Going To Seed
I use to be a perennial snob. Why fork out money for annuals every year when you can generally count on perennials to come back year after year? Perennials also tend to spread nicely, so you can then share your favorites with your friends. And some common perennials serve as sources of food for more than one critter--a source of nectar or pollen for some, a source of protein for others later in the season. Multi-purpose plants!
But this year made the value of annuals very apparent. Right now, zinnias and marigolds are
blooming, attempting to fulfill their genetic goals of successful reproduction through the creation of copious amounts of seed. In the meantime, they have fed scores of nectar- and pollen-seeking insects and hummingbirds. And they are still at it. (
Above/right, zinnias still feeding fritillaries...next to "Diablo" Ninebark.
Perennials have to pace themselves, sort of. While they do bloom, they have to invest energy in preparing for next year--growing stronger roots, gaining height, maybe sending out some shoots to expand their garden footprint. Not so for annuals. Given the water and soil nutrients they need, annuals get to work on NOW. Hell-bent on glory, they throw everything they've got into next year's babies--which means lots of blooms producing lots of seed. If these annuals happen to be vegetables, home gardeners reap great gobs of produce. If they happen to be flowers, well, get ready for the pollinator show.
Seeds left on the plant will meet one of three fates: eaten before they hit the ground, eaten after they hit the ground, or successfully germinating to become new plants in the spring. They are protein. One of the birds I really enjoy watching are goldfinches, which will cling to seed-producing plants and wrest the seeds from the parent plant with great vigor. The photo on the left shows what happens to coneflowers when visited by goldfinches. As long as the seed heads are left unpruned, goldfinches and other seed-eaters will take advantage of the buffet. Sometimes it takes them longer--one of my neighbors spoils the goldfinches rotten with lots of feeders--but eventually somebody comes over to try the raw food buffet. While I have other, berry-producing plants to become a winter food source for birds, coneflower, sedges and others are also there as a less colorful way of filling their plates.
This does, of course, make for a "messy" garden. How long you can leave yours unpruned will have a lot to do with your personal desires for your garden and maybe a little to do with what the neighbors think. I'm fortunate in having indulgent neighbors!