Finally, Fall Is Here!

The Southern heat is about to leave us for some of our favorite weather here at Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm.  Despite all the excitement and energy folks put into planting in the Spring, Fall can be the best time to plant your favorite perennial wildflowers, trees and shrubs.  Here in the south, in October and even into November, the soil is still plenty warm for planting while the air is comfortably cool enough to make plants happy. Our winters are mild enough to give the plants a great time to settle into their new spots without getting scorched by the summer sun and are then well established to produce new growth once Spring and Summer come.  Come visit us at our Fall plant sales, grab some native perennials, let those roots set in over the cooler months and then just wait for those blooms to greet you in the spring!

Want some immediate color for Fall?  Don’t think that the leaves turning brown and falling means that you’re headed into dreary colorless colder months.  There are plenty of wildflowers at Beech Hollow to bring a little colorful pop of joy to each season. Some beautiful blooms will certainly warm you up when the air is cool.  It’s an excellent practice to plan successive bloom times throughout the year in the garden. The best thing about staggering bloom times is that our friendly pollinators appreciate it too!

If you are looking for a particular plant, let us know by sending us a Facebook message or an email at info@beechhollowfarms.com. Let us know which plant and which sale you plan on attending and we will make sure we have it there for you!


Freedom Park Pollinator Garden

by Jeff Killingsworth

Carol Vanderschaaf, at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden

 In 2005, Carol Vanderschaaf started the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden with Phil Edwards and the Dekalb Master Gardener Association along with Catharine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  Together, they initially planted a small selection of native plants and shrubs.  The site is atop a small hill between a retaining wall and the PATH trail that runs through the park.  Three large White Oaks in an east/west line, a north facing slope, a well mowed southern boundary, and several old driveway excavations make for a lot of niches with different conditions.  In the following 13 years, the garden has expanded 3 times, and now contains over 40 different species of native grasses, herbs and shrubs, 2 bluebird nesting boxes and a bird bath.  Many volunteers from the neighborhood, students from nearby Mary Lin Elementary, and other organizations  have helped to install plants, remove invasives, control erosion, spread mulch and generally maintain the garden for the benefit of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife (including the human kind).

Cub Scout Troop 586 finishing a hard day’s work at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

Care of the garden was passed from Carol to the staff at Beech Hollow Farm in 2015, and we are still working with any volunteers that care to help.  Last fall we had had Cub Scout Troop 586 out to help pull invasive vines, and we are now coordinating with members of the Freedom Park Conservancy to hold regular volunteer days.  The main issue facing the long term success of the garden is non-native, invasive plants out-competing the native plantings that nourish the birds, butterflies and bees.  Seeds from the Bradford Pear trees that line the nearby golf course are continually deposited in the garden and sprout up

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, provides excellent forage for songbirds.

thorny little trees with leaves that no native caterpillars will eat.  Porcelain berry vines climb over the native shrubs and rob them of sunlight, and the only bug that seems to eat them are Japanese beetles, which we don’t want to encourage with more free food.  In lieu of natural insect controls, repeated pulling and cutting of these and other invasives keeps them in check and allows the natives a fair chance at sunlight and nutrients as they sacrifice leaves to hungry caterpillars that then feed (baby) birds or grow up to be pollinators.

Butterflyweed in the garden, a milkweed that supports Monarch Butterflies

 Volunteers and caring people are the reason that the garden exists and continues to thrive at the corner of North Ave and Candler Park Drive.   Check it out if you should happen to be in the neighborhood.   It’s not obvious from the street, but up close you’re almost always bound to see something blooming, hear birds calling in the trees overhead or frolicking in the birdbath, and see a few butterflies and bees sipping nectar in the shade.  If you are interested in volunteering on a Sunday morning to help the garden grow, you can check our calendar or email pandra@beechhollowfarms.com for information about the next volunteer day.

Wood Poppy, an early spring ephemeral at the garden


Spiders in the Garden

Editor’s Note: While this was posted by Jeff, it was written by Clair, the newest member of the BHF team.  She has been working hard to improve our propagation beds and in the process was inspired to write this appreciation of Arachnids. Enjoy!

Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) with a captured wasp

If you have been outside at all lately, whether walking through the woods, spending time in your garden, or even just sitting on the porch, chances are you’ve come in contact with a spider, or at least its web.  Most spiders have gotten a bad rap over the years as something to fear. Movies, Halloween decorations, pest control advertising, and the spiders’ skittish behavior play into these fears. While most spiders are venomous, very few have the jaw-power or enough venom to do any real harm to a human.  The brown recluse and the black widow are exceptions, but chances are slim you will come across these in your garden (Even if they did manage to bite you the chances of it being fatal are basically zero). Remember, you are much larger than a spider and they are more interested in getting away from you than biting you.

You may be thinking, ‘well, even if the spider won’t harm me, they eat everything, including the pollinators, so why have them around?’  True, spiders are not picky eaters and will eat the “good bugs” along with the “bad.” Spiders may be the most beneficial predator in your garden and play a huge role in controlling pests.  They are not selective in the insects they eat, so it is guaranteed that they will occasionally snag a bee or butterfly in their web, but the few beneficials they do kill is no match for the natural pest control they provide (free of charge, I might add!).    Spiders will feast on aphids, armyworms, leafhoppers, flea-hoppers, leafminers and spider mites. They attack the spruce budworm, pine sawfly, sorghum midge and tobacco budworm. They especially like caterpillars, thrips, plant bugs, cucumber beetles, scarabs and flies. Larger spiders eat larger prey, so some will even eat wasps, cicadas, and grasshoppers.  If you’re really lucky, you may even get to see a spider and a praying mantis battle it out.

There are two types of spiders that you are likely to come across in your garden: web spinners, or orb weavers, and hunters.  Garden spiders and crab spiders are very common web spinners in Georgia. They spin their webs between plant stalks, tree branches, or even from tree branch to ground.  Spiders usually hang out in the middle of their web and wait for an unsuspecting insect to fly into the nearly invisible trap. Garden spiders are often large, like the yellow and black orb weaver or the green garden spider, so hopefully you will catch a glimpse of them before accidentally walking straight through their web.  However, they sometimes hide in a protected corner and wait for their prey from a safe spot. Crab spiders tend to be small and crouch in the center of the web with their eight legs pulled under their armored shell, making them harder to detect as you approach their web.    

Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) on its nearly invisible web.

Wolf spiders are a common hunting spider and do not spin traditional webs.  They are most likely to be found on the ground, nesting in mulch, ground covers and old wood piles.  If you have tall grass in or near your garden you may be lucky enough to attract a funnel spider. The aptly named funnel spider creates a dense funnel with their silk and waits safely in the back for prey to wander onto the outer funnel before they attack.  

Female spiders tend to lay eggs in the fall.  They may hatch quickly or overwinter in an egg sack before emerging in the spring.  Wolf spiders will attach the egg sack to their body and carry it with them if they feel they are in danger and need to move.  When the baby spiders emerge from the egg sack they will “balloon” by shooting a silky thread from their web spinner into the air. When it attaches to a sturdy object (leaf, branch, twig, building, etc.) they will ascend the thread and find a good place to start their first web (anyone remember “Charlotte’s Web?”).

Rabid Wolf Spider (Lycosidae rabidosa) female with egg sack attached

  To encourage spiders in your garden plant a variety of plants with varying heights, preferably plants native to Georgia. Taller plants provide a structure for orb weavers to attach their webs, and low growing ground covers create niches in which the hunters can hide.  Mulch provides a good home and helps retain moisture for wolf spiders since they do not have webs to catch the morning dew. Leave small patches of bare ground here and there for open hunting ground for the wolf spiders. Woody plants and bunch grasses make great homes for funnel spiders.  All spiders play a valuable role in your gardens’ ecosystem and should not be eradicated.  Do not feel bad if you accidentally destroy a spider’s web. They will quickly move on and begin building a new one.  Predators like spiders are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and acknowledging the pest control services they provide is a great way to start to appreciate them as garden collaborators rather than something to be feared.