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HOW TO MAKE GOLDENROD MANAGEABLE IN YOUR GARDENS

       Goldenrod is one of our most gorgeous fall flowers.  In addition to beauty, it is also a valued late season source of food for a wide variety of native pollinators including butterflies such as the monarch.  While its virtues are indisputable, goldenrod is rarely considered a desirable garden plant.  A primary reason for this it spreads and often grows extremely tall.  However, I want to share with you tip that just might make you less inclined to pull up goldenrods that often crop up in gardens across the state.

       More than 30 species of goldenrods are native to Georgia.  As such, various species of the plan thrive in a variety of habitats.  In addition, some goldenrods grow to be only a couple of feet tall while others can attain heights of eight feet or more.

       Like many of you, goldenrods volunteer in our flower gardens every year.  Obviously, the goldenrods growing in my yard are tall varieties.  These plants easily top out at six to seven feet tall.  This requires us to pull them up.  If we don’t, they completely shroud other plants growing nearby.

       This year my wife taught me, a trick that makes these lofty nectar plants easily managed.  In August, she trimmed a few of goldenrods down to where their stalks were approximately a foot tall. 

    

“Long-tailed skipper feeding on blooms produced by a goldenrod pruned in August.”

         Each plants responded by developing three to four stems.  As summer gave way to fall, the goldenrods growing along the edge of our property grew to be as tall as expected and produced golden plumes of flowers.

       Their tiny flowers were visited by lots of bumblebees, some monarchs, and a variety of other pollinators.  This feeding activity ceased a few weeks ago.

       Meanwhile, the pruned goldenrods continued to grow eventually topping out at three feet tall and just recently produced their crop of flowers.  These blossoms could not have come at a better time.  Although many pollinators still are active in our yard, with each passing day, it is becoming more difficult for them to find nectar and pollen.  Our pruned goldenrods are helping meet their need.  In addition, they are extending the goldenrod’s floral show into late autumn.  The bonus is we have found a way to include goldenrod in our nectar gardens.  Wow! A well-time pruning can make huge difference.

DON’T REMOVE SPENT SEED HEADS FROM NECTAR PLANTS — BIRDS RELISH THEIR SEEDS

       Now that our days are characterized by low humidity and cool temperatures, it finally does feel like autumn.  While the weather has changed, the complexion of our gardens has been undergoing a major transformation.  Those of us that try to provide wild pollinators with food throughout as much of the year as possible still have an abundance of nectar-bearing flowers in full bloom.  However, alongside them are the dried seed heads of plants that bloomed earlier in the year.  Although our first impulse is often to remove these plants, I wish you would consider leaving at least a portion of them for birds that feed predominantly on seeds.

       The list of the flowering plants that produce seeds eaten by birds is quite long.  Here is a short list of some of the more popular plants that produce nutritious seeds for birds:  black-eyed susan, coneflower, cosmos, aster, scarlet sage, zinnia, coreopsis, and blanket flower.

       Birds will eat these seeds directly from seed heads or when the seeds fall to the ground.  In addition, it matters not whether the plants grew in containers on a deck or patio or in a traditional garden.

       My wife and I have truly enjoyed watching cardinals and American goldfinches feeding on scarlet sage and zinnia seeds produced by plants grown in large containers on our deck. 

       It never ceases to amaze me how a cardinal can pick up a tiny scarlet sage with its large beak.

       Among the birds that do not miss a chance to eat the seeds of nectar plants during the fall and winter are the northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, chipping sparrow, and American goldfinch.

       If you want to add a new facet to bird feeding, simply resist the impulse to create a tidy garden.  Let the plants that produced the stunning floral display remain standing.

       If you do, you will be providing your autumn/winter avian visitors with a great source of food.  Meanwhile, you will enjoy watching the fascinating behavior of birds foraging for flower seeds.

TICKS AND FALLEN LEAVES

        Shortly many of us will be faced with removing fallen autumn leaves from our yards.  According to an article that recently appeared the National Wildlife Federation’s magazine, National Wildlife, how you dispose of these leaves can have a significant impact on the number of blacklegged ticks that will infest your yard next spring.

       Three ticks that are of great concern to Georgians are the lone star, American dog and blacklegged. 

       According to the piece, a study conducted by the Monmouth County, New Jersey Mosquito Control Division, revealed that homeowners that raked or blew the leaves from their yards into nearby wooded areas each fall actually promoted the blacklegged tick population in their yards.  It seems that the following year the blacklegged tick population was three times greater than that found in their yards the previous year.

       This is significant since blacklegged ticks carry tick-borne diseases such as Lyme’s disease.

       A better way to deal with the leaves is to either compost them, or use them to create or enhance wildlife habitat in an ill-kept section of your property.  In garden situations, leaving leaves on the ground helps valuable insects overwinter and creates feeding habitats for wintering birds.

FROGS AND FISH DON’T MIX IN SMALL BACKYARD PONDS

       If you are trying to encourage frogs to breed in your small backyard pond, it is best not to stock your pond with fish, with the exception of the perhaps a small number of mosquito fish.

       It seems many species of fish will eat tadpoles. In addition, young fish will often compete with tadpoles for food.

 

SWEET WILLIAM CAN BE A GREAT BUTTERFLY AND HUMMINGBIRD PLANT

       My wife and I are always eager to try a plant that has the reputation of being a gorgeous ornamental as well as great hummingbird and/or butterfly plant. One such plant we have added to our gardens is Sweet William. Since Sweet William has long been a favorite of Georgia gardeners, I don’t know why we had not planted it before.

       Sweet William is a member of the carnation family. It grows from five to 36 inches tall. The flowers are arranged in tightly packed bouquet-like clusters comprised of upwards of 30 or more blooms. The plants serrated petals ranging in color from purple to white, red, pink, or variegated. On top this, the plants easily hybridize and produce a wide variety of other color variations.

       Sweet William blooms in the Peach State from late spring until the first autumn frost. During this blooming period, individual plants can be encouraged to continue producing blossoms by deadheading.

      The old-fashioned garden favorite is native to Europe. Nobody knows for sure where the plant got its name. One of the most popular theories is it is named for England’s eighteenth century Prince William. Others suggest the floral beauty is named for William Shakespeare. I guess we will never know the answer to this quandary.

       You can establish Sweet William in your garden from either seed or seedlings. If you plant seeds in spring to early summer, or set out plants in September or October, you will have to wait until the following spring to enjoy their showy blossoms. It you do not want to wait that long for the plant to blossom, you might want to consider buying plants and transplanting them to your garden soon after the spring’s last frost. In addition, if you sow seeds in the fall, they will germinate into plants that will bloom the following year.

       I should mention, if you allow Sweet William plants to go to seed, they will readily reseed themselves. That being the case, they will quickly spread throughout a garden.

       Sweet William will grow in a variety of soil types but seems to do best in well-drained, slightly alkaline soils.

       In the spring of 2019, my wife sowed Sweet William seeds around one of our birdbaths. Only one plant produced a single flower last year. However, the plants overwintered and this spring (2020) rewarded us with an abundance of pink, red, and white blossoms.

       For my wife, this floral show brought make memories of the Sweet Williams blooming in her grandmother’s garden years ago. In addition, they enabled me to take some stunning pictures of cardinals, thrashers and other birds visiting the birdbath to bathe and drink. The contrast between the birds’ plumage and the colorful flowers is stunning.

       As for pollinators, as you can see from the accompanying picture, butterflies are already partaking in the nectar found in each Sweet William blossom. Hummingbirds and native bees have also been seen visiting the plants.

       That being the case, this experimental planting seems to be a success.

BACKYARD SECRET–BIRDS USE MOST OF THEIR ENERGY JUST TO KEEP WARM

       You might find it surprising to learn birds use most of their energy just to keep warm. Studies have demonstrated that roughly 90 percent of the energy birds derive from the foods they eat in the wild and at our feeders is used by their bodies to keep warm. This leaves them with precious little energy devoted to reproduction and growth. This is in stark contrast to the green anoles, toads and other reptiles and amphibians living in our backyards. It seems they are able to employ 90 percent of the energy obtained from their diets directly into growth and reproduction.

       For this reason, it is always a good idea to offer our bird diners foods containing oils, fruits, and fats. With this in mind, the menu we provide our feathered guests should include such foods as suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds, as well as dried and fresh fruit.

10 BACKYARD TREES THAT ARE BUTTERFLY HOST PLANTS

       Interest in butterfly gardening is at an all time high throughout the Peach State.  At one time, his activity was one-dimensional. If a homeowner wanted to attract butterflies to their yard, they planted flowers that produced an abundance of nectar. However, in recent years butterfly gardening has taken on a new dimension. Nowadays people that are serious butterfly gardeners also incorporate butterfly larval host plants into their landscape designs.

       However, many homeowners do not realize that some of the trees growing in their yards are also butterfly host plants.  Here is a list of ten such trees and the butterflies that use them as hosts.

Eastern Red Cedar   Juniper Hairstreak

Yellow Poplar  – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Hackberry – Hackberry Emperor, Tawny Emperor, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, American Snout

Sassafras  – Spicebush Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Palamedes Swallowtail

Redbud – Henry’s Elfin

Flowering Dogwood – Spring Azure

Willow – Viceroy

Winged Elm –  Question Mark

Water Oak – White M Hairstreak

Black Cherry – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple

 

A BLUEBIRD NESTING SITE LIKE NO OTHER

BLUEBIRD BOX ON BOTTLE TREE

 

Over the years, I have encountered eastern bluebirds nesting in a variety of locations, however, recently I was shown a bluebird nesting site like no other.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is the most colorful and unique nesting location I have ever come across.

This nesting box is situated in a forest of trees.  This is not a forest of pines or hardwoods; this forest is composed of a kaleidoscope of more than 140 bottle trees.  Dr. Jerry Payne, the creator of this fanciful forest, has dedicated one of his beautiful creations to the eastern bluebird.  Bluebirds must have found this special tree as pleasing to their eyes as we do.  During each of the three years the box has hung on a bottle tree nestled between  an array of colorful bottles, bluebirds have successfully fledged young.

If you have encountered an unusual bluebird nesting site, I would like to hear about it.

WHAT HAPPENED HERE?

LOBLOLLY PINE CONE (green)

LOBLOLLY PINE CONE (green)

LOBLOLLY PINE CONE (core)

LOBLOLLY PINE CONE (core)

I have always enjoyed being a backyard detective.  Whenever I take a walk around my property I am constantly looking for wildlife, or telltale signs that tell me that they have visited my yard.  On many occasions, I would never know that a particular animal had ventured into my yard if I was not able to read the signs it left behind.

       On a recent early morning walk, I stumbled across a green loblolly pine cone that was missing some of its scales, the core of a pine cone, as well as a number of green pine cone scales. Since I have found similar items in my yard over the years, I immediately knew the identify of the animal left these clues behind.

       In this case, these items told me that a gray squirrel had ben feasting on loblolly pine seeds high above in the canopy of a tall loblolly growing in my backyard.  It seems that gray squirrels like to dine on the unripe seeds found at the base of the tree’s green pine cones.  In order to reach these delicacies, the squirrels have to dismantle a green pine cone one scale at a time to reach the seeds.

       When a squirrel finishes with cone, it simply drops the core to the ground.  I suspect that the pine cone that was missing only a few scales was accidentally dropped by a hungry squirrel.

       Over the years I have encouraged my daughter and granddaughter to join the ranks of backyard sleuths that are always looking for clues that are hiding in plain sight.  To this day, they routinely call me up to share their backyard discoveries.  When they do, I like to believe that I played at least a small roll in enhancing their appreciation of the natural world that exists just beyond their backdoor.  

      

GARDEN CLUB TO HOLD GARDENING STUDY SCHOOL

MALE EASTERN BLUEBIRD

MALE EASTERN BLUEBIRD

The Augusta Council of Garden Clubs,  in association with the National Garden Clubs, The Garden Club of Georgia and the Azalea District of the Garden Club of Georgia is presenting Course I of the Gardening Study School.  The school will be held  at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park September 23-24, 2016.

       This intensive course will focus  on a number of topics relating to the world in which we live including environmental issues, networking and outreach, plant biodiversity, backyard wildlife habitat, historical actions and leaders, ecology, environmental science and sustainability.

       I will be will be teaching the session on backyard wildlife habitats.  My talk will deal with all facets relating to creating and maintaining diverse populations of birds, wild pollinators and plants in backyard settings.

       Although the study school is designed for members of the Garden Club of Georgia wanting to attain recognition as an Accredited Environmental Consultant, the courses are open to the general public. http://augustacouncilgc.com/index.html For more information as to how you can  attend the section dealing with backyard wildlife habitats, or the entire course, contact:  Judith Kirkland at jukirkland@knology.net.