Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Birds in the winter garden

The feeders are stocked with sunflower seed, thistle, suet and there's plenty of water and cover. It's a party in the back yard all winter long, but especially on cold snowy days.

I love feeding the birds and get a kick out of their antics.

Each species has a distinct personality. Some are curious, while other are quite gregarious.
Cardinals visit early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Doves are especially fun to watch. They always seem to be the last bird to figure out what they heck is going on when all the other birds have skedaddled as the hawk flies over.

The house finches are aggressive and push others away from the feeders.

 I like knowing that the seeds, water and shelter I provide are giving the smallest birds a fighting chance to survive when winter gets particularly harsh. 

But, when nesting time arrives, seed is not what they want or need. They need insects to feed their young. According to Doug Tallamy, entomology and wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware, a single pair of breeding chickadees must find as many as 6000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young.

That's just one bird family in this garden. When you consider that 96% of terrestrial birds in North America rear their young on insects, you can see how important it is that our gardens be hospitable to those insects.
 What's a gardener to do?

 Please continue to feed the birds all winter. It's a wonderful way to supplement their winter foraging and it's so much fun.
Juniperus virginiana and Cornus drummondii have good wildlife value
Right now, in the middle of winter, when you're missing the heck out of your garden, is an excellent time to assess whether your garden is as insect friendly as possible.

1. Make sure native trees play a major role in your garden.Why is that so important? Desiree Narango, a doctoral student with the University of Delaware and who is conducting a three-year study to learn how nonnative, or exotic, trees in cities and suburbs affect the availability of food birds need during the breeding season explains that “Nonnative trees may support insects, but they do not support the insects that birds want and need to feed their young." (from Why birds need native trees  National Wildlife)

2. Do your native trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals out number the non-natives? Need to add more natives? Be sure to plant pollen and nectar rich perennials, herbs and annuals to attract beneficials, bees and other insects. Avoid hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”. (Native annuals)

3. Does a messy garden get to you? Work on tolerating leaves and decaying plants. Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves and so do some species of insect eating bats!

4. Have you invited toads into your garden? They like a cool, wet spot. How about under the birdbath?

5. Do you have room for a pond? Be sure you have a muddy edge for damsel flies and dragonflies. They will eat mosquitoes which make gardening in the summer a nightmare. Birds will appreciate the water and the flying snacks.

6. Do you have a brush pile? Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs". They're also good bird, toad and small critter food.

7. Weirded out by spiders, aphids, strange caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and the odd larva of beneficials! Rethink what you consider icky or a pest. Bluebirds eat crickets and grasshoppers. Spiders are important predators and a very important bird food! Snakes keep the rodent population in check.

8. Can you embrace imperfection in the garden? Learn to tolerate damaged plants because insects can ugly up their favorite plant foods.

9. Do you know which local or online nurseries sell plants that are neonicotinoid free? Frequent them, their plants may cost more but, your garden will be healthier for pollinators, insects and birds.

10. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides....They're deadly in a wildlife friendly garden.

Downy Woodpecker

Now go enjoy those birds,  before long you'll be planting and planning for all the critters in your garden.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wildflower Wednesday: Anemone virginiana

I have had a love-hate relationship with many plants over the years and Tall Thimbleweed was once one of them.

May 2015

 If you're looking for a showy flower than this may not be the plant for you.

But, if you want a native that offers more than a season of interest, I think Anemone virginiana might be worth a second look. It was for me. It's a charming native that has year round interest, starting with that good leaf shape that many Buttercup family members bring to a garden. The lobed leaves are so appreciated during the "green time" in many of our native plant woodlands. It's an added bonus that they're evergreen in my Zone 6b/7a garden.
 the flowering stalk adds another foot or so to the plant
Tall Thimbleweed has a long flowering period, from early to mid-summer. The rather attractive white-green flower has 5 white sepals (no petals) and numerous stamens that surround a ball of pistils. Expect to see small bees and hoverflies visiting.

This is a plant that needs to be placed in the right space or it can disappear. I made a mistake planting it next to Amsonia, they're both tall and the anemone was practically invisible. Now that it has filled out, it's much prettier. You could mass it for instant drama or be patient and let it fill in (it is after all, a member of the Ranunculaceae family). Full size the plant is about 3 foot tall in bloom with a 20 inch spread.
Wasowski Photo Collection, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center
   Not long after flowering, green, thimble-like fruit replaces the flowers.
 If you sew you'll understand how Tall Thimbleweed got it's name.
The prickly thimbles last a long time and eventually change to cottony tufts. The seeds are wind born and you can expect to see plants growing near and far from the mother plant. Plants are easily transplanted if you don't like where they've planted themselves.
January 25, 2016  cottony seedheads still have seed for winter interest
Tall Thimbleweed seems to be happy in most situations in my garden. Wildflower experts recommend that you plant it in a loamy soil that retains moisture, but, it is drought tolerant here at Clay and Limestone. You can collect seeds and direct sow them in the fall (they need moist, cold stratification) or let the wind carry them around your garden.
May 2015

To sum it up:

This charming native Anemone can be found in dry rocky areas, on wooded slopes and in open woodlands across Canada and the eastern US (Zone 3 to 8). It blooms late spring to early summer and has small green-white flowers atop tall stems. It will tolerate full sun to light shade. While it is drought tolerant that does not mean xeric. To be happiest it needs well drained and moist soil. Although, it's not a super high wildlife value plant, it attracts small bees, hoverflies and it has been said that birds eat the seeds. Not a deer or mammal food.

Expect to be charmed by the flowers, but, astonished by the thimble-shaped seed heads that remain intact from fall through late winter and sometimes into the spring. Now that's talking about year round interest.

Are you charmed by Tall Thimbleweed or unimpressed?

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday. This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants, how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.

 Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Leucism, or a bird of a different feather

This is the second winter that I've seen this faded beauty at the feeder. As a matter of fact, she/he may live in the garden since Goldfinches and House Finches are year round residents in our gardens.
When birds have unusual or faded plumage coloration they're called leucistic. They have a genetic mutation and it can affects them differently. Some have white patches on their colorful plumage, while, others look like they've been dipped in bleach or have faded in the sun. It makes identifying them quite difficult! Which is why I am calling this beauty a finch, although, I think it might be a Goldfinch! For that matter, maybe it's two different leucistic birds, but, I think it's the same one!
February 2015
The leucistic Goldfinch that is visiting the winter feeders is lovely, but, my understanding is that these birds have a difficult time in the wild. The mutation that prevents pigments from coloring their feathers might make it difficult for them to attract mates. After all, colorful plumage is part of many of bird mating rituals. There's also a possibility that their feathers might not be as strong as a "normal" pigmented bird; or, that they might not be as well insulated for the winter, making survival in a harsh world especially difficult.
So far this cutie pie is surviving at Clay and Limestone. There's plenty of food, water and winter cover. It only has to hide in the trees and stay out of the way of the hawks that like to cruise above Clay and Limestone! That's another problem with which leucistic critters have to contend. They don't have protective coloring that their normal plumage would offer.

Keep feeding the birds and watching for unusual plumage.

More posts about birds at Clay and Limestone:
Oh, How I love you little Nuthatch
Winter is for the birds
At the birdfeeder
Garden Visitors
I do it for the birds
The Tufted Titmouse

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


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