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BACKYARD NECTAR ROBBERS

A little more than a week ago while I was admiring the showy pink blossoms blanketing the large George Tabor azalea bushes encircling a chestnut tree in my yard, I noticed scores of large carpenter bees visiting flower after flower.  When I moved closer to floral show I realized that after the carpenter bees landed on the blooms, they immediately made the way down the outside of the blossoms to the junction of the petals and green sepals.  As it turned out, the hefty bees were robbing nectar from the large trumpet-shaped flowers.

       It seems carpenter bees are too large to fit through the throats of the bright pink blooms to reach the nectar located at the base of the blossoms.  Faced with this problem, most other nectar feeders would abandon their quest for the nectar. 

       Such is not the case with these carpenter bees.  These bees have the uncanny ability to obtain the nectar from the outside of a blossom.  What I was observing was the bees chewing longitudinal holes at the base of each bloom and then dipping their tongues into the flowers’ sugary nectar.

       Since I first noticed what was taking place I have closely examined a number of azalea blossoms and found any number of feeding portals created by the carpenter bees.  In addition, my wife saw a wasp using a feeding hole after the carpenter bee that created it left.

       Insects such as the carpenter bee are called nectar robbers simply because they feed on nectar without pollinating the flowers.

       If you would like to witness this odd behavior, on a warm, sunny day, look for carpenter bees flying about your azaleas.  When you spot them, watch where they go.  After they leave, look for the feeding holes created by the bees.

        I think you will agree you do not have to leave the confines of your yard to witness fascinating animal behavior.

RED SALVIA AS A CONTAINER PLANT

My wife and I are big fans of native saliva named red salvia or scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).  We like the fact that it is easy grow from seed, very attractive, and blooms for weeks on end. 

In the past, we have planted patches of the plant in flower gardens containing a variety of flowers.  It has performed extremely well when cultivated in this manner.

       This year my wife decided to experiment planting red salvia in a large ornamental container standing along the rail of our deck.  To say the least, this experiment proved to be a success.

      The salvia has done well in the pot.  In fact, it has grown a couple of feet tall.  Some folks might consider this a bit “leggy” for their taste; however, its tall stature is all right with us.  The scores of plants growing close to one another gives the salvia plants the appearance of being a small shrub.

       One thing I have liked about the plants growing in this setting is we have found we pay closer attention to them than if they were growing in a garden.  Since we walk by them several times a day, we have many opportunities enjoy their beauty and study their blooming habits.

       We have also come to recognize that pollinators tend to visit the flowers more often earlier than later in the day.  I am sure this is linked to nectar flow being greater in the morning.

       The red salvia is in full bloom right now and providing us with some fantastic butterfly and hummingbird viewing opportunities.  For example, with an influx of cloudless sulphurs, more often than not, the blossoms are hosting a few beautiful bright yellow butterflies. 

       Whereas throughout most of the summer, cloudless sulphurs seem elusive, those currently visiting our potted salvia are extremely tame.  In fact, they often allow us to walk up with a yard or less of them without ever removing their long, thin proboscis from a salvia bloom.

       Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also regular visitors.  One morning this week, my wife was standing within five feet of the salvia plants when two rubythroats flew up and fed with paying her any attention.  That was truly an exciting experience.

       If you have never considered planting red salvia in a container, you might want to consider trying it next year.  If you do, I am sure you a pot of red salvia will provide you with hours of gardening and wildlife watching pleasure.  

MOUNTAIN MINT IS A BUTTERFLY FAVORITE

 

       If you are looking for a native plant that is popular with butterflies and other native pollinators, you should consider mountain mint.

       In case you are not familiar with mountain mint, chances are you can spot it growing along a country road.  The plants stand upwards of three or more feet tall.  Although it is nondescript, it can easily be identified from a distance.  The leaves surrounding the flowers will appear as if they were sprinkled with powdered sugar.  This makes the blossoms seem to be much larger than they really are.

       The small, whitish blossoms are formed in clusters.  The plant blooms from June through August.

       While recently participating in a butterfly count on the Big Lazer Creek Wildlife Management Area in Talbot County, I found mountain mint blooming in profusion.  If fact, I have never seen more mountain mint in one place.  Much to the delight of the folks taking part in the count, the mountain mint proved to be a butterfly favorite.  Among the butterfly species I personally spotted on mountain mint on that hot, humid August day were gulf fritillary, long-tailed skipper, pearl crescent, eastern tiger swallowtail, and pipevine swallowtail.

       Fortunately, this perennial native plant can be easily grown in backyard settings.  However, I need to tell you mountain mint can rapidly spread by rhizomes.  Consequently, plant mountain mint in an area where it will not crowd out other plants.  

       In the wild, mountain mint is often found growing along woodland edges, old fields and along roads where the vegetation is not regularly mowed.

       Mountain mint does well a variety soil types.  However, sites need to receive sunlight for at least half a day. In addition, mountain mint can withstand dry conditions.

 

 

THREE OF THE VERY BEST PLANTS TO ATTRACT HUMMINGBIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

Here is my list of the three plants that should give you the best chance of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard this summer.

LANTANA – The variety I prefer is Miss Huff.  This cultivar will produce flowers from late spring into fall.  Additionally, it will survive winter when the thermometer plummets into the single digits.

RUBYTHROAT VISITING MISS HUFF LANTANA

Miss Huff will reach a height of four to five feet and will spread outward as far as you will allow it.

Throughout most summers, Miss Huff does not require any water.  In fact, if you give it too much water, it will produce an abundance of foliage and fewer flowers.

The plant is carefree during the growing season.  However, the tall canes should be removed over the winter.

BUTTERFLY BUSH – This shrub is a great addition to practically any yard.  Although most butterfly bushes bear flowers ranging in color from purple, white, orange, yellow, to almost black.

In addition, miniature varieties can be grown in planters.  This offers those of you that do not have very large yards or live in condominiums the opportunity to attract hummers and butterflies to your patios or other small spaces.

Deadheading spent blooms encourages the shrubs to continue producing crops of flowers all summer long.

In winter, it is a good idea to cut the shrubs back within a foot to a foot and a half of the ground.

Butterflies will nectar on butterfly bushes more often than will hummingbirds.

ZINNIAS – Zinnias are an old time garden favorites that are still extremely popular among gardeners.  Butterflies seem to prefer flat-topped varieties as opposed to those with rounded flowers.

Plant this annual in bunches, as butterflies seem to be attracted more to mass plantings over single flowers planted here and there.

Deadhead the flowers and the plants will produce a new crop.

After flowering season has passed, do not cut down the spent plants.  American goldfinches and other birds will eat the dry zinnia seeds.

 

 

THE GRANCY GRAYBEARD DESERVES A PLACE IN YOUR YARD

 

The Grancy Graybeard, also known as the fringe tree, grandfather graybeard, snow flower tree, old man’s beard and a number of other colorful names is a perfect addition to both large and small yards across the state.

The grancy graybeard is one of the last flowering trees to bloom each spring in the Peach State.  For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have been enjoying both the tree’s strikingly beautiful blossoms and aroma produced by a myriad of flowers.

This small native tree grows only ten to thirty feet tall.  I personally have never seen one more than fifteen feet tall.

       Before the tree’s oblong leaves appear, a riot of snow-white flowers erupt on its bare branches.  This startlingly beautiful floral show is created by literally thousands of slender flowers (up to an inch long and 1/16th of an inch wide).  Oddly, the male flowers are larger than the female blooms.

       If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, the delicate, sweet, clean perfume given off by these flowers will.  When in full bloom, the delicate sweet scent of the blossoms will waft many yards away from the tree.

       These unique blooms attract nectar feeders such as small beetles, bees and others.

       Later in the year female trees, bear a crop of blackish-blue fruit that are gobbled up by mockingbirds, cardinals, blue jays and other wildlife.

       In addition, this demure tree is a host plant for both rustic and laurel sphinx moths.

       This tree requires little, if any care.  Although it does best in moist, rich soils, once established it will grow in dry areas too.  The tree’s ability to live in both partial shade and full sun is another plus.

       With that in mind, I hope you will consider adding it to your landscape.  This tree is definitely a keeper.

 

 

      

THE SWEET SCENT OF LEMON IS IN THE WINTER AIR

honeybee-feeding-winter__-honeysuckle

honeybee feeding at winter honeysuckle

Along about this time of year, when I walk out into my backyard and a gentle zephyr is blowing in from the east, I can often catch the lemony scent of a winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima).

Although this shrub is only about eight feet wide and seven feet tall, it is very special to my wife and me.  We moved this shrub from my wife’s Alabama home well more than three decades ago.  My wife fondly remembers a winter honeysuckle that grew just outside her bedroom window.  When should would open her window on warm winter days, the scent produced by the plant’s small, white flowers would fill her room with their fresh, lemony fragrance.  Like her mother, we bring winter honeysuckle branches adorned with flowers into our house simply to enjoy to pleasant aroma that given off by the small, showy blossoms.

There was a time when plants like winter honeysuckle and abelia were commonly found in yards throughout the South.  Today, in spite of the fact that both are attractive and used by wildlife, more often than not, they are missing from home landscapes.

We are fond of our winter honeysuckle for a number of reasons.  First, it has sentimental value.  In addition, a provides a touch of floral beauty at a time of year when few plants are blooming.  That would be enough to earn a spot our my yard; however, it is also a source of nectar and pollen for wild pollinators during a time when they find food extremely scarce.

Winter honeysuckle was introduced into the United States from China during the middle of the 19th century.  Those that brought the plant here touted its merits as an ornamental and hedge plant.  It proved to be so popular that it first showed up in plant catalogs in 1860.

It is a deciduous shrub that grows to a height of around ten feet.  The leaves are oval in shape.  This woody shrub blooms from late winter to early spring in most parts of the state.  Its half-inch, creamy white flowers are arranged in pairs.  They are followed by a crop of small, red berries that are frequently eaten by birds.

Although the plant grows best in rich soil types, it will also grow in dry sites. While it does best in full sunshine, it will grow in partial shade too.

If you want to add winter beauty to your backyard, as well as provide a food source for wild pollinators, you my might want to consider adding this shrub to your home landscape.

 

 

POLLINATOR SYMPOSIUM SCHEDULED

EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWING NECTARING AT PHLOX

EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWING NECTARING AT PHLOX

If you want to learn more about the important relationships that exists between pollinators and plants, you should consider attending the upcoming Bees, Butterflies and Beyond Symposium 2016: Pollinators and Plants.

The symposium will be held September 17, 2016 from 8:30 A.M.-3:00 P.M. at the Atrium in downtown Douglas.

The $30 registration fee includes lunch. Folks wanting to attend the event must register by September 6.

The symposium is sponsored by the Douglas Garden Club, Green Thumb Garden Club, General Coffee State Park, UGA Extension, Douglas-Coffee Chamber of Commerce and Kelly McDonald Photograph.

For more information, go to Google Search and type in Bees, Butterflies and Beyond Symposium 2016: Pollinators and Plants.