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On Gardening: Buckeyes have started blooming let the hummingbird and butterfly season commence

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

The red buckeye blooms have started so let the hummingbird and butterfly season commence. This report came in the form of a photograph from an excited gardener who wanted it identified. He was seeing it for the first time and was riveted by its beauty.

I still get thrilled when I see them at the forests' edge or along the roadside. You have to admit it is pretty amazing how nature times blooming in sequence with the return of the hummingbirds. The red buckeye, known botanically as Aesculus pavia is cold hardy in zones 4-8 and native from Texas to Illinois to Ohio and down the eastern seaboard to Florida. It excels as an early bloomer in the backyard wildlife habitat, where it feeds hummingbirds and bees.

To me the plants are showiest when grown in the morning sun, afternoon shade situation. They also thrive as understory plants much like the dogwood or eastern redbud. There is a yellow form called flavescens that stands out even more in the shady environment, but this is just the start of buckeye season.

One of the most beautiful buckeyes is the Red Horse Chestnut, Aesculus x carnea that is actually a cross between the native red buckeye and the European horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum. The name Red Horse Chestnut doesn't really do it justice.

I watched it blooming for weeks in full sun in close proximity to the Mountain Creek Inn at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. All I can say is WOW what a looker for a small tree. It bloomed later in the season finishing before the start of the amazing bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora.

The bottlebrush buckeye is nothing short of spectacular with white blooms reaching 12-14 inches long. It performed wonderfully at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah which many might say impossible way too hot.

Last year however caught me in total shock as I saw one on the roadside that was huge and was swarming with a variety of butterflies, honeybees and other pollinators. This roadside show was obviously on one that received no love, care or attention throughout the year.

The bottlebrush buckeye is native to Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina but, don't fret if your state isn't listed. Though it is native to the Southeast, it is cold hardy in zones 4-8 meaning a large geographic area can grow it as well as the other two I mentioned above.

As is typical of native plants it will take a little searching on your part to locate your source. As mentioned, morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal. Beds that are fertile, moist but well-drained are preferred.

 

Prepare a bed for your buckeyes and companion shrubs by incorporating 3- to- 4 inches of organic matter and 2 pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply.

Don't skimp on the hole! Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. Place the buckeye in the hole, and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch. This will allow for the quickest root-expansion and acclimation to your garden.

Be sure to keep a good 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch, particularly in the summer. While they are considered a medium water user, know that drought conditions usually mean a less than the ideal specimen. Treat it like an azalea from the standpoint of mulch and moisture.

Most red buckeyes that I have seen over the years are 10 to 15-feet tall and as wide and are perfect for the edge of woodland gardens. The red horse chestnut can reach 30-feet tall and the bottlebrush buckeye 10 to 12-feet tall.

The seeds or nuts that might be formed are not to be eaten. The blooms with bees, birds, and butterflies, however, make these buckeyes all worthy of a prominent place in the landscape.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(c)2019 Norman Winter

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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