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NOW IS A GREAT TIME TO BEGIN PLANTING ZINNIAS

      Zinnias are among my favorite plants.  Whenever I plant them, I cannot help but recall pleasant memories of planting them as a child many years ago.  Now that I am a wildlife gardener, I am fond of them because the add beauty to my yard and are great wildlife plants too.  With that in mind, my wife and I are preparing to plant zinnias for the first time this year.  That’s right I said for the first time because my wife and I plant zinnias multiple times a year.

       We plant patches of zinnias in our gardens as well as in large planters.  The crop we are planting now will begin producing flowers in sixty to seventy days.  Once the plants bloom, we prolong the time they bloom by deadheading spent blossoms.  By planting zinnias once week for several weeks, we are ensuring that we will enjoy zinnia blossoms and our wildlife neighbors will have access to the food they provide well into the fall.

       My wife and I have had the best luck attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and our nectar feeders using single-flowered varieties.  They provide hummingbirds easy access to the plant’s nectar.  In addition, many butterflies seem to prefer feeding on the relatively flat surface offered by the flat landing area found on the blooms of old fashion varieties.

       While butterflies visit zinnias for their nectar, hummingbirds also eat the tiny insects often found on zinnia blooms.  In fact, it has been suggested they visit zinnias as much for the protein provided by insects as they do nectar.

       My wife and I also enjoy watching American goldfinches visit our zinnias during the summer.  The birds spend day after day pulling the petals off zinnia flowers to reach the seeds found at base of the petals.

       I think it is great that zinnias enhance by backyard wildlife viewing opportunities by attracting hummingbirds, scores of butterflies and American goldfinches.

       I hope you will plant them in your garden this year.  If you do, I will be surprised if they do not offer you some great wildlife viewing too.

LOOKING AT NECTAR PLANTS THROUGH THE EYES OF A HUMMINGBIRD

      My wife and I enjoy gardening for hummingbirds.  In an effort to provide them with a source of nectar throughout as much of the year as possible, we provide them a multitude of plants.  The list of nectar plants includes such hummingbird favorites as zinnia, Turk’s cap, trumpet creeper, lantana, coral honeysuckle, scarlet sage, lyre leaf sage, red buckeye, hollyhock, columbine and many more.  These plants provide us with an ever-changing mosaic composed of different colors.  Often when I gaze at this gorgeous setting, I cannot help but wonder what these plants look like through the eyes of the ruby-throated hummingbirds that visit these flowers countless times.

       Research conducted by researchers representing the Princeton University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard, University of Maryland, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and the University of British Columbia has revealed our ability to see colors pales in comparison with that of hummingbirds.  Princeton University Assistant Professor Mary Caswell put it this way, “Humans are color blind compared to birds and many other animals.” 

       The research discovered hummingbirds appear to be able to detect pure ultra-violet from a combination of colors such as ultra-violet plus red and red as well as ultra-violet plus green from pure green.  Ultra-violet plus red and ultra-violet plus green were undetectable to the researchers.

       Many scientists believe the reason why hummingbirds are able to see far more colors than us is linked to the fact that a hummingbird’s eye contains four different types of cones whereas humans have but three.  The fourth type of cones detect near ultra-violet light (UV).  Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye. 

       The ability to detect near UV light is beneficial to hummingbirds because many nectar plants display colors in the near UV light range.  Consequently, such plants stand out more to hummingbirds than they do to humans.

              I am certain that this research represents another step toward our greater understanding of the hummingbird’s ability to see colors.  Wouldn’t it great to catch a glimpse at the colors of the natural world through the eyes of a hummingbird?

CORAL BEAN IS A FAVORITE OF RUBYTHROATS & BUTTERFLIES

       The coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) is a Georgia native that has made the transition from the wild to Georgia gardens particularly along the coast and across the Coastal Plain.

       Coral bean (also known cardinal spear and Cherokee bean) is a perennial, thorny shrub.  In the wild, a plant is most often found growing in the sandy soils of open woods, forest openings, and disturbed areas.

       Although coral bean will grow in zones 7-10, it is often found growing in gardens in the South Georgia than other parts of the state.  Actually, I am surprised this perennial native shrub it is not planted in more gardens.  Each spring dark (almost black) stalks emerge from the ground and display a bouquet of bright red blossoms. The contrast of coral bean’s red flowers borne on dark stalks is truly stunning.

       The floral show will continue into summer. During this time, plant’s tubular flowers are favorite sources of nectar for ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies. Since the plant begins blooming in spring, in many gardens, it is sometimes the only source of nectar available to these nectar feeders.

   Coral bean (also known cardinal spear and Cherokee bean) is a perennial, thorny shrub. 

       Once the blooming period has ended each plant produces a crop of 4-6″ seedpods. When the pods open, they reveal bright red seeds, which offer a splash of color to fall gardens. The seeds are eaten by both birds and small mammals; however, the seeds very poisonous to humans.  For that reason, children should be kept away from them.

       Coral bean is susceptible to frost. However, unless the plant’s roots succumb to freezing weather, new shoots should emerge the following spring.

       Interestingly, plants growing, in locales where freezing weather is a rarity such as South Florida, can grow to be 15 feet tall.

BLOGGERS SUGGEST ADDITIONAL NURSERIES BE ADDED TO THE NATIVE PLANT NURSERY LIST

       Two of our fellow bloggers have responded to the recent post regarding where homeowners can purchase native plants. Here is the contact information they have provided.

Flat Creek Natives               Phone:  478-955-1731

Perry, Georgia

Comments:  The blogger that suggested this addition to the list commented those interested in purchasing plants are required to make an appointment with the nursery owner Greg Lewis.  Details can be found on the nursery’s Facebook page.

 

Nearly Native Nursery         Phone:  770-460-6248

770 McBride Road                  email: nearlynative nursery.com

Fayetteville, Georgia  30215.

Telephone Number:  770-460-6249

SOURCES OF NATIVE PLANTS

       There is a growing interest in incorporating Georgia native plants home landscapes across the state.  However, whenever I make a presentation dealing with native plants of value to wildlife, invariably I am asked, “Where can I purchase these valuable plants?” 

       There is indeed a paucity of reputable wild plant dealers in Georgia.  In fact, I am convinced the inability of gardeners to purchase wild plants is limiting the numbers of homeowners that are incorporating Georgia native plants in their home landscapes.

       With this in mind, whenever I come across a reputable nursery that deals in native plants I am going to share contact information relating to these organizations with you. 

       In hopes of adding to this list as time goes by, please let me know about a native plant dealer that you have dealt with.  This information will help me expand the list in the future.

  Plant: Blackeyed Susan          Butterfly: Pearl Crescent

Here is a list of four nurseries that can help you add a new dimension to your garden this spring.

Asclepias and More                                Phone: 706-533-1149
1055 Fieldstone Road
Grovetown, Georgia 30813

Vincent Gardens                                     Phone: 912-381-0644
1960 East Baker Highway
Douglas, Georgia 31535

State Botanical Garden of Georgia         Phone: 706-542-1244
2450 S. Milledge Avenue
Athens, Georgia 30606

Native Forest Nursery                             Phone: 706-483-3397
11306 US-411
Chatsworth, Georgia 30705

YOU MAY NOT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR YARD TO SEE SPRING MIGRANTS

      I suspect that most folks that enjoy birding would like to make the trek to Texas’ High Island to witness the spring songbird migration.  If you catch conditions just right, in a single day, you can get up close and personal to 30 species of warblers and literally scores of vireos tanagers and other birds.  While this small island is the one of the very best places to see spring migrations, if you have the right habitat, you can see a kaleidoscope of songbirds from March into May pass through your own yard.

       As migratory songbirds move northward, they make a number of stops before they reach their breeding grounds.  These bits of critical habitat are referred to as stopover areas.  Songbirds rest and refuel at these locations.  Backyards offering the birds the proper food, water, and cover can serve as stopover sites.

       The vast majority of migratory songbirds rarely visit feeders stocked with seeds and suet.  However, can you attract them if you offer them the foods that will help fuel their spring migration flights.  By far, the most important foods eaten by spring migrants are insects.  However, the bulk of the insects consumed by the birds are the larvae of moths and butterflies (commonly referred to as caterpillars).

       Most of these caterpillars feed on tree leaves.  Therefore, if one or more of the trees that serve as hosts for moths and butterflies is growing in your yard, the better are your chances of attracting spring migrants.

       When it comes to hosting moths and butterflies not all trees are created equal.  The worst trees are introduced ornamentals.  Some of these trees do not host any moths and butterflies.  Studies have shown ornamentals produce 35 times less caterpillar biomass than native trees.

       Here is a short list of some of the native trees that host the most species of moths and butterflies.  The numbers of species of moths and butterflies that each tree hosts are found in parentheses.  This list was developed by Dr. Doug Tallamy. 

       In Georgia, oaks (557) serve as host plants for more butterflies and moths than any other group of trees.  Other important hosts to lepidopterans are cherries (456), willows (455), birches (411), poplars (367) crabapples (308), maples (297), alders (255), hickories (235), elms (215), pines (201), hawthorns (168), beeches (127), dogwoods (118), and sweetgum (35).

       Should you find that none of these trees are in your yard, if you want to have your yard serve as a spring songbird stopover site, consider planting one or more trees found on this list.  The small investment in time and labor this requires will pay huge dividends for decades to come.

       If you already have one or more of the caterpillar producers growing in your yard, from now into May, periodically scan the tree foliage for migrants.  How long the migrants stay is largely dependent on the amount of food they find.  If your trees don’t harbor many caterpillars, migrants might stay and feed for only a day.  Conversely, if caterpillars are abundant, migrants may linger for three or more days before moving on.

       If you are lucky, one morning you may walk outside and see your trees alive with a dozen or more warblers gleaning insects for your trees’ foliage.  While you might see far more species at High Island, the fact that you spotted these birds in your yard will make the experience extra special.

       

DISCOURAGING NEWS FOR MONARCHS

       According to a recent, article that appeared in The Wildlife Society’s e-Wildlifer, this past winter the population of monarch butterflies found in their wintering grounds in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico dropped by roughly 26 percent.

       Researchers attribute the decline, in large part, to a dramatic increase in illegal logging.  While these activities have long been a problem, this past year it resulted in the removal of four times more of the firs and pines used by the butterflies as roosting sites than are typically lost.  As a result, surveyors were only able to find the butterflies overwintering in only 2.1 hectares of habitat.  To put this in perspective, the previous year monarchs wintered across 2.8 hectares of forests.

       Monarch experts also believe that trees killed by beetle infestations, drought, and windstorms contributed to the decline.

A GREAT TIME TO LOOK FOR THE WHITE-HEADED PROMINENT

   March is not a great month for butterfly enthusiasts.  At this time of the year the seasons transition from winter to spring.  As such, temperatures remain are cool and nectar is often hard to come by.  This translates into few butterflies flitting across our backyards.  However, there is any number of moths that can be seen this month.  One of these fascinating creatures is the white-headed prominent (Symmerista albafrons).

       During March this small (wingspan 1 19/64-1 47/64 inches) moth is commonly flying about backyards across the state.  This is especially true if its host plants (oaks) are growing nearby.

       Finding one is not difficult at all.  Instead of stumbling around in the dark looking for it, it will come to you.  Let me explain.  This moth is attracted to outside lights.  Therefore, it is most often seen perched on the side of a house beneath outside lights that are glowing in the dark.                                               If you spot one, the first thing you will notice is that its wings are folded over its back.  This will permit you to see a distinctive toothed, white spot running down the edge of its folded wings.  Since this month is extremely tame, it will allow you to view it from a close range.  In fact, it will often permit you to touch it.

       I find it amazing that the white-headed prominent can be seen on chilly spring evenings.  Recently, I found on perched below an outside garage light when the temperature was only 55˚F.  

       If you are a butterfly enthusiast, you should explore the world of moths.  The diversity of moths than can be seen in a backyard is astounding.  In fact, far more different species of moths inhabit your yard than butterflies.

       If you want to venture into the amazing world of moths, this evening before you sit down to watch your favorite television show, turn on the outside garage lights.  Then when your program pauses for a commercial, walk outside and see if your lights have attracted any moths.  If some moths have been drawn to the lights, don’t be surprised if one of them is a white-headed prominent.

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT

       When I took our dog out for a brief walk a little after noon December 14, the last thing I thought I would see is a butterfly.  Earlier in the month on successive nights overnight temperatures dropped into the 20s.  For all practical purposes, this ended our 2020 Butterfly Season.  However, as I watched Sassy take care of business, the sight of a medium-sized butterfly fluttering about a large camellia bush caught my eye. 

       At first, I thought I was looking at a gulf fritillary.  I sometimes see a few of these butterflies after a frost.  However, when the butterfly landed, I was amazed when it turned out to be a question mark.  Wow, what a surprise; it was my first question mark of the year.  This was due, in large part to my having sheltered in place throughout the spring and summer and not butterflying away from my little corner of the world.  

 Consequently, the question mark is one of a handful of butterflies that is capable of wintering as an adult in Georgia.  When it gets extremely cold adult question marks roost in holes in a tree, behind shutters or any number of other protected locations.  Then when temperatures get warm enough for them to fly again they take to the air. 

       The air temperature when I saw this beautiful butterfly was 58˚F.  Its rapid flight told me its body temperature was high enough to permit it to fly normally.  However, since the butterfly was obviously looking for a suitable place to bask to further warm its flight muscles in the afternoon sun.

       The lack of nectar plants poses no problem for this species as it feeds on plant juices, rotting fruit, dung, and carrion. 

       Who would have thought that my early Christmas present did not come in the form of a package wrapped in red and white?  Instead, it proved to be a gossamer-winged flying jewel borne on orange and black jagged-edged wings trimmed in lavender.

       I must admit that, for a brief period, I lost track of our little dog as I gazed upon this unexpected treat.  Eventually, I was reminded of the reason I had gone outside in the first place when my dog barked to let me know she was ready to go back into the house.  After I brought the dog back inside I quickly returned for a another look at the late season gift only to find it had flown off.  However, I was left with a mental image I will long remember.

       Keep your eyes peeled, you too may receive an early Christmas present.  If you do, and it proves to be a question mark, I am sure you will not be disappointed.   

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.