After the mad rush of spring garden chores and frenzied planting, June is a good time to evaluate the perennial garden.
Does your garden need some renovation? Are there gaps in the border that need filling? Maybe the deer have developed a taste for some of your favorite perennials and you need to find less tasty replacements?
There is one category of perennials that are frequently underused in our gardens — native perennials.
Many of our wonderful native plants are often overlooked because they are hard to find in nurseries and we buy what we see. But native plants are worth the extra time and effort of hunting them down.
Native plants will increase the plant biodiversity in your yard, which, in turn, will attract more of our native bees, butterflies, beneficial insects and even birds.
What we plant matters. Native plants are the foundation of local ecosystems and provide food and shelter to native insects and animals.
If you plant it, they will come.
There are many native plants that are also resistant to deer. Some plant families are naturally repellent to deer because they produce phytochemicals that make them unpalatable.
An overabundance of deer can lead to there not being enough food, so they may eat whatever they can find.
No plant is totally deer proof. However, the following native plants are less likely to be damaged by deer.
n Golden groundsel (Packera aurea) gets its name from the clusters of small, bright golden aster-like flowers that appear in the spring and bloom for weeks. The shiny, green leaves are evergreen in zone 6 and make a great weed suppressing ground cover.
It prefers moist, well-drained soils. It can grow in full sun to full shade.
The more sun it gets, the more moisture it needs. Flowers are also good cut flowers for spring bouquets.
It does spread by rhizomes and it will self-sow.
The spring blooms are a great source of pollen and nectar for small bees and other insects.
n Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is another spring blooming ground cover.
The heart-shaped foliage is really the star of this plant as the flowers hide close to the ground. This makes perfect sense as the purplish brown flowers are pollinated by ants and other insects that crawl into the bloom looking for a free meal.
Look under the leaves in April to May for the cup shaped flowers.
While not related to the culinary ginger, the rhizome does have a ginger-like odor and flavor. Wild ginger prefers consistently moist, somewhat acidic soils in shade.
It is a slow spreader and the leaves grow 6 to 8 inches in height.
n Are you having trouble keeping all those fancy coral bells alive?
Give our native corals bells (Heuchera americana) a try. Also known as alumroot, it grows best in organically rich, well-drained soils with medium moisture.
It prefers full sun to part shade. It would like some cover from strong afternoon sun or it needs more moisture.
Like all coral bells it wants to be divided every three to four years in the spring. Its attractive foliage has colorful veins, which can be green or look for plants that are variegated in shades of cream, purple, or bronze.
The tiny flowers bloom on stalks in late spring and can vary in color from cream with a pinkish tint to a greenish color.
n If you are looking for a plant to make a statement wild senna (Senna hebecarpa) certainly will.
A member of the pea family, it grows up to 5 feet tall and has buttery yellow flowers during the summer. The lacy leaves add texture to the garden.
Dark brown, flattened seed pods are attractive to birds. It is drought tolerant once established and also tolerant of wet soils.
n Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) is a native clematis. It will climb up a trellis or just amble up nearby plants and shrubs.
The white flowers appear mid to late summer, lasting about a month. They will be visited by a variety of pollinators and butterflies.
You might even find a small bird’s nest amongst the vines.
Once it is done blooming showy seed heads add interest to the garden. One of its common names is “Old Man’s Beard” as the seed heads give the impression of a flowing beard.
Grow this clematis in full sun to partial shade. It will even bloom in the shade.
It will grow in dry soils, but it prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil.
n If you love foliage, there are a number of ferns, sedges, grasses, and rushes that are deer-resistant.
Ferns include lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina), wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis), ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).
An interesting grass to try is bottle brush grass (Elymus hystrix), named for its ornamental flower heads that look like bottle brushes. This grass is easy to grow in full sun to part shade on average, well-drained soils.
If you’ve got a wet, sunny spot try tussock sedge (Carex stricta). This is a vigorous sedge that spreads by underground rhizomes and is probably too aggressive for flower beds, but it would be great for a wet meadow.
Go native in your perennial gardens — the bees, butterflies and birds will thank you, but the deer will leave these plants alone.
Have a gardening question? The Master Gardener office is open.
Please wear a mask when visiting the Cornell Cooperative Extension office and check in at the reception window.
Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. until noon. You can stop in at the CCE office at 420 E. Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail it at: email@example.com.
Upcoming programs include:
n Join us at noon on Thursday via Zoom for Garden Talk “Playing in the Dirt, Risks & Benefits.”
Gardening offers many health and life benefits to the gardener, but it also has its risks. Some will surprise you.
Join us for a free discussion on how to get the most from your gardening experience, while minimizing the risks. Register for your Zoom link at http://genesee.cce.cornell.edu/events
n Join us on June 14 at noon via Zoom for “Native Plants for Butterflies.”
We will discuss the components of a butterfly garden focusing on aspects that support a butterfly’s life cycle including nectar sources, host plant species, and shelter. We will highlight several butterfly species endemic to western New York and the native plants that support their life cycle.
The program is free. Register for your Zoom link at http://genesee.cce.cornell.edu/events