Friday, March 05, 2010

Easy Colors Birds Like

Friday, March 5, 2010

20 degrees this morning, quiet and dark. Not sure what woke me at 3:30 but here I am an hour later thinking about the gardens and the advent of spring. Blogs, listservs and Facebook pages are filed with comments and pictures from impatient gardeners who have had enough winter and want to see color, not mud or dirty snow. I cannot get too excited yet because here in Vermont there can be a lot of winter left.

Looking out the office window yesterday I noticed the American Goldfinches are still finding seed on what appear to be spent rudbeckia seed heads. I like these little birds which my mother always called wild canaries. The males still sport their duller, olive, winter plumage but I can see some change started already even though it seems early.

The rudbeckias are popular flowers, easy to grow, quick to reseed, loved by birds and butterflies and good cut flowers. Once settled in the second year they get to be healthy, vigorous plants with lots of bloom scapes with various sized blooms. We have always grown them.

Years ago we found 'Mahogany' on the market and found it to be one of the most popular among customers. Now it seems that the taller yellows have become more popular.

The echinaceas have been with us since day one but we still haven't gotten into the new versions which we haven't had such great success with. The new colors are absolutely the greatest and Gail read recently that their success is a two year project. These plants need to be planted higher out of the ground so the crown does not act like a sponge and take in too much spring water when temperatures are cold and the plant is breaking dormancy. The flower buds should also be picked off the first year so the plants can get better established.

Nitida pictured above is a favorite but you have to remember height with this one. The 3-4 feet of the first year will quickly grow to 7 feet in year two in good soil. This is a later bloomer which means you have interesting flowers, opened or closed, a waving planting in later summer-early autumn breezes and a source of winter foods that stands tall in most snow depths for the birds.

When spring comes and you can't wait to get your boots dirty, break off the remaining seed heads and sprinkle the seeds on the top of the ground. There are millions of seeds and few will really germinate but what will are a guarantee of color and seeds for some time to come.

As Vermonters say "I kinda like 'um!" Here are two closeups.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where I can hear a barred owl just outside the window.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

Facebook fan page: Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens


Dirt Digger said...

I've had great success with Echinacea 'Fragrant Angel' although the fragrance is not all it is cracked up to be. And I'm always tempted by the new cultivars but they always seem a bit too much. Love the blog!

Elizabeth said...

Oh. Plant the Big Sky echinaceas high. Pinch out the buds the first year. That explains it. Now I know why my e.Summer Sky struggled so much the first year. Not that it's magnificent yet, but it's trying.

George Africa said...

Rudbeckias are not "rude" beckias (rudebeckias) as I sometimes write. Please excuse The Vermont Gardener when he makes mistakes.

I even had a person drop off the blog last week with the reason being --"Too many updates"--most of which are probably me catching spelling errors.

Age slows some senses.


beth said...

You are forgiven, George. I would think that 4:30 in the morning might be a better excuse than age since most of us don't function well at that time.