Neighborly Garden News
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What Hummingbirds really want
While flower nectar is important for hummingbirds, they need more than nectar-rich plants to survive. Help them by providing suitable native habitat with places to nest and forgo the use of pesticides to ensure that their main food source, protein-rich bugs are abundant. It is mesmerizing to watch a hummingbird gathering nectar from flowers. If you are close enough, there’s no mistaking the whirring sound of the wings as the bird hovers in place. Out comes it’s long tongue-like proboscis, reaching deep inside each flower to access the nectar. Sometimes they take in so much nectar they spit the excess out in a little spray! Sensing a good food source, bees, butterflies, and other hummingbirds may approach, but the feeding hummingbird will chase them off, as they are very territorial.
Which flowers do hummingbirds like and why do they favor certain flowers within a garden even when many varieties are available? Hummingbirds have co-evolved with certain flower species. Many of these flowers have long, tubular structures including cardinal flower and columbine, perfectly suited to the unusual shape of the hummingbird’s beak. In turn, hummingbirds may provide pollination services. Also, timing is everything. Nectar supply varies throughout blooming cycles. Hummingbirds and other nectar consumers will seek out the best supply available. When one flower species has peaked, they find another. But nectar is just one part of their survival.
Hummingbirds feed on nectar-rich flowers but they also need protein and lots of it to sustain their intense flying. The main staple of a hummingbird’s diet are protein-rich insects. The bulk of their intake are invertebrates like insects, spiders, and various larvae. To have a garden with lots of protein-rich bugs, you need diversity. This means an assortment of native trees, shrubs, and flowers along with fresh water and unadulterated soil (soil that will support microscopic organisms) When you think about providing a welcoming garden for hummingbirds, along with the right flowers for nectar, consider the bigger picture.
- Are there places to nest and shelter in trees and shrubs?
- Is there a diverse selection of plants to support the food web?
- Is the area pesticide and herbicide-free?
- Do you have healthy, fertile soil?
- Is fresh water available?
A hot topic is the issue of domestic cats and their impact on our wild birds. We can’t stop natural predators, but reducing non-native threats benefits all wild things. I have always had cats, and for many years allowed them to be indoor/outdoor pets. I stopped this practice about 20 years ago, when the alarm went out as to the damage cats can do to our wild bird population. I absolutely think this has increased the population of birds in my yard, and I don’t miss dealing with the fleas and ticks they inevitably picked up. And yes, cats are quick enough to catch hummingbirds, I had a Ginger tomcat who brought me a very dazed hummingbird once; fortunately, it recovered to fly another day.
Some suggestions for favorite Hummingbird flowers: Beebalm, Salvia, Phlox, Penstemon, Lupine, Lantana, Bleeding heart, Coral Bells, Foxgloves, Hollyhocks, Cleome, Catmint, Verbena, just to name a few easy to grow species.
May’s to-do list
It’s not yet May as I begin to write, and I’ve already had to irrigate a flower bed during last week’s 2-day heatwave. The MA drought Monitor: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?MA
is indicating eastern MA, and south Berkshire County as being in the ‘abnormally dry’ range. Additionally, the weather pattern known as ‘El Nino’, (this global weather phenomenon refers to: when waters in the Pacific Ocean become much warmer than usual) is predicted to effect us during 2023-24; potentially bringing record breaking heat (more than 2022?). I’m strategizing now for our summer ahead, considering the optimum ways to utilize, yet conserve water. It’s become apparent how last year’s drought combined with the relatively snowless and mild winter (our soil never froze solid) has affected some flowering species. According to the UMASS Amherst extension service, the short period of minus zero temperatures in February was enough to injure the flower buds or cause sparse flowering on various types of plants. I’ll miss seeing my favorite weeping Cherry bloom and will mourn the lack of peaches this summer.
Be on the lookout for the invasive pest known as spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). It has been reported in multiple locations throughout the state, including as close as Springfield. Spotted lanternfly is a sap-feeding insect that has caused significant impacts to vineyards, orchards, and other agricultural commodities in states where it has become established. SLF will also attack maples, hops, blueberries, and over 100 other host plants. Females will lay their egg masses on any flat surface and have been unwittingly transported across the northeast.
Report any suspected sightings here: https://massnrc.org/pests/slfreport.aspx
With the unusually mild winter and warm spring, ticks are very active in our environment right now. May is tick awareness month, and we should all be practicing tick safety. It’s hard to avoid ticks, but we can up our game against them. If you have access to a clothes dryer, you can run your gardening clothes on hot for 10 minutes to kill any hitchhikers or quarantine the clothes in a bag outside. Check yourself, and your family and pets after spending time outdoors. Take precautions to protect your family, visitors, and your pets. Invest in a tick I.D and removal kit and familiarize yourself with early onset symptoms of Lyme disease in humans as well as pets. White-footed Mice are the primary hosts of tick-borne diseases, other small mammals usually groom (eat) any ticks they find in their fur, but not mice. Anything you can do to eliminate mice in your yard will go a long way to decreasing the tick population. Our common Opossum is known for seeking out and devouring ticks. Countryside offers many options for tick management; please contact our spray program manager, Scott Higley for more information. email@example.com
The only upside to the dry and mild winter was I was able to plant peas on Patriot’s Day, as well as lettuce, arugula, beets, and radish. Surprisingly, my Arugula rustica plants overwintered intact and are sprouting fresh leaves. This is a wild form that develops smaller, more incised leaves than the other cultivars, and is super hardy! There is still time to get some peas in the ground before hot weather commences. Just be sure to look for the varieties with an early harvest period. Packages will be imprinted with the approximate days until harvest. They don’t need anything as formal as a trellis to climb onto, you can poke 4’ long brushy twigs into the ground as you plant your peas, and they will readily twine onto them.
Consider pausing from mowing your yard this month as we are promoting No-Mow May to raise awareness of the need for conserving early blooming plants as a food source for our native pollinators. Consider the lowly Dandelion- Dandelions may be considered a weed, but they are nature’s little powerhouse. One of the first flowers to bloom in spring, Dandelions provide much needed nectar and pollen for bees before other types of flowers bloom. The early leaves make a tasty addition to salads and veggie dishes, and pack over 300% of your daily requirement of vitamin A, and are rich in antioxidants, minerals, and other compounds vital for good health. Their bitter flavor is reminiscent of Arugula. Be sure you collect Dandelion leaves in areas you are sure are not sprayed with chemicals.
2023 is predicted to be another year for serious infestation of the Spongy Moth (formerly the Gypsy Moth) in Berkshire County. The time to act to minimize the damage is now. There are several strategies available to help combat this pest. Please contact Scott Higley for more information firstname.lastname@example.org
Please contact our office for help with spring chores or information about tick and pest control. (413) 458-5586 or email@example.com
Garden ideas for summer 2023!
You’d think nothing new can possibly be developed in landscape gardening? Not true! Like a living garden, it is constantly growing and evolving. Some ideas stick around, and others seem to wax and wane as the years go by. Here are some interesting ideas for the 2023 gardening season.
We will be seeing even more of these easy-to-plan and care for outdoor spaces. Gravel gardens also provide a place to experiment with xeriscaping, creating the perfect place for drought-tolerant varieties such as grasses and sedums. Think of stone chips or pebbles instead of organic mulch. Utilize color and texture to emphasize garden elements.
What we choose to plant in our gardens is demanding extra thought and consideration as temperatures rise and rainfall dries up. Prioritize using a palette of tough native plants that will be reliable and resilient. Important factors in plant choice will be drought tolerance, native plant communities and all-year-round color and interest, but plants should also be good for pollinating insects and wildlife.
Try placing climbers in planters with adequate soil depth and width, creating a vertical garden in a much more manageable way. Consider using traditional espalier techniques to create geometrical patterns on walls using climbing plants and exploring ways of highlighting the vertical elevations of a garden, rather than just being a backdrop for a feature plant.
Late summer bloomers:
Changing weather patterns are impacting seasonal planting plans and for 2023 this means a updated a trend – late summer bloomers, the plants which come into their own as August turns to September and continue producing an impressive display until the first frosts arrive. Seek out varieties that will flower later in the season, say from August onwards as summers are getting longer with the onset of autumn now only happening later in the fall.
Growing your own cut flowers:
We can’t get enough flowers! Pick-your-own flower stands are popping up in every community. Try starting your own cutting garden. Many common annuals and perennials make excellent cut flowers. Daisies, Larkspur, Coneflowers, Zinnias, Coreopsis, Salvias, Hydrangeas are easy to grow and cut for bouquets.
Growing your own produce became a new hobby for some people during the pandemic lockdown. Fortunately, it is not just a passing fad, and many continue the healthy trend of growing and preserving their own food. Additionally, this is also a money saving endeavor in these times of rising food costs. You just can’t beat the taste of freshly harvested herbs and veggies.
I think flowering vines are underused in our gardens. Not all vines need to be vertical; some species of vining plants are very happy to scramble across the ground unsupported. Growing up or out, vines can be useful to camouflage a bare spot, and fill in a space until new shrubs can fill out. There are great choices for flowering vines in both annual and perennial categories.
Clematis x ‘Betty Corning’ is an easy, and long blooming fragrant variety, in a family of perennial vines otherwise known for their fussiness. Betty falls within pruning type 3, so grows and blooms on new growth generated each season. She does prefer consistently cool and moist soil, plan to mulch the roots well, or grow some groundcover type plants over the roots to keep them shaded. Betty Corning grows 6-10 ft tall and will bloom late June through September. Full to part sun.
Clematis x ‘Betty Corning’
Tropaeolum majus-Trailing Nasturtium Trailing annual nasturtiums are a great choice for growing in a window box or hanging basket, as their vines will drape and climb beautifully. This climbing and draping habit also works to fill in bare areas or cover embankments. An important feature of all nasturtiums is their edibility! Nasturtiums’ leaves, flowers, and seedpods have a peppery, almost mustard-like taste, which makes them lovely as a garnish in salads. Plant nasturtiums in full sun (6+ hours of sunlight) for the best results. Grows 6-10 ft.
Nasturtiums growing on an embankment
Hydrangea anomala petiolaris-Climbing Hydrangea If you have a fence or wall to cover, Climbing Hydrangea may be the plant for you. It requires some support, until it becomes established, thereafter it will attach itself to structures using its vegetative ‘holdfasts’. Climbing Hydrangeas will vigorously grow 30-80 ft at maturity. Prefers moist soil, but will tolerate a wide range of light conditions, from full shade through full sun.
Ipomoea purpurea-Morning Glory’s twining trumpet shaped flowers are a welcome sight on a sunny summer morning. These annual tropical (warm weather loving) vines will grow and bloom vigorously with barely any care at all; except to provide something for them to climb on. They need no additional water or fertilizer, so are perfect for hot dry areas with poor soil. One heirloom variety, Grandpa Ott, is reliably hardy to reseed itself every year. Requires full sun, and will grow 6-12 ft.
Lonicera sempervirens-‘Trumpet Honeysuckle’ is our native perennial honeysuckle vine much beloved by pollinators. Trumpet honeysuckle gets it’s common name from having long, tubular red flowers, which attract a wide variety of visitors including hummingbirds and long tongued insects. One of the showiest and longest-blooming honeysuckles, it does best in full sun when supported on structures like trellises and arbors. Moderately drought tolerant once established, best flowering is in full sun, but can stand part shade. Grows 10-15 ft.