonstration, music, food and more

April 10, 2013 under CANR News, Events

AG Day 2013 set for April 27Ag Day, the annual event held by the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), is once again fast approaching. Students, faculty and the greater Newark community are encouraged to come out from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, April 27, for great food, music and, of course, interactive educational exhibits and demonstrations about agriculture and natural resources.

Organized by staff and students of CANR, Ag Day works with more than 90 organizations to bring hands-on exhibits, demonstrations and activities for kids and adults alike. From petting a farm animal or racing cockroaches, to listening to local bands and enjoying the UDairy Creamery’s newest flavors, there is plenty to keep visitors busy all day.

Ag Day will be held at CANR’s Townsend Hall, located at 531 South College Ave. in Newark. Admission and parking are free, with minimal charges for food, crafts, vendor sales and hayrides, with the profits going back to student and community organizations.

Those who attend are encouraged to visit the popular Ag Day plant sales offered by the UD Botanic Gardens, New Castle County Master Gardeners and Horticulture Club.

New this year are an Insect Zoo offered by the UD Entomology Club, horse=drawn wagon rides, a live herpetology display and more demonstrations than ever before. Live demonstrations throughout the day include two free-flight bird demonstrations from Behavior and Training Solutions, tree-climbing demonstrations from Bartlett Tree Services, dairy cow showmanship, sheep shearing, beekeeping, food canning and preservation, Seeing Eye dog demonstrations, gardening tips and more.

Bands performing all include at least one member who works for the college, and include Tater Patch, Dodging Cupid, The Hook and The Essentials.

Visitors are encouraged to use parking lots at UD’s Science and Technology Campus, ice arenas, Delaware Field House and Delaware Stadium, and also to use SEPTA/DART parking lots. Please use cross walks and obey all signs and signals. Those with handicapped tags are encouraged to enter near the Delaware Field House and proceed toward the UDairy Creamery for designated parking.

For the safety of the live animal exhibits, visitors are asked to leave their pets at home.

Ag Day 2013 is made possible through the support of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ag College Council, Delaware Livable Lawns and additional sponsors.

For general information, FAQs, a full list of exhibitors and the day’s music and demonstration schedule, visit the Ag Day website.

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Magnolias featured plant at 2013 UD Botanic Gardens sale

April 2, 2013 under CANR News

UDBG fall plant sale features magnoliasJohn Frett is a like a kid in a candy store when it comes to choosing magnolias for the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens plant sale – he wants them all.

“How can one resist those magnificent flowers, some appearing in early spring, some in late spring or summer,” notes Frett, who is director of the gardens. “Then there is the fragrance, the evergreen foliage and, to round out the package, colored fruits in the fall. I would love to include every magnolia variety in the sale, but I have to pare down my selection to a few exquisite gems.”

Magnolias are one of the featured plants at this year’s plant sale, to be held April 26-27. Many gardeners like to plant early blooming (and non-native) magnolias, such as Magnolia ‘genie,’ which will be available at the sale. But there is distinct advantage to the native varieties, says Frett.

“You need to be patient because our native magnolias don’t flower until mid- to late season, from about mid-April until summer. But on the upside, you won’t need to worry about frost damage like you do with saucer magnolia and the other early bloomers,” he says.

A few early magnolias could be close to bloom when Frett leads garden walks on April 3-4 that focus on magnolias and other plant sale highlights. The gardens feature an extensive magnolia collection centered around Townsend Hall and also in a large planting near the UD swimming pool.  If time allows, Frett will duck into the greenhouses to show off container plants started from seed by UD students.

“The sale is a real learning opportunity,” says Frett. “A number of our undergraduate classes take part in starting seeds and grad students help with propagation.”

One of the rare magnolias offered at the sale is Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia, a native with coarse leaves that can get as large as 18 inches long. “It gives the plant a real tropical feel,” says Frett.

At maturity, Magnolia ashei Ash Magnolia will reach 15 to 20 feet. If you don’t have a lot of space, instead consider a dwarf magnolia such as Sweet Thing, a dwarf cultivar of native sweetbay. This little guy tops out at 5 to 8 feet in high after 15 to 20 years.

Rhododendron is another plant that is well represented at the sale. Six different selections are offered, all of them native. The Catawba rhododendron, which features dark-red flowers in late May, is probably the most common native rhodo in local gardens. And for good reason. It’s known to be an excellent performer and is a good food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

If you enjoy surprises, pick up a flame azalea for your yard. Another butterfly friendly selection, this plant features vivid orange blooms. Or yellow, pink, salmon or scarlet ones. The plant flowers in May so it’s anyone’s guess which color you’ll be getting at the UD sale.

Guided walks

April 3-4:  Learn about plants offered at the sale during a stroll through the UD Botanic Gardens. 4 p.m. $10. To register call 831-2531 or email botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Plant sale

April 26, 3-7 p.m., and April 27, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sale is located across from Fischer Greenhouse on UD’s South Campus in Newark. For more information, call 831-2531 or email botanicgardens@udel.edu.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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University of Delaware Botanic Gardens offers mini-series on small flowering trees

December 7, 2012 under CANR News

It will be four long months before the pink, purple and fuchsia blooms of the Eastern redbud burst forth. Even longer before we’ll see the light pink and white blossoms of serviceberry or the snow white blossoms of native dogwood.

What’s a gardener to do until spring arrives?

For Catherine Buckminster, of Newark, the answer is simple – learn. “I’ve earned a certificate in ornamental horticulture from Longwood, I take Master Gardener workshops, and, coming up in January, I’m enrolled in a mini-series on small flowering trees offered by the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens,” says Buckminster.

John Frett talks about small flowering treesLast year was the first time that the UD Botanic Gardens offered a January lecture series and the response was excellent, says Valann Budishak, volunteer and education coordinator for the gardens.

The beginning of the year can be a hard time for local gardeners, says Budishak. In late fall and early winter, leaves can be raked and composted, fall cutbacks can be completed, and other garden tasks accomplished. By January it’s usually too cold to do outside work while it’s a bit too early to start seeds indoors. The mini-series fills a void for Buckminster and other gardeners who are eager to stay engaged in their hobby.

UD Botanic Gardens Director John Frett teaches the series and he’s designed it so that each of the three lectures stands alone. The series also includes a Saturday lab held in the botanic gardens and UD greenhouses. At that session, he will show off some of the cultivars previously discussed. And, rest assured, there will be plenty to admire, even without a single flower in bloom in the gardens.

“The structure of the trees, shrubs and woody plants are more evident in winter when there are fewer things competing for your attention,” he says.

Like Frett, Buckminster appreciates the form, texture and structure of small flowering trees just as much as the blooms. “People want flowers all season long but most trees are only in bloom a short time,” notes Buckminster, who is a member of the UD Botanic Gardens Friends’ group and a frequent volunteer at the gardens. “I select trees with a nice branching structure – like dogwoods – that are going to look good after the blooms are gone.”

Which is not to say Buckminster doesn’t appreciate a pop of color in the landscape come springtime. Her half-acre Newark yard already has many well-established, larger trees so she is currently developing the understory of smaller shrubs and trees.

“I want a better understory for visual effect, as well as to provide food and shelter for birds,” says Buckminister.

Currently, she has redbuds at the perimeter of her backyard, growing at the edge of woodlands, and dogwoods as specimen plantings throughout the property. She’d like to add some more small, flowering trees in the front, underneath larger trees, to enhance the curb appeal.

At the lecture series, Frett may suggest that she consider the wide variety of magnolias that thrive in Delaware, including native sweetbay magnolia. Like all native magnolias, the sweetbay is a late bloomer – depending on the cultivar, it blooms from May to early summer.

He’ll spend a portion of the Saturday lab session showing off the UD Botanic Gardens’ magnolia collection, which has been expanded to 100 taxa of magnolia, with some 125 magnolias in all. Magnolias are widely scattered throughout the UD gardens but large groupings can be found between Townsend and Worrilow halls, south of Townsend, and also north of UD’s outdoor pool.

For those who have very limited space, Frett suggests the M. virginiana “Perry Paige” cultivar of sweetbay – this new dwarf variety tops out at only five to eight feet tall.

Other small flowering trees that Frett will discuss include native serviceberry and hawthorn and native and non-native cherries.

About the series

The UD Botanic Gardens’ small flowering trees mini-series takes place Jan. 9, 16 and 23, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., with a lab on Jan. 19 from 9-11 a.m. Cost for the public is $35 per lecture or lab; if you sign up for all three lectures the lab is free. To register, or for more info, call 831-2531.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Holiday time means American holly, Delaware’s state tree

November 29, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Shirley Duffy is a recent transplant to Delaware who is proud of her new state. And as an avid gardener, she knew just the way to show her state pride — by planting an American holly in her Newark yard.

The American holly (Ilex opaca) has been the state tree of Delaware since 1939. Back then, the holly was an important cash crop to the state, says Carrie Murphy, a horticulture agent with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Holly grew in abundance in the wild, particularly in Sussex County. Savvy entrepreneurs, such as Milton fertilizer salesman Charles C. Jones Sr. recognized that there was money to be made from this broadleaf evergreen. He began shipping wreaths and other holly products throughout the U.S. and abroad. By the 1930s, Delaware had become the leading supplier of holly in the nation. The town of Milton produced more holly wreaths and decorations than any other town in the world.

With the advent of artificial decorations, as well as wage law requirements for piecework businesses, the state’s commercial holly industry declined and ceased entirely by the 1960s. These days, the only holly harvesting in Delaware is in backyards like Duffy’s. A UD Master Gardener, Duffy likes to take holly cuttings throughout the winter, not just at Christmas time.

“I use holly for both indoor and outdoor arrangements,” says Duffy. For an easy but eye-catching decoration she arranges cut holly boughs down the length of her dining room table.

Ed Stevenson, a Master Gardener who lives in North Wilmington, also turns to the hollies in his yard for seasonal decorations. However, he uses holly judiciously because it does have a few downsides.

“We cut holly branches and use them for a Christmas table centerpiece,” says Stevenson. “However, once holly is cut, the leaves start to shrivel and the berries slowly darken. The branches should either be cut close to Christmas, or, if they are cut earlier and show signs of aging, they can be replaced with newly-cut branches.”

“Because we expect our Christmas door wreath to last about a month – early December through mid-January – we don’t use holly in it. Also, keep in mind that the sharp leaf spines of the holly can scratch wood finishes so don’t put it directly on wood,” he says.

Hagley Museum horticulturalist Renee Huber used plenty of American holly for the “Christmas at Hagley” display, which opened Friday and continues through Jan. 6. She fashioned it into swags, as well as wreaths.

“Being our state tree I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to include it in the decorations,” notes Huber. “Plus, my great-great-grandfather, who was a farmer on the Eastern Shore, supplemented his income at this time of year by making American holly wreaths. I guess I don’t fall far from the tree.”

Huber had to decorate not only Eleutherian Mills, but also the Belin, Soda and Gibbons houses. To fill all these spaces, she roamed the museum’s 235 acres for just the right cuttings of hollies and other evergreens. But the bulk of her plant material came from a cutting garden maintained specifically for decorating purposes. It’s planted with a variety of evergreens, winterberry and other perennial favorites.

Since most of us don’t have the luxury of a cutting garden, it’s important to carefully clip branches from hollies – and all your shrubs and woody perennials — so that your landscape still looks good when you’re done.

Cut back to the trunk or another branch, says Murphy. If you put up your holiday decorations early, check throughout the season to see if anything needs to be replaced. If evergreens get dried out they can become a fire hazard.

If you don’t have any holly on your property, plan now for spring planting. “Holly makes a great specimen planting and over time will fill out to screen unpleasant views,” says Murphy. “It’s a slow grower but eventually can reach 30 feet tall.”

To produce the American holly’s distinctive red berries, you will need to grow both male and female plants. Although the male plants never produce fruit, they must be sited near the female plants to provide pollen needed for fruit production. Bees and other pollinators will do the work of transporting the pollen from the male to female plants.

Ironically, Duffy had trouble finding Delaware’s state tree at local garden stores. Many stores said they could special order it, and she knew that online shopping was another option.

But she wanted to see various cultivars before she selected her plants, so she eventually found a New Jersey-based online nursery that was holding an open house.

“Internet descriptions of ‘stiff, glossy’ leaves and ‘large’ berries mean nothing,” notes Duffy. “You have to see the plants yourself.”

A great place to see the plants for yourself is at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens. Some 50 species and cultivars of holly grow there, with the largest concentration of hollies found in the Clark and Fischer Greenhouse gardens. The UD Botanic Gardens maintains research data on its holly collection and is a test arboretum for the American Holly Society.

At Hagley one of the best places to see hollies is in the field across from Eleutherian Mills, by the gatehouse, according to Hagley arborist Richard Pratt. At least half the hollies there sport red berries.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Asters keep UD Botanic Gardens colorful through November

November 12, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Some of autumn’s pleasures are fleeting. Like the sight of migrating broad-winged hawks soaring on thermals in the September skies. Like the golden leaves of the ginkgo, which drop from the tree in a few days or sometimes mere hours. Like the big, orange, once-a-year occurrence of the harvest moon.

But other autumn pleasures – like asters – endure all season long. Asters start blooming at the same time as such early fall wildflowers as goldenrod and thoroughwort. But long after many other blooms have turned brown, the aster is still going strong.

Of course, no one species of native aster blooms straight through from September to November. Most bloom for a few weeks and then, as they die off, other varieties began to flower. Some of the native varieties that bloom the latest include aromatic and heath asters.

“It’s not unusual to see aromatic, heath and other species of asters blooming in late November,” says Sue Barton, an ornamental horticulture specialist with University of Delaware Cooperative Extension. “Asters continue to add a splash of color to the landscape in late autumn, when little else is blooming in Delaware.”

There are 33 native species and varieties of the genus Aster in Delaware, according to Bill McAvoy, a botanist with the Delaware Natural Heritage Program. Several of these varieties are classified as rare in the state. Asters are found in a wide range of habitat – woodlands, swamps, marshes, wet meadows and old fields. Some species are tall and bushy; others are groundcovers. Most prefer sunny conditions but some do well in shade.

Asters are tough and reliable, which is why they are popular with both home gardeners and commercial landscapers. “Asters – both natives and non-natives – are some of the easiest perennials to grow,” says Barton. “They don’t require much watering, fertilizing or other care.”

Doug Tallamy likes asters because they contribute to healthy local ecosystems. Asters are a valuable food source for a variety of pollinators, including native bees, honeybees, butterflies, beetles and flies, says Tallamy, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.

“As one of the latest blooming widespread plants, asters are very important as a carbohydrate energy source for butterflies, bees, beetles and flies,” says Tallamy.

If you’re looking for a good aster to plant in Delaware you couldn’t do better than talking to Jeanne Frett, a research horticulturalist at Mt. Cuba Center. A few years ago she conducted a performance evaluation of asters in conjunction with Victor Piatt, the center’s former trial area gardener.

The duo evaluated 56 different asters over a two-year period for such factors as color, bloom period, foliage quality, disease resistance and more.

Varieties that got top marks include smooth aster, prairie aster and calico aster. A late bloomer that scored well is the large-flowered aster. Some years, this aster may start in mid-October and finish by Halloween. Other seasons, it doesn’t flower until mid-November and then continues blooming past Thanksgiving.

You can see these varieties of asters – any many more – at Mt. Cuba. Public garden tours are held Thursdays through Sundays; registration is necessary. The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens also has a great selection of asters. Late bloomers there include Aster oblongifolius “Raydon’s Favorite,” a showy variety that sports a profusion of blue-lavender flowers with yellow centers.

Mt. Cuba Center is located at 3120 Barley Mill Road in Hockessin. For more information, call 239-4244.

The University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is located on the grounds of Townsend Hall off South College Avenue in Newark. The garden is open dawn to dusk daily and is free of charge. Parking is available at meters or by purchasing a parking permit for $3 online. To learn more, call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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Fall wildflower season is in full force in Delaware

September 26, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The herbaceous garden at the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens is an outdoor laboratory where students and researchers study plants, insects, landscape design and plant pathology.

It’s also one of the best go-to spots for eye-popping fall color.

Walk through the garden this month and you may encounter a student scrutinizing the Solidago rugosa‘Fireworks’ for an upcoming quiz. But there’s no need to memorize the growth habits, hardiness or soil requirements of this native goldenrod cultivar to enjoy its fluffy yellow blooms.

“The herbaceous garden is one of my favorite places to see fall color,” says Sue Barton, ornamental horticulture specialist for UD Cooperative Extension. “And it looks even better this season, now that a re-design of the garden entrance is almost complete.”

Fall wildflowers are blooming earlier this year at the herbaceous garden and throughout Delaware, reports Barton. “Fall wildflowers typically start around the end of August, are in abundance now and continue through November when late-blooming asters put on a final show of color. But many species are flowering ahead of schedule this year.”

Native perennials currently in bloom at the herbaceous garden include sedums in coral, salmon and other shades of pink, says Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator for the UD Botanic Gardens.  Purple and lavender varieties of Eupatoriumare in full flower, too. Even after the blooms are done, the seed heads still look great, notes Budischak.

Early asters also are starting to pop up, and will be followed by late varieties, such as Aster oblongifolius “Raydon’s Favorite,” a showy aster that sports a profusion of blue-lavender flowers with yellow centers.

When planning for fall color in your own yard, Barton suggests thinking low as well as high. Without a doubt, many of her native fall-blooming perennials are lofty. For example, some of her New York ironweed is taller than she is – it has soared to six feet tall. Its deep purple flowers already are in bloom and will continue through the end of the month.

Although this ironweed makes an eye-catching display, Barton also likes the fall color that’s closer to the ground. Like the brilliant red foliage of Virginia creeper, a vine that can be trained to crawl, and the mottled blue-green leaves of Allegheny pachysandra, a mere six inches high.

“There are many native, low-growing groundcovers that provide great fall color,” says Barton. “Sometimes it’s the flowers that provide interest, such as the white blooms of white heath aster, which blooms from late summer into fall. In other cases, like Virginia creeper and Allegheny pachysandra, it’s the foliage that’s noteworthy.”

Groundcovers are an excellent alternative to something Barton doesn’t have much use for – mulch.

“Mulch is fine when establishing landscape beds but you should work toward having a mulch-free garden, or just small areas that are mulched. It shouldn’t be added to beds year after year,” says Barton. “Groundcovers offer the same benefits as mulch – they help regulate soil temperatures, control erosion, and help the soil retain moisture. But, unlike mulch, they also provide food and/or cover for wildlife. And you don’t have to keep buying more – groundcovers spread over time.”

Native warm-season grasses are another source of fall color that Barton utilizes widely in her yard. She especially likes the “Shenandoah” cultivar of red switch grass. In early summer, its leaves are tipped with just a bit of red but by fall the leaves are burgundy, topped by pink plumes.

Warm-season grasses are versatile. They’re well adapted to warm, sunny open spaces. Barton plants her warm-season grasses with an eye toward back lighting — taking advantage of light from the setting or rising sun.

“Ornamental grasses look particularly beautiful when back lit – the trick is position them so the light shines through them,” says Barton.

About the UD Botanic Gardens

The 15-acre UD Botanic Gardens is open to the public free of charge, from dawn to dusk daily. It’s located on the grounds of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources off Route 896, in Newark. Obtain a visitor parking pass online for $3 at this website or use the metered parking near the UDairy Creamery. For more info about the UD Botanic Gardens, go to the UDBG website or call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Rick Darke

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Learn about native color in the garden at UD lecture planned Sept. 4

August 27, 2012 under CANR News

Get John Frett and Lyons talking about color in the garden and (good-natured) sparks are sure to fly.

Frett is a connoisseur of a “refined” color palette. Director of the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, Frett gets more enthused about the form, texture and structure of a plant than the shade of its blooms. In contrast, when it comes to color, Lyons’ motto is “bring it on.”

“You should see the containers on my front porch,” says Lyons, director of UD’s Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture. “Oranges, yellows, reds, blues, purples – I’ve got every flower color imaginable. I’m not into the bland stuff, like some people are.”

“Bob is all about ‘in-your-face color,’” retorts Frett with a chuckle.

Although they enjoy tongue-in-cheek needling, Frett and Lyons also respect each other’s talents and sensibilities. So when Frett needed an expert to talk about color in the landscape, he looked no farther than Lyons, who has lectured widely on the subject.

Lyons will present “The Color of the Native Plant Palette … and other Related Thoughts” on Sept. 4 in UD’s Townsend Hall. A kick-off event for the annual UD Botanic Gardens Fall Plant Sale, the talk will focus on readily available herbaceous plants that pack a wallop of color.

Like the spiky, show-stopping red blooms of cardinal flower. Or, the bright yellow flower heads of sunflower, which can extend a foot in diameter, on plants that are 12 feet tall. Or, the vibrant, tangerine-orange blooms of butterfly weed.

What’s more, this panoply of color comes from plants that are native to Delaware.

“Some people think that the exciting colors are only found on exotic plants and that blandness reigns in the world of natives,” says Lyons. “But bright color can be achieved with many northeastern U.S. native herbaceous species and other North American species.”

After his house burned to the ground two years ago, Lyons decided to re-build on the same site and has focused his time ever since on the reconstruction project. As a result, some invasives, including Japanese knotweed, have made inroads into his yard. This summer — his first in the new home – Lyons has plunged into revitalizing his garden.

To satisfy his craving for color, he has planted native varieties of azalea and hibiscus as well as alumroot, Joe Pye weed and butterfly weed. A small meadow, predominantly of wildflowers, will be planted this fall. Lyons hopes to feature a jumble of hues, from the purples and lavenders of New England aster to coreopsis, in shades of lemon and butter yellow.  Closer to the house, Lyons’ garden becomes more intensely cultivated, with pops of color from native perennials such as Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), which has bright red and yellow blooms.

Lyons also uses annuals for a blast of color. He selects non-natives, such as petunias, geraniums and impatiens, as well as annuals native to Delaware, including Black-eyed Susan and coreopsis.

Lyons’ Sept. 4 lecture will feature plenty of photos of brightly hued private and public gardens. He’ll also present info about the “fast trackers” – those new hybrid varieties of natives notable for their color. Indian Summer Rudbecka and Sunrise Echinacea are two such “current darlings of the industry,” says Lyons.

The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 for members of the UD Botanic Garden Friends group; $10 for nonmembers. The plant sale will be held Sept. 7, 4 p.m.-7 p.m., and Sept. 8, 8 a.m.- 11 a.m. To register for the lecture, or for more info about either event, call 831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Butterfly season only average, according to UD entomologist and others

July 17, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Brian Kunkel’s weekend strolls at Middle Run Natural Area make him see red – not because he’s angry but because the red admiral butterfly has been abundant at this 850-acre park east of Newark. A large, red-banded butterfly, the red admiral has been seen in large numbers throughout Delaware this summer.

“The red admiral is experiencing an irruption – a rapid and irregular increase in population numbers,” says Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension. “It’s not just here in Delaware; this irruption also has been reported in New Jersey, the Poconos, western New York and other Northeastern locales. The last time a red admiral irruption was seen locally was 2001.”

The red admiral is the bright spot for Delaware butterfly watchers this summer. All in all, it’s shaping up to be just a so-so season for butterflies.

“Butterfly numbers were good at the end of May and into June but then things really backed down,” says Sheila Vincent, a group program coordinator for the Delaware Nature Society who maintains Ashland Nature Center’s Butterfly House.

“Mid-July to mid-August is typically the peak of butterfly activity in Delaware but we’ve seen fewer individuals flying,” says Vincent, “Right now, I don’t think we’re going see a repeat of 2011 and 2010, both of which were very good years for butterflies.”

Butterfly populations are influenced by a complex interplay of temperature, moisture and food supply. Different species are impacted by different factors. For example, a species that overwinters in the adult form – such as the mourning cloak — will have better survival rates in milder winters, says Kunkel. If the butterfly’s host plant flourishes during a rainy spring, odds are that butterfly will do well that season, too.

“With so many factors influencing population density, I can’t begin to speculate on why overall butterfly numbers appear lower this year,” says Kunkel.

Delaware has about 120 species of resident breeding butterflies. Considering that most states have about 100 species, Delaware is a pretty good spot for butterfly watching.

“Delaware is home to both the Piedmont Plateau, in the north, and the Coastal Plain, in the middle and southern parts of the state. This makes for a greater diversity of butterflies,” says Vincent. “For example, we don’t get cloudless sulphur butterflies in the Piedmont but on occasion you see a straggler cloudless sulphur fly up from the Coastal Plain.”

If you want to attract butterflies to your yard, Kunkel has two important tips. “First, get lots of plants that caterpillars like,” he says. “Gardeners tend to focus on nectar plants that provide adult butterflies with energy but you also need plenty of food sources for caterpillars – the next generation of butterflies.”

Most caterpillars eat only one specific plant or from one plant family. Do your research. If you love the great spangled fritillary butterfly, plant violets, the food source for this butterfly’s caterpillar. If it’s Eastern tiger swallowtails that you’re trying to attract, plant tulip poplar, sweetbay magnolia and black cherry trees.

If you’ve always prided yourself on a flawless, neat-as-a-pin garden, you may not like Kunkel’s second piece of advice – “tolerate insect feeding.”

Caterpillars eat the leaves and stems of plants, which mean, of course, little holes on the leaves of your plants. “If you want to enjoy the sight of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly, with its brilliant blue wings, you’ll have to accept that your pipevine plants are going to get chewed up a bit by this butterfly’s caterpillars,” says Kunkel.

At the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens, feeding the caterpillars is seen as just as important as feeding the butterflies. The gardens’ Lepidoptera Trail, which opened in 2009, features a wide range of plants to attract caterpillars.

“The trail is not a butterfly garden, which is designed to attract butterflies to feed on nectar,” says garden director John Frett. “It is an ecosystem to attract Lepidoptera throughout their life cycle. It’s a place for them to lay their eggs, which become larvae or caterpillars before entering the inactive pupal stage and then emerging as butterflies, moths or skippers.”

Besides, caterpillars are cool in their own right. “Take the caterpillar of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. It looks like something out of a cartoon,” marvels Kunkel.

This caterpillar features oversized fake eyes on its thorax and is a garish neon green color at certain stages of development. The fake eyes and bright color is supposed to make the caterpillar look like a snake and thus scare away birds and other predators.

The Lepidoptera Trail, as well as the rest of the UD Botanic Gardens, is open daily from sunrise to sunset for free self-guided trails. For more info, go to http://ag.udel.edu/udbg or call 302-831-0153.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Brian Kunkel

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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