It’s time

Susie Hill
Frederick County Master Gardener

(10/3) My Great Aunt Pankie was an elementary school principal. She always used to say that when she saw goldenrod, she knew it was time to go back to school. As soon as I saw the goldenrod this year, I thought of her and mentally began to transition to the change of seasons ahead. Goldenrod reminds me to enjoy the last of the summer produce and to make sure I get the pesto made. It reminds me to cut the flowers and bring them indoors while I still can. And it reminds me to leave some in place so that I can harvest the seeds and replant them next year.

My favorite annual to grow is zinnias. I like them for many reasons. First, they are beautiful and make great cut flowers. Second, they are easy to grow. Zinnias fit easily with my laissez-faire gardening style. In English, that translates to…throw the seeds in the ground and say, "Good luck to ya". Third, they bring me great joy because they invite a variety of butterflies to their nectaries.

A nectary is a gland that produces nectar to encourage pollinating visits from insects. The plants receive pollination services while butterflies and other insects receive a wholesome meal. Nectar contains water, carbohydrates, and amino acids. So a monarch, for example, can stop on its way to Mexico and leave my zinnia patch hydrated, carbohydrate loaded, and with the amino acids necessary to support the maintenance of it’s physical body.

Like most people, I have an affinity for butterflies over other insects. I love to watch a butterfly rest on the petals of a flower and unfurl its’ proboscis (a specialized mouthpart). It is similar to a New Year’s Eve noise-maker except that it doesn’t honk, it is used for feeding, and it curls down instead of up when not in use. A butterfly will unfurl its’ proboscis to feed on nectar, using it as a source of energy and nutrition. It makes me feel good to surround myself with plants like zinnias that invite butterflies to dine and linger.

While zinnias are among the easiest of annuals to purchase and grow, I enjoy the exercise of drying my own seeds and saving them for replanting next year. If you have not done it before, saving the seed is easy. Timing is important, however. If you are in the habit of deadheading your annuals to keep them looking good and encouraging more flowers, now is the time to allow some of those flowers to dry. Otherwise, the seeds will not ripen sufficiently and they won’t be able to germinate.

To store seed for next year, wait until the brown seed heads pop off the stem easily. If you have to wrestle them off, the seeds are not ready. Once the seed head is removed, crush the dried flowers. The seed is arrow-shaped and located at the base of the dried petal. Store seeds in a cool, dry location, preferably with a packet of silica dessicant, such as those that come in vitamin containers.

The last of the goldenrod is fading. My great aunt Pankie would tell you that it is time to relish the last of the summer sounds- crickets and cicadas that serenade you through boring daytime chores and tree frogs and katydids that lull you to sleep at night. As a lifelong educator, she might also encourage you to try your hand at something new, like saving zinnia seeds in your fridge, right next to the pesto.

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