Middle South

April, 2012
Regional Report

Improve Pollination

The pollination rate of some ephemerals can be improved by adding nectar-rich species to bloom in unison nearby. For example, mayapple, which has no nectar, benefits from a companion planting of Pedicularis canadensis, known as lousewort. Both plants are primarily pollinated by bumblebees, but the nectar-sweet lousewort typically has higher fruit set. The same principle can be employed in the vegetable garden, with plants such as borage and 'African Blue' basil used to attract pollinators to increase crop yield.

Purchase Only Nursery Propagated Plants

Unfortunately, plant poachers commonly steal entire patches of spring ephemerals for profit through the horticultural trade. The removal of these plants is a great loss to the forest habitat, as they help stabilize soils, contribute vital nutrients, and sustain native insect populations. Be careful, therefore, to find sources that insure nursery-propagated plants, not just those that are nursery-grown. The same can be said for most native plants, as many are nearly impossible to transplant successfully. For example, dogwood trees have a shallow and wide-reaching root system that can seldom be gathered into a root ball. Others, like orchids, have a symbiotic relationship with rhizoctonia (soil fungi).

Mulch with Leaf Mold

Ephemerals that have been added to a garden have few maintenance requirements. They will benefit, however, from a mulch of leaf mold or shredded leaves in spring or fall. Larger leaves can mat together, making it difficult for plants to emerge in early spring. Leaf mold is an excellent mulch and nutrient-rich additive for all garden plants and is easier to make than compost. Simply pile the leaves in an out-of-the-way spot, and then let them partially decompose.

Remove Invasive Plants

Non-native invasive plants are a big problem in any garden, but they can be especially dangerous to spring ephemerals. Since the wildflowers only have a short period of time to bloom, attract a pollinator, and set fruit to make seeds, any plant that provides early shade will hinder their ability to produce seeds and store energy for the next year's growth.

Hold Irrigation for Some Plants

Some spring-flowering plants that grow from bulbs and corms, especially tulips and ephemerals, should be planted outside the range of irrigation systems, so they don't receive supplemental moisture in summer. These plants have evolved to withstand drought and are susceptible to rot and fungal diseases when kept moist in summer. Autumn rains will stimulate root growth, which is then temporarily suspended by winter cold before growth resumes and the plants emerge in spring.

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