Late Summer Garden, Waiting for Fall

We have had hints of fall, especially when the remnants of Hurricane Irma passed through. Irma was only a ghost of herself that brought welcome relief from the heat and lots of rain to us, but fortunately not much wind. Soon summer's heat and humidity was back. But summer may truly be winding down now, with more moderate temps returning this weekend and into next week. I am so eager to get back into the garden!Lycoris radiata, or Spider Lily, is blooming now.

Speaking of spiders, it is spider season! All those spiders making webs are hungry females. Spiders are definitely good guys in the garden. This one is a black and yellow Argiope Orb Weaver.

I have a host of chores awaiting me: Weeding, of course! We have had a wet summer, and the weeds have loved every bit of it. My longstanding habit is to weed as I go. I usually yank a few weeds, no matter what my purpose in the garden. A current view of a section of the front garden.

This image is taken of the front garden near the patio. Lots of green right now!A handful of pulled weeds will prevent a thousand obnoxious offspring. Nevertheless, with a garden as large as mine, I dedicate some days to heavy-duty weeding, and a few hours of serious work will yield large lawn bags packed with weeds and a much neater garden. 

Planting and transplanting. Here in the Deep South, fall is the perfect time to assess the garden and to plant new additions. Our ground does not freeze in the winter as it often does in colder regions, so roots have plenty of time to establish themselves before next year's summer heat. I like to put in transplants of lettuce, collards, Swiss chard, and other winter veggies now, too.

I also do a lot of transplanting of plants already in the garden. I am never afraid to move plants that are not happy in their locations. I confess I don't always get it right. I have moved some plants three or four times before finding the right place, or else the poor plants finally died in exasperation.All of these plants have been transplanted at least once. Clockwise top to bottom right: Aspidistra or Cast Iron plant, Hosta 'Blue Angel,' Pyrosia lingua or Japanese Felt Fern.

Pruning. This needs to be done very soon. A few evergreens in my garden need a trim, but not after the first week of October. Beyond that and new growth may not have a chance to harden off before frost hits. One should prune at least six weeks to a month before the average frost date in your area. Here, we usually have our first frost around mid-November.

This is not the time to prune any spring flowering plants, as you would be cutting off next year's flower buds. Those plants should be pruned immediately after flowering next spring. Summer flowering shrubs should be pruned when they are dormant, in late winter or right before bud break in earliest spring.

Raking and clean-up. We may as well love this, as we have lots of trees and lots of fall leaves! It is a great form of exercise. Most important for me is to keep my moss paths clear of leaves and debris, as moss needs air to succeed.Peacock moss, or Selaginella uncinata, and Lady Fern, or Athirium, grow next to my moss path in the woodland garden.

A side path in the woodland garden. The pink and green bromeliads are not hardy and will come inside for the winter, as will the variegated fig on the left in the top image. The colorful New Guinea Impatiens are annuals that will need to be replaced next year.

Bring in my Tropicals. I brighten areas of the garden through spring and summer with potted plants that are not hardy. These all come inside once the temps drop into the fifties. My husband's office turns into a greenhouse.This little dish garden contains Pilea, a non-hardy plant, and a small fern.

I am looking forward to all the above chores. I am dreaming of cool, fresh air and all the wonderful fall colors. Happy autumn!


Long-tailed Skipper in the Garden

Have you ever been in the garden, minding your own business, when suddenly you were attacked by a butterfly?

It may have been a Long-tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus. This butterfly is primarily brownish but is distinguished by its beautiful, iridescent green body and wing bases and long, half-inch tails extending behind its hindwings. You may mistake it for a moth, but it is more related to the butterflies.

It flies in an erratic pattern, skipping around, thus the name "skipper."

The male of this species is very territorial. He perches, looking out over his territory, and he will fly at anything that enters the area. If it is a female Long-tailed Skipper, he is a happy critter and immediately tries to mate with her. He will try to chase off anything else, including humans.

Long-tail skippers are found throughout the southeastern US, as well as some very southern portions of the western US. It is also found in parts of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Host plants for the Long-tailed Skipper are primarily legumes, such as beans, peas, begger weeds and wisteria. Caterpillars will cut the leaves and roll the edges into tubes, which are held together by silken strands the caterpillars extrude for the purpose. The carterpillars use the tubes as retreats when they are not feeding. Farmers sometimes look on these caterpillars as pests. Long-tailed Skipper caterpillarWhen disturbed the caterpillars will spit out a bright green fluid.

I welcome these lovely butterflies into my garden. They benefit from nectar-rich blooms such as the lantana shown in my garden here. Other late summer flowers, including Joe Pye weed, asters, goldenrod, and mistflower are also attractive to them, as well as to other butterflies.