Archives

POISON IVY FRUITS & SEEDS ARE RELISHED BY MANY BACKYARD BIRDS

        For our backyard bird neighbors that eat fruits and berries, autumn is a time of plenty.  During this glorious time of the year, many of the native and ornamental plants that grow in our yards are laden with fruits and berries.  Most of these plants such as oaks, dogwoods, sumacs, zinnias, are easily recognizable.  However, other fruit and berry-bearing plants are often overlooked.  Believe it or not, one such plant is poison ivy. 

       I doubt that even the most dedicated wildlife enthusiasts encourage poison ivy to grow in their yards.  However, as hard as we might try to eliminate this woody vine from our property, invariably the plant’s woody vines decorated with three leaflets crop up again and again.

       Should you find a healthy poison ivy vine growing in an undeveloped corner or along the edge of your yard, as long it could serve as a source of food for birds without posing as a threat to you.

          If the dried fruits and seeds are not gobbled up in the fall, they provide a nutritious source of food for more than a dozen backyard birds well into winter.

       The list of birds known to eat the fruits and seeds of this reviled native include the eastern bluebird, Carolina chickadee, northern flicker, dark-eyed junco, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-bellied sapsucker, white-throated sparrow, tufted titmouse, yellow-rumped warbler, northern mockingbird, brown thrasher, as well as hairy, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers.

       If you look at your yard as a giant smorgasbord, it may be a little easier for you to look at a smattering of poison ivy vines in a different light.  Just do not touch them. 

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.

 

 

RUBYTHROATS LOVE THIS RED SALVIA

     There are literally hundreds of varieties of salvias. With so many available, it is difficult to choose which one you need to plant in your yard.  If you want salvia that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies such as the cloudless sulphur, I have just the one for you.

In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the salvias are native to Mexico, Africa, South America, Eurasia, and elsewhere, the one I am recommending is native to parts of the Southeast, including Georgia.  Like so many of the salvias, it is called red salvia or scarlet sage.  However, the one I am referring to bears the scientific name Salvia coccinea.

RED SALVIA - Blog - 15 July 2017

This plant grows one to two feet tall and blooms from late spring into the fall.  Bright red blossoms are borne on tall slender stalks.  If you take a close look at a flower, you will find it is tubular in shape.

It grows in a wide range of soils ranging from sandy to clay-laden. It will grow in gardens situated in full sun as well the shade.

Scarlet sage plants can be established from both seed and seedlings.  Seedlings are readily available at many nurseries.  It can also be easily grown from seed.  In fact, once it becomes established it usually reseeds itself year after year.

My wife and I have grown it in large pots, patches and mixed in with other butterfly and hummingbird nectar plants.  The versatile plant has done well in all situations.

Since the numbers of hummingbirds has increased dramatically during the past week or so, we have been enjoying watching hummingbirds visiting the bright red blossoms of red salvia and the other hummingbird nectar plants that are currently blooming in profusion in our yard.

Although have been seeing more butterflies in our backyard lately, cloudless sulphurs remain scarce.  As such, cloudless sulphurs have yet to be seen at our scarlet sage blooms. However, I know that, as we move toward autumn, the cloudless sulphur population will explode and ruby-throated hummingbirds will then be vying with cloudless sulphurs for the opportunity to nectar at our red salvia.

I have purchased plants purported to be red salvia that were far from hummingbird and butterfly magnets. Perhaps they were cultivars of Salvia coccinea that simply don’t produce as much nectar as the true native red salvia.

If you find and plant the right one, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

 

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.

 

 

BEAUTYBERRIES MAKE BIRDS AND HUMANS TAKE NOTICE

Cardinal partaking on the American Beautyberry plant

Cardinal partaking on the American Beautyberry plant

Throughout most of the year, the American beautyberry is a native shrub that goes unnoticed. However, from the moment its fruits begin to ripen in late summer, birds and humans find them impossible to ignore.

The American beautyberry’s gaudy, bright lavender-colored fruit seemingly advertise themselves to resident and migratory birds alike. When migrating songbirds stop and begin looking for food to fuel their fall migration, being able to find nutritious food quickly is extremely important. This enables the birds to expend a minimum amount of energy and time before resuming their southward trek.

Since beautyberries will remain on the shrub well into winter, they also provide food for birds when it is often scarce.

Beautyberries are eaten by a number of our backyard favorites such as American Robins, Baltimore Orioles, Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Towhees, Wood Thrushes, Northern Cardinals, Gray Catbirds, and Brown Thrashers.

In exchange for serving as a source of food for birds, the plants have their seeds scattered widely when the feathered diners expel them in their droppings.

In my yard, mockingbirds vigorously defend fruit-laden American beautyberry plants from other birds. Late one summer, two Baltimore Orioles landed on a hummingbird feeder hanging outside my office. Their sudden appearance provided me with a perfect opportunity to photograph these handsome birds. However, just as I was about to snap my first picture, a mockingbird, that had been defending a nearby beautyberry bush, swooped down on the orioles and scared them away.

In backyard settings, American beautyberries can be planted in a shrubby border or as an occasional shrub.

They can be grown in a wide range of soils, as well as in both partial shade and full sun. In addition, they require much less water than many ornamental plants. In my yard, they are growing in sunny locations with their roots anchored in dry, hard Georgia red clay.

Most beautyberry plantings are established using containerized plants or pass-along plants obtained from a friend. Beautyberry plants can, however, be propagated from both cuttings and seeds.

Beautyberries typically grow four-feet tall in shade and eight-feet tall in full sun. Although it is not necessary to prune the plant, if pruning carried out in late winter, berry yields will be increased since berries are produced on new wood.

The plant’s attractive dark-green foliage turns yellow to reddish-purple in autumn.

The beautyberry’s small flowers are pale, lilac-colored. However, its unusual, brightly colored berries and pleasing fall foliage make it an attractive landscape planting. As such, if you are looking for wildlife food plant that will also provide a touch of unusual fall color, the American beautyberry may just be the ticket.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

CREPE MYRTLE – BEAUTIFUL BUT NOT A WILDLIFE PLANT

CREPE MYRTLE

Crepe myrtle is one of Georgia’s most recognizable summer bloomers.  It is difficult to go anywhere without seeing them. We spot them growing along city streets, in yards, and around public buildings.

       These large shrubs-small trees are truly stunning. Throughout the summer they produce an abundance of attractive flowers ranging in color from white to purple and pink. In the fall, the foliage of different varieties turn purple, yellow, orange or red.  Why even their bark is attractive.

       If that isn’t enough other than pruning them back in the winter, they require little care.  These hardy plants are able to withstand dry conditions, bloom well in the heat and humidity of summer.  On top of that, they prosper in most well-drained soil types.

       With so much going for it, one could easily assume it is the perfect plant to include in your home landscape. However, if you want to establish plants that are valuable to backyard wildlife, this is not the plant for you.

       Aside from the fact that birds occasionally nest in crepe myrtles, they have little value to wildlife.  Crepe myrtles are not the host plants for our butterflies and moths. They do not produce a bounty of pollen and nectar for our native pollinators, or serve as a valuable source of seeds for birds and other wildlife species.

       With that in mind, if you are looking for a woody plant that will only beautify your yard, plant crepe myrtle. However, if you are seeking a plant that provides beauty and is valuable to our backyard wildlife neighbors there are many other plants that fit the bill.