What's the Buzz about Bees?
If you've visited New Garden Gazebo on Lawndale Drive recently, you may have seen our new observation beehive, located in the greenhouse. With dual glass sides and an entrance tube that leads outside of the building, the beehive is the perfect way to closely and safely observe a working bee colony. Our colony consists of about 10,000 – 12,000 bees, and consists of one queen, thousands of female worker bees, and up to a few hundred drones (we haven’t counted them exactly…). With two beekeepers on our staff, our hive will be well-tended and healthy.
Why do we have a resident beehive? Because we believe that the more people learn about bees, the more they will want to help their survival, and because bees are so important to all our lives. Bees pollinate at least 90 different food crops comprising 30% or more of the food you eat. The food plants they pollinate contribute over $15 billion to the U.S. economy each year. It’s safe to say that bees are important to everyone.
Over the past few years there has been a great deal of concern for the health of bees. Massive die-offs began affecting beehives in the mid-2000s, with some beekeepers reporting up to 90% losses. The phenomenon was named “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) and many possible causes were identified and studied. Fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens, parasites, hive management issues, environmental factors, pesticides and even cell phone towers were examined.
Despite various “smoking gun” reports identifying one cause or another as the primary culprit, the most recent research has shown that the most likely reason for CCD is a convergence of multiple factors. Individually, these factors would have a minimal impact on a colony, but when several occur together, bees are overwhelmed.
The good news: according to a recent US Department of Agriculture report, the number of beehives is growing again and honey production showed a 19% increase from 2013 to 2014. But we should still all do our part in keeping bees (and all pollinators, for that matter) healthy. Here are some things you can do to promote healthy honey bees.
Plant many types of bee-friendly plants in your garden that bloom over the whole season. Plan on having blooms spring through fall to keep bees and other pollinators returning.
Have a source of water available. Bees get thirsty too, but they can easily drown if water is too deep for them. A saucer of pebbles with water just below the top of the stones provides a safe watering hole for bees (and butterflies).
Leave some of your property “wild”. Many plants we consider weeds are very attractive to bees and other pollinators. Leave an area of your property unmowed to create a natural habitat for plants bees love.
Use non-pesticide solutions whenever possible. Plant selection, planting time, watering, fertilizing and pruning choices can all help manage insect and disease pests without use of chemical sprays.
Learn to live with a little imperfection. Can you live with a few holey leaves and skip that pesticide?
If you do need to use pesticides, do it when bees are not active... Bees forage when it’s warm and sunny. If you need to apply pesticides, do it early or late in the day when it’s cooler.
…and choose non-systemic pesticides with little residue. Horticultural oils and soaps kill on contact while wet, once dry they are completely non-toxic to any insect.
Did you know?
Honey bees are not native to the Americas. They were brought from Europe in the early 1600s
Kokedama (pronounced ko-kay-da-ma) literally means “moss ball” in Japanese. It’s a fun and slightly messy project. You can click on the picture to enlarge. Click here for a printable version.
- Top Soil
- Potting Soil
- Sphagnum Moss
- Sheet Moss
- String or twine, or heavy sewing thread
- Fishing line/monofilament (optional)
- A couple of small buckets or bowls
- Flat surface to work on
- Plants, a 3”-4” pot is a good size to start with. See list of good starter plants below.
- Latex gloves (optional-some people are sensitive to sphagnum moss)
Go through your sheet moss and take out any sticks or bark that may be embedded. Soak sheet moss so it’s fully wet and pliable.
Soak a good-sized handful of sphagnum moss, cleaned of any sticks or twigs, in a separate bowl (this is not the moss you’ll be using in the soil mix).
Prepare your soil: in a bucket or bowl, mix 6-7 parts potting soil, 2-3 parts top soil and 1 part sphagnum moss (remove any sticks or other crunchy debris from the moss, and tear large chunks into smaller pieces). Mix until everything is incorporated and there are no lumps or clods. Slowly add water, mixing well with your hands between each addition, until the soil mixture is a thick paste. Test by forming a baseball-sized ball, (fig. 1) working it smooth. A little loose water should appear on the surface as you squeeze it, and when dropped back into the soil bucket from a few feet, the ball should remain intact. If the ball breaks, add a little more water. If the ball flattens, add a little more soil.
Prepare your plant (fig. 2): remove from the pot and tease the roots apart, shaking off soil. You can also use a hose to wash the roots off. Thick rooted plants can tolerate having all the soil removed, thin, fibrous-rooted plants may fare better if a little soil remains. It’s OK if some roots break off. Try to get the root ball as small as possible.
Place a flat layer of the wet sphagnum moss in the palm of your hand. (fig 3) Set the roots of the plant on top and close your hand, wrapping the roots in a thin layer of moss. Wrap moss with the natural string or twine (fig. 4) (just to secure, you don’t need to tie a knot.) Set the plant aside.
Form a shallow cup or bowl in your hand with the wet soil mixture. (fig. 5) The amount of soil you need will depend on the size of your plant.
Set the plant in the “cup”, and begin adding more soil to build up the ball. Be sure there is none of the sphagnum moss around the roots sticking out of the ball as you build it. Keep the soil ball top even with the original soil level of the plant. Keep the ball as round as possible.
The moss will add width to the ball, so stop adding soil when it’s a little smaller than you want your final ball to be.
When you are satisfied with the shape/size of the ball set it aside. If your soil mix is right it will be stable and can be set down easily. (fig. 6)
Lay your sheet moss out on your working surface. If you have one large sheet of moss, great. Otherwise piece together smaller sections, trying to use a single piece for the center/bottom.
Have a few pieces of twine or fishing line cut to 4-5’ lengths ready. Make a “lasso” loop in one piece. (Tie a simple open knot near one end and thread the long end of the string through it, tighten the knot until it just catches.) Leave the loop a few inches wider than your soil ball.
Set the soil ball in the center of the sheet moss (fig. 7) and form the moss up the sides. (fig. 8) You may need to pinch out bumps of excess moss if you can’t smooth them down, but err on the side of leaving too much. If there are holes, use smaller pieces of moss to patch (small holes will end up filling in as you wrap with string). If your moss is just right it will almost stay in place on its own. Be sure to leave the top a little open for the leaves.
Take your prepared string and loop it around the soil and moss ball at a bit of an angle. (fig. 9) You should be able to tell where it needs to go to hold the largest chunks on. Tighten the loop firmly and make a few more passes to secure moss around the ball.
Pick up your ball and begin smoothing the moss and wrapping the string in a random pattern. (fig. 10) You may need to mold the ball a bit as you work to keep a nice round shape. If you run out of string simply tie another length to the end and continue. Try to make the pattern of the string pleasing-it’s part of the design too! (If you’re using fishing line it will be invisible, so don’t worry too much about how it looks.)
When you’re satisfied the moss is secure, tie off the loose end of the string. Tie off near the top if you want to suspend your kokedama by the string, or you can tie a new hanger string on.
You can display your kokedama hanging (they look great turning in the breeze) or set on a pretty plate or saucer. Hang by a single string tied near the top, or make a simple hanger by tying 3 pieces of string together at the top and bottom. (fig. 11) Simply rest the ball in the sling.
To water, set the soil ball in a pan or bowl of water for a few minutes. Water will soak the whole soil ball even if it’s only a few inches deep.
How will you know when to water? The ball will get very light and the moss will feel like cardboard. My kokedama that are hanging in full sun need to be soaked at least every other day. The ones in the shade about every third day, though one I have in full shade needs a soak only about once a week. You’ll learn quickly how much they need. This is one of the few times that watering a little early won’t cause overwatering problems. (As the water drains out after soaking, the natural air spaces in the soil ball remain open better than in a pot.)
To fertilize, soak in a weak mixture of a fertilizer every few weeks, preferably organic. If you use a “blue” fertilizer make sure it’s weak enough to barely show any color.
What Plants to use?
Technically, you can kokedama just about any plant, as long as you can manage the root ball (see this web page, where they show kokedama trees!) Plants with very sensitive roots may not tolerate aggressive root cleaning, you may need to experiment to find out what plants work best for you. You can also kokedama multiple plants in one ball, maybe mixing ivy with an upright plant, or trailing vinca with a flowering annual. You’re limited only by your imagination!
Good plant choices for beginner kokedama (choose a 3” or 4” pot):
- Spider Plant (very forgiving!)
- Philodendron or Pothos
- Boston, Button, Bird’s Nest and Pteris (table) Ferns (be gentle with the roots, they are very fibrous and you probably won’t be able to get all the soil off)
- Asparagus fern
- Arrowhead vine (Syngonium)
Plants for Wet Shade
Having a shady area that’s too wet is not the most common problem we’re asked to suggest plants for. The presence of shade-creating trees usually causes a dry shade situation. It can be frustrating trying to find plants to use in this situation because many are listed only by tolerance for dry shade.
If wet or damp shade is your problem, try some of these plants. We've put together a list of ferns, flowering perennials, groundcovers, grasses (or grass-like plants) shrubs and annuals. While a shady garden will never have as much color by way of flowers as a sunnier garden, there is a wonderful variety of leaf shapes and textures to take advantage of. And of course, some of these selections do flower quite nicely.
(LS) Light shade, needs several hours of sun during the day but can be shaded some of the time.
* Native to US
† Some species native to US
Ferns for Wet Shade
Ferns are unbeatable for great texture and low maintenance, plus they are very rarely bothered by pests. There’s something quite serene about a quiet, shady fern garden!
Adiantum pedatum* (LS) Northern Maidenhair fern
Athyrium sp.† (LS) Painted fern, lady fern*
Cyrtomium sp. (LS) Holly fern, Rochford’s fern
Dryopteris sp.† (LS, some sp. shadier) Wood fern, male fern, autumn fern
Matteuccia struthiopteris* Ostrich Fern
Polystichum sp.† (LS, some sp. shadier) Christmas fern*, sword fern
Flowering Perennials for Wet Shade
From ground-hugging Asarum and Hexastylis to the yard-high flowers of Ligularia, here are some perennial selections for damp shade in many sizes. If you’re looking for color, Astilbe, Chelone, Monarda and Pulmonaria are great choices.
Astilbe sp. (LS) False spriraea
Arisaema (LS) Jack-in-the-pulpit
Aruncus dioicus (LS) Goat’s beard
Asarum sp.† (LS) Wild ginger
Begonia grandis Hardy begonia
Bergenia cordifolia (LS) Pig squeak
Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ Perennial forget-me-not
Chelone oblique* (LS) Turtlehead
Cimicifuga racemosa* Black cohosh
Dicentra spectabilis Bleeding heart
Epimedium sp. (LS) Bishop’s cap
Filipendula ulmaria (LS) Meadowsweet
Helleborus sp. (LS) Lenten rose
Heuchera sp.* (LS) Coral Bells
Hexastylis sp.* Heartleaf
Lamium sp. Dead Nettle
Ligularia stenocephala (LS)
Lobelia cardinalis* (LS) Cardinal flower
Lobelia siphilitica* (LS) Great blue lobelia
Monarda didyma* (LS) Bee balm
Polomonium reptans (LS) Jacob’s ladder
Polygonatum sp.† (LS) Solomon’s seal
Primula japonica (LS) Japanese primrose
Pulmonaria (LS) Lungwort
Rohdea japonica Sacred lily
Tradescantia sp.† Spiderwort
Tricyrtis sp. (LS) Toad lily
Trillium sp.* (LS) Wake-robin
Grasses & Grass-like Plants for Wet Shade
Grassy textures can be hard to come by in the shady garden. The only true grass on the list, Northern sea oats is tolerant of some shade, but needs a few hours of sun during the day to look the best. With a narrow leafy texture similar to grass, most of the Carex family is tolerant of a fair amount of shade.
Acorus gramineus (LS) Grassy-leaved sweet flag
Chasmanthium latifolium* (LS) Northern sea oats
Carex sp.† (LS, some sp. shadier) Sedge
Liriope sp.(LS) Lilyturf
Ophiopogon sp. Mondo grass, monkey grass
Groundcovers for Wet Shade
Groundcovers weaving through other plants can knit a garden together. They’re also handy for filling in areas you haven’t decided how to plant permanently.
Gaultheria procumbens* Winterberry
Pachysandra procumbens* (LS) Allegheny spurge
Pachysandra terminalis Japanese spurge
Phlox stolonifera* (LS) Creeping phlox
Convallaria majalis Lily of the valley
Lysimachia nummularia aurea (LS) Creeping Jenny
Saxifraga stolonifera Strawberry begonia
Selaginella sp. Spikemoss
Tiarella sp.* (LS) Foam flower
Vinca minor Periwinkle
Shrubs for Wet Shade
Of course a shady garden needs structure and height. These shrubs will fulfill those needs nicely. Ilicium and Sarcococca are largely evergreen
Amelanchier sp.† (LS) Serviceberry
Clethera alnifolia* Summersweet
Hydrangea macrophylla (LS) Bigleaf Hydrangea
Ilicium floridanum* (LS) Anise bush
Itea virginica* (LS) Virginia sweetspire
Sambucus sp.† (LS) Elderberry
Sarcococca sp. Sweet box
Annuals for Wet Shade
Adding annuals can provide a pop of color all season long that might otherwise be missing in a shady garden.
Caladium sp. Elephant ears
Torenia (LS) Wishbone flower
Begonia semperflorens x cultorum Wax Begonia