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Archive for spring flowers – Page 2

Winter Flowers Feed Bees


Saving Bees? Feed them. Plan for flowering plants from early spring until mid-fall.    Don’t use any pesticides.  Then you don’t have to try to figure out if the claim that it won’t harm bees is true or not.

Honey Bees and Heather FarmWinter flowers feed bees.    It’s easier to provide flowers for bees in our cool early springs than you might think.  What we are learning about saving bees can be made very simple.  Feed them!  Use a diverse plant palette with flowers from early spring until mid-fall. Don’t use any pesticides and then you don’t have to try to figure out what is safe and what isn’t or who to trust.

I have always found summer easy  to provide a diverse collection of flowers for all kinds of bees but early spring requires thought and planning.   My beach house landscape on the Olympic Peninsula is a great example of a very low maintenance and bee friendly garden. The plants I list in this article are from my experiences there and from my landscape design practice here in Portland, Oregon.

Erica Darleyensis Mary Helen

Erica darleyensis ‘Mary Helen’

If you’ve read any of my blogs, heather comes up a lot.  I love to use heather in my personal landscape and for clients where we can create good drainage. By the way, I had to learn how to grow it well.  The fact that many varieties of spring heather feed bees at a critical time is a huge bonus to an already great plant.  Deer don’t bother it, and it’s a glorious and tough ground cover.  Spring heather, native plants and early flowering Spanish lavender feed bees in late winter and early spring. I start out with heather varieties that flower in late January and into early spring.  These plants Erica Carnea – spring heather not summer heather  – are especially great for our native bumble bees who are out and about earlier than honey bees.  The bumble bees can protect themselves from sudden changes in temperature by nestling down in the thick foliage if they get too cold. I’d use the word cuddle but my inner 5 year old who hated the heather at our  front walk because it was buzzing with bees . . .  won’t let me!   Heather provides a lot of nectar for the bees because of the hundreds of tiny flowers on each plant. The flowers are just the right depth for different sizes of bees.   Some tube like flowers are better for hummingbirds but the heather flower (which is a tiny little tube) is just right for bees.  Here are some early flowering spring heather varieties I like:

‘Bells Extra Special’
Foliage goes to a whiskey color with flecks of orange in the cold, the flowers are a strong purple red and best of all it’s only 4 inches high.  It spreads to about 16” wide January to May.  This short compact plant is unusual among the spring heather,  most are 6 to 8 inches high.

December Red
Clean dark green foliage with Cabernet red flowers – 8” high and spreading to 18” November to April.

Adrianne Duncan
Has a strong violet purple flower and is more compact than typical,  6” high by 18” spread.  It flowers later than Bells Extra Special.  I like to put these two together for foliage contrast.

Erica darleyensis ‘Mary Helen’
Sports an interesting gold bronze foliage in winter and lots of flower power in February to April. These plants are grown locally by Highland Heathers in Canby, Oregon.   This grower supplies retail nurseries, special plant sales such as HPSO Hortlandia spring plant sale and you can buy directly if you make an appointment. You won’t find these varieties at a big box store.  The common varieties get too big for most landscape situations and then you end up hacking at them and then they are ugly and out they go.

Three things to pay attention to for success with heathers

  1. Soil prep
  2. Proper watering
  3. Yearly Pruning

A lot of my other early spring flowering plants are Pacific NW natives.  Rubus spectabilis, Salmon Berry,  has a spectacular colorful spring flower with 75 to 100 stamens which will keep bees busy for a long time.  This flower 220px-Rubus_spectabilis_1855calls the early bumble bees by the droves.  This shrub has thorns and needs a bit of room so think first and plant second.  Our Oregon grape,  Mahonia aquifolium, my evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, and the hot pink red flowering current edge the light woods around the house and provide for the various local bees.   Some people don’t like Oregon grape because the leaves can get winter damage and have ratty looking leaves by early spring.  I say no problem, let them flower to provide for wildlife and then cut them down to the ground.  They will re leaf into glossy and good looking foliage for the rest of the year.

We know English lavender is great for bees in the summer.  Like heather, all lavender has hundreds of tiny flowers and is an abundant source for nectar.   Spanish lavender flowers much earlier than English lavender and provides for mid spring to early summer nectar. We need good drainage to be successful with with Spanish lavender but this often just means mounding up a few inches.   Don’t over water Spanish lavender.  I water mine once a month and am not sure it even needs that now that the plants are old.

Lavender at Joy Creek Nursery

Lavender at Joy Creek Nursery

lavandula winter bee

Lavandula stoechas ‘Winter Bee’

There is a newish variety called ‘Winter Bee’ grown by Blooming Nursery, a local wholesale grower. They claim it flowers 3 weeks earlier than other Spanish lavender and have named it accordingly,  Lavandula stoechas
‘Winter Bee’ PP #20,840.Up at my vacation house my Spanish lavender flowers in early April to mid summer.  I have seen flowers on them in March.  After the main flowering, I cut it back about 1/3rd and get another lovely hit of flowers in late summer into early fall. Here are three spring flowering Spanish lavender varieties I have grown: ‘Blueberry Ruffles‘, ‘Hazel, and ‘Mulberry Ruffle’s‘.  Blooming Nursery sells to many of the larger garden centers but don’t look for their plants at a box store; they won’t be there.

This unusual variety is compact and flowers earlier than most Spanish Lavender.

This unusual variety, ‘Mulberry Ruffles’, is compact and flowers earlier than most Spanish lavender.

Last of all, the best early flower for bees at our beach property isn’t what you would think of as a flower probably.  It has to be the huge old Oregon Big Leaf Maples down at the edge of the beach.  When they flower, the sound of bees is a low roar, I am not kidding.  My grandkids are a little nervous and tend to stay out of that area for a while.  Bees will earn respect if need be but otherwise I find them easy to get along with.  I do flinch when a bumble bee takes a dead run at me… and then I scold them for being bossy. There is enough room in the garden for everyone.

Bulbs: Low Maintenance Beauty

Bulbs can be the ultimate low maintenance plant, just pick the right ones and get them out of the garage. (Yes thousands of bulbs selected with great anticipation live and die in the garage.) Please don’t feel bad and give up on bulbs. Everyone has done this. Garden Coach makes the time and sets up the structure to get the right bulbs planted in the right place in your garden. We are placing orders now. Read on for a few quick picks of my favorite bulbs.

Here is my list of easy to find bulbs with graceful demise.

  1. Alliums, lots can and is written about the good ones, (yes there are bad ones, avoid anything that says naturalizes). My top 3: Spring Allium Karativiense ‘Ivory Queen’, Early Summer Allium Cernuum; and Summer. Allium ‘Globemaster’.  Mix ’em up with daisy headed flowers for great contrast.
  2. Species Tulips – my favorite is the Greigii Tulips because their foliage is attractive with purple splotches. They are shorter at about 10 inches tall and so less likely to fall over with heavy rains. My personal Greigii favs are Oratoria or hot colored Toronto. Other more delicate looking types such as T. Clusiana Cynthia spice up the garden (reds) and open and close, showing off bright yellow and intricate interiors.
  3. Camassia – awesome blue flower, a native plant that can handle clay or heavy
    soils and then goes dormant and needs no additional water in the summer. This is my idea of low maintenance. There are many varieties but check out Camassia quamash ‘Orion’ for a seriously blue hit of heaven. Plant them behind a group of Black Eyed Susan (Rudebeckia) or Asters or Sedum ‘Xenox’, cousin to S. ‘Autumn Joy’.
  4. Dwarf Daffodils – go for the shorties and plant these with other “require good
    drainage” kinds of plants like the heathers, or dwarf conifers, or even good old common Candy Tuft. This is a great way to get an easy burst of color – no muss, no fuss and no rubber bands on the dying foliage please. All these plants have the same needs, low water, good drainage and SUN.
  5. Fritilarria – very unusual looking, graceful, everything to gain and nothing to lose but only if you plant them right away. If you leave these in the garage even one day, it’s all over. Plant immediately upon receipt in filtered light. Underneath the edges of a large shrub or small tree would be good.
  6. Lastly, a warning………Scilla is a BAD bluebell bulb that spreads.  There are some trustworthy types of Scilla but too few for the risk………. No Scilla! Getting rid of it is a nightmare, (although I accomplished complete annihilation of it once). The NW has Scilla Hispanica in nearly all areas. It is kinda sweet (cute bluebell flower) but it is a Trojan horse. The seed can easily blow out of your yard to your neighbors yard. It takes both cutting off the flowers before they seed and digging the bulbs up over and over for years to get rid of it.

Read more about it? Click here for The Oregonian blog by Kym Pokorny on Bluebells