Archive | October 2022


        By this time of the year the zinnias in my gardens have, in large part ceased blooming.  While there are scattered colorful blossoms here and there, most of my once beautiful flowers and plants have been nipped by an early frost. All that remains of the zinnias are brown stalks and the withered remains of the flowers they once displayed to hungry pollinators.

       When each of us is faced with this situation, we must decide if we should go ahead and cut or otherwise remove the drab remains of these garden favorites.  Many gardeners immediately remove the dead plants in an attempt to beautify their garden.  However, I am one of those backyard gardeners that leave the plants standing.

       This is done because I realize that a number of birds dine on zinnia seeds.  Here is a list of some of the birds that eat the seeds of dead zinnias:  American goldfinch, chipping sparrow, house finch, purple finch, cardinals and pine siskins.

       I keep an eye on this unorthodox food source and remove the dead plants only after the birds have extracted all of the seeds they harbor.  When this occurs varies from year to year.


   With that in mind, I hope you will refrain from rushing out and removing your zinnia plants as soon as they are killed by cold weather.  If you leave them, you just may catch a glimpse of a bird feeding on the seeds located in the withered remains of the past summer’s zinnia blossoms.  If you do, you might find the dead zinnias not as unattractive after all.


       I am sure you are familiar with the fairy tale that tells the story of how an ugly duckling magically turned into a beautiful swan. While my wife and I don’t have any swans swimming around the Johnson Homestead, each year we witness the similar transformation of a native plant known as Georgia mint from what many would call a nondescript weed into a beautiful wild flower.   Let me explain.

       If you visited our yard in early summer, you might wonder why we would find room for what some folks might think is an ugly weed to grow in our yard.  However if you returned anytime from late summer well into October you would discover the reason why we are so fond of it.

       At this time of the year, countless pale lavender-white flowers literally blanket our stand of Georgia mint.  Admittedly these blossoms are small, however, what they lack in size they more than make in delicate beauty.

       In our neck of the woods, the blooming period for Georgia mint extends for weeks.  In fact, the plants are still in full bloom as I write this blog.  In comparison, most of our most valued pollinator plants have either ceased blooming or will soon do so.  As a result, with each passing day bees (particularly small bumblebees), and butterflies are faced with an increasing shortage of flowers.  Fortunately, for them, in our yard, Georgia mint serves as a life preserver.

       Currently, our Georgia mint is in high demand.  Small bumblebees, cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, a wide variety of skippers (e.g. ocolas, fierys, whirlabouts, cloudeds and duns), gulf fritillaries and buckeyes make daily trips to forage on the petite flowers.  Although In past years, monarchs have also joined the assemblage of pollinators, we have not seen any this year.

       Each year, when Georgia mint becomes the most visited pollinator plant in our yard, we are reminded that anyone that has the desire to help bees, butterflies and other pollinators should make the effort to provide a parade of plants that supplies these flying gems food throughout as much of the year as possible.  For us, Georgia mint is one of our most important late season nectar plants.


      In the fall, the seeds of countless plants are more abundant than at any other time of the year.  Some argue that none is more pleasing to the eye than the buckeye.  While it is largely shunned by wildlife, it is coveted my many Georgians.

    I have a red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) growing in my yard.  Each year this small deciduous tree produces a crop of large reddish brown seeds called buckeyes.  Each plum-sized buckeye appears to be hand-polished. The seeds get their name from the round grayish scar (hilum) found on one side of each seed.  To many, this area (where the seed connects to the husk that covers the nut while it is developing) resembles the pupil of a deer’s eye.

       When you gaze at a buckeye, it looks like it should be a great wildlife food. In truth, the vast majority of wildlife species don’t eat buckeyes.  In fact, squirrels are the only native species known to dine on buckeyes on a regular basis. White-tailed deer, for example rarely do more than nibble on them. However, feral hogs are said to eat them.

       Why isn’t it a wildlife favorite?  The answer is the buckeye contains a chemical known as glycoside; a derivative of glycoside is known to be poisonous.  For some reason, this poison does not affect gray squirrels.  However, it is poisonous to livestock and humans.  Deer will usually avoid buckeyes but will occasionally nibble on them.

       On the other hand, many people covet buckeyes.

       According to a number of folktales, buckeyes can do amazing things such as bring good luck and even cure diseases. 

      Consequently, some say that carrying a buckeye will a person good luck only if it is carried in the right pants pocket.

      According to folklore, rubbing a buckeye will cure asthma, headaches, arthritis and rheumatism. However, if you want a buckeye to cure your rheumatism, you must carry it in your left pocket of your pants.

     If you have a buckeye tree that produces a bounty of buckeyes, don’t sell them as good luck charms.  If you do, technically speaking, you might be charged with false advertising.  This is because supposedly, if you sell a one of these magical seeds, it loses its power to provide the buyer with good luck.


        According to a recently published report entitled 2022 State of the Birds, the rufous hummingbird population is in decline. The rufous hummingbird has lost half its total population during the past 50 years. In addition, there is a very real chance that it will plummet another 50 percent during the next half century.

       The rufous hummingbird nests primarily in Washington and Oregon, north through Canada’s western provinces all the way to southeastern Alaska.

       The vast majority of rufous hummingbirds’ winter in Mexico, however, for decades many have annually wintered in the Southeast.  In fact, it is the most commonly seen hummingbird during the winter in Georgia.


  I am sure you have noticed that the amount of red on adult male house finches is highly variable. Throughout most of the year, what a bird eats affects amount of red it displays.  Specifically, the birds that consume foods containing large amounts of carotenoid pigments (e.g. fruits and berries) have plumages that are redder than those birds that eat foods containing little, if any, carotenoid.

     In addition, when a male house finch is developing new feathers, the fresh feathers are brighter tha those they replace.



      Yellow jackets are common backyard residents.  Throughout the warmer months of the year, they actively hunt for food throughout our yards.  If we leave them alone, they rarely sting us.  However, if we are going to have a bad encounter with them it will most likely be in the fall.

       One reason that you are more likely to incur a painful yellow jacket sting in autumn is there are simply far more yellow jackets around at that time of the year.  All summer long yellow jacket numbers increase to the point that by the time autumn rolls around a colony may number anywhere from 2,000-4,000+ individuals.

       Another cause is during the fall yellow jackets change their diet.  During the spring and summer, their diet consists, in large part, of spiders, caterpillars, flies, and other invertebrates. Remarkably, yellow jackets are capable of capturing more than 2 pounds of insects and other invertebrates from a 2,000 square-foot garden plot.  The protein that they bring back to their nest benefits the young that continually hatch throughout the summer.    

       However, as they days get shorter, yellow jackets begin switching to a diet rich in carbohydrates. Yellow jackets locate these sweet foods in tree sap, nectar, and the juice of fruits and berries.  Much to our chagrin, they are also attracted to foods and beverages served at picnics and other outside gatherings.

       At this time of the year yellow jackets, become more aggressive toward one another as well as people and pets.  Consequently, they are more prone to sting without provocation.  Since this behavioral change coincides with a switching from a predominantly protein diet to one rich in carbohydrates, some researchers suggest this may be the main reason for their aggressive fall attitude.

       With that in mind, don’t go near yellow jacket nests in the fall.  In addition, if one does sting you, just remember that a painful sting might be a small price to pay for an insect that helps control insects pests that prey on the food an ornamental plant growing in your yard.

       I tried do take my own advice recently when I was the victim of an unprovoked yellow jacket that zeroed in on my arm.  I must admit immediately after I was stung, I was not harboring kind thoughts regarding yellow jackets.  However, as is often the case with many things, over time I got over it.



        I am sure you have recently been enjoying waking up to temperatures in the low 50s as much as I have.  On these special early fall mornings, I love stepping out on the deck and take in the sights and sounds that surround me.

       One thing that I have noticed is no butterflies are visiting the globe amaranth, zinnias, garden balsam, and scarlet sage growing in pots on the deck.  However, each day I have spotted small bumblebees visiting scarlet sage blossoms.

       Being able to begin feeding before butterflies and other pollinators arrive is a definite advantage to the hard-working bumblebees.

        Remarkably, bumblebees can fly when it dips down as low as 40º F. As such, since the temperatures in my neck of woods should not drop below 40º F for a few weeks, I will be able to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching bumblebees are hard at work for some time to come.




     To say the least, Georgia’s largest wasp is intimidating. Indeed, it is two or more inches long. Although it can inflict a painful sting, it only does so when provoked.

     While it is big, the insect prefers to dine on fermented sap and nectar.  However, its young have a far different diet. 

     The cicada killer gets in name from its habit of hunting down and catching cicadas.  Often it latches on to these large insects in flight.  Since its prey often weighs more than it does, when it attempts to fly back to its nesting burrow it more often ends up hopping for short distances than actually flying.

     The female cicada killer paralyzes its hapless victims and places them in burrows (5-10 inches deep).  Once she positions a cicada in just the right spot, she lays an egg on it. Next, she leaves, sealing off chamber before heading out to search for another cicada.  She will sometimes repeat this process more than a dozen times.

   The eggs hatch in only two to three days.  Upon hatching, each larva begins eating its own paralyzed cicada.

     The cicada killer overwinters as a larva.  In the spring, it emerges and begins hunting down its own cicadas needed to produce a new generation of these formidable predators.

     Female cicada killers live for a couple of months or so.  On the other hand, males die shortly after mating.

     You can go for years without ever seeing one of these large insects in your yard.  I personally cannot remember the last time I spotted one.  However, during the past couple of weeks, my niece saw one grab a cicada in mid-air and ride it down to the ground.  Then this weekend my granddaughter found a dead cicada killer on the floor of her garage.

     Both of the young women had never encountered a cicada killer before.  Both found spotting one an eye-opening experience.  If ever see one, I am sure you will be astonished to learn such a large predatory insect patrols your backyard.