Habitat for Hummingbirds

Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata

 

 

 

 

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Beech Hollow has hundreds…possibly thousands of “hummingbird feeders” on any given day in the spring and summer: the native plants in our parent stock beds. Mike and I were taking panoramic pictures of the Summer phlox last week.

All the while we were beset by hummingbirds fighting over flower turf. It was like being in the midst of a miniature blue angel flight display, but iridescent and very “chirpy.” At one point a fierce and frantic whirling double helix of squabbling hummingbirds zoomed straight at me, at the last second pulled up squeaking over my head. When it was all over half a minute later, the triumphant female perched on a central flower stalk, surveying her domain, the iridescent “Queen of the Phloxes.”  I have tried getting pictures of these little dynamos…but they are a lot faster than I am!  

Here is a list of some of the Southeast’s native hummingbird plants that these flying jewels love to visit:

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata – hummingbird plant (blooms in April)

Creeping Phlox, Phlox stolonifera –  hummingbird plant (Blooms in April)

Carolina Phlox, Phlox caroliniana – hummingbird plant (Blooms in early June)

Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata or Phlox glaberrima – hummingbird plant (Blooms from July through September)

Penstemon species, hummingbird and bee plant (Blooms in May)

Downy Skullcap, Scutellaria incana

Veiny Skullcap, Scutellaria nervosa – hummingbird/bee/butterfly plant (Blooms in May)

Downy Skullcap, Scutellaria incana – hummingbird/butterfly and bee plant (Blooms in summer)

Collinsonia species – hummingbird and bee plant (Blooms in summer)

Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica

Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica – hummingbird plant (Starts blooming in late May, often reblooms during summer)

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis – hummingbird plant (Starts blooming in mid summer, continues into early fall)

Scarlet Bergamot, Monarda didyma  – hummingbird plant (Blooms from June – July)

Scarlet Bergamot, Monarda didyma

Pink Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa  – hummingbird/bee/butterfly plant (Blooms from June – July)

Spotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata – hummingbird/bee/butterfly plant (Blooms from late August through the end of September)

Firepink, Silene virginica – hummingbird plant (Blooms in June)

Spotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata

Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens – hummingbird plant (Blooms in April)

Trumpetvine, Campsis radicans – hummingbird plant (Blooms in April)

Canada Lily, Lilium canadensis – hummingbird plant (Blooms in early June)

Micheaux Lily, Lilium micheauxii – hummingbird plant (Blooms in July)

Canada Lily, Lilium canadensis, var editorum

Long and Skinny: Many of the flower on this list have tubular shaped flowers that hummingbirds are known to visit.  Even so, at the farm both Mike and Jeff have seen hummingbirds sipping nectar from Milkweed species and even Silphium, which is in the aster family!  Apparently a hungry hummingbird will get resourceful about finding something to eat.  Have you seen any interesting hummingbird foraging?  To help us all learn more, Audubon has a Citizen Science project about hummingbirds and the flowers that they are observed to feed on, and we have included a link to this project at the end of the blogpost.

Seeing Red: You also might notice that a lot, but not all, hummingbird plants have red flowers.  The most obvious reason to suppose that a hummingbird flower may have evolved to be red is that hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers.  But this does not appear to be the case.  In an article published in the journal Ecology Society of America, the research team found that bees tend to avoid flowers that exhibit bird foraging traits.  Plant species that are bird pollinated tend to have more diluted nectar, a horizontal approach, and may have red coloring.  Says Gegear: “bird flowers” are really “anti-bee flowers.”  The plant is rewarding and encouraging its most effective pollinators, and discouraging pollinators that are not effective for their species.

Added benefits of planting native hummingbird plants: You don’t have to clean or refill them. Fungal and bacterial disease transmission at feeders are worrisome, they can make birds sick. Feeders must be thoroughly cleaned at least twice a week in the warm springs and hot summers of the Southeast.  None of us want to see a sick hummingbird!  You might think of a flower as a “self cleaning” feeder, as many flowers only last a few days before they wilt. Not only that, but many nectars have some antibacterial properties*, which may help keep disease transmission in flowers lower.

Flowers that offer hummingbirds nectar are also serving up a liquid full of white sucrose – sugar – but often nectar also contains other sugars such as hexose, glucose and fructose, depending upon the various pollinators the plant wants to attract.  There is also a host of other nutrients that sugar water doesn’t have:  Flower nectar provides essential and non-essential amino acids, which are the second most prevalent nutrient nectar offers after sugar.  Additionally, the antioxidants and proteins that occur in nectar not only provide nutrient value,  they prevent nectar from souring with bacteria or growing mold or fungus.  Nectar also contains trace amounts of lipids which provide pollinators another important energy source.*
 
Last, but not least, the combination of beautiful flowers visited by beautiful birds and pollinators is a win-win situation for everybody.

Sources:

Nicholson, Susan, Nepi, Massimo, and Pacini, Ettore. Nectaries and Nectar. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007), 8-10.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Birds vs. bees: Study helps explain how flowers evolved to get pollinators to specialize (2017, April 19) retrieved 26 April 2018 from https://phys.org/news/2017-04-birds-bees-evolved- pollinators-specialize.html

Additional Resources:

Audubon article: How to Create a Hummingbird Friendly Yard

Audubon article:  How to keep your hummingbird feeder free of pests

Citizen Science Link:

Audubon Hummingbirds at Home

 


The Garden Grumps

The Garden Grumps

Episode 1:  Mulberryweed and Solarization

 

 

Ugh, Mulberryweed. 

That pesky little plant that seems sweet at first, but once you get to know it, there’s no going back to happy thoughts about it.  

Mulberryweed (Fatoua villosa) made its way to North America from East Asia in the later half of the 20th century.  It hasn’t been here long, but it travels incredibly fast.  It is found in most states east of the Mississippi River and is our number one focus for weeding in the summer. 

At first glance it looks very delicate and even kind of pretty, but if you don’t get it out fast, it will quickly take over!  Flowers form almost as soon as the plant emerges (usually at the time of the third leaf growth) and seeds develop not long after that.  Each plant produces hundreds of seeds, which take less than 30 days to germinate.  Most seeds will fall below and around the mother plant, but they can also be flung up to 4 feet and can be carried by wind and water.  

This invasive plant prefers moist, shaded areas, so check around the base of your desired garden plants.  It is very common to find mulberry weed in nursery stock.  To help prevent the spread of it, and other invasive weed species, it is a good practice to discard the first inch or two of soil in any purchased potted plant.  

The one good thing I have to say about the mulberry weed is that it doesn’t tend to fight when you pull it.  It is a soft plant- no stickers or thorns- and has a sturdy taproot, so usually just a firm grip at the base of the plant will pull it up, root and all… BUT watch where those flowers fall!  Even if the seeds have not yet ripened, if the flowers are left on the ground, they could create new plants soon.   If you put the weeds with roots and seeds straight into the compost pile, they will resprout and take over. 

Herbicides can be used, but here at BHF we prefer the good old-fashioned, sustainable method of hand pulling.  For larger patches, we use the tractor and Rogue Hoe to scrape the top layer of soil and remove as many weeds as possible, then suppress what’s left with brown paper and mulch.  This will also help build the soil for future planting.  This method is most sustainable if you use recycled cardboard boxes (remove any tape and don’t use the ones with the plastic glaze on them), recycled paper grocery bags (although you might need a lot), or if someone you know has had a home renovation, they may have left over ram board (this is best because it is the thickest). 

You can also purchase ram board or rolls of painter’s paper at your local hardware store.  Recently, we applied this method to treat a large patch of mulberryweed and other invasive weeds behind the farmhouse using recycled ram board leftover from my kitchen remodel and newly purchased brown paper (we use two or more layers of the brown paper because it is thin).  The brown paper is sometimes called butcher paper, but be sure not to use anything with the plastic glaze. 

Putting mulch on top of the paper will help with weed suppression by denying the weeds light and help build healthier soil. We like to use shredded mulch for suppression because it compacts better and creates more of an obstacle for weeds to grow through.  We usually spread the mulch 3-6 inches deep.  Do not use colored mulch (brown, red, black) as it is dyed and the chemicals used are not necessarily eco-friendly. Avoid Cypress mulch as well because of the host of problems involved in its production and stick to hardwood or pine mulch. This is not a fail-safe method of ridding all the weeds, there will always be a few strong ones that pop through, but it greatly diminishes the amount of weeds, and makes it easier to hand pull them when they do pop through. 

We use mulch that is at least 6 months old (meaning it has been sitting in a pile in a lot somewhere for at least six months since it was run through the chipper), because mulch decomposes and gets hot as it breaks down.  The newer it is, the hotter it is, and also the farthest from becoming soil.  The movement of the load of mulch and the disturbance of raking it out will also create heat, especially if it gets wet, so it is a good idea to wait another 6 weeks or more before planting in your new mulch bed.  Waiting will also ensure the mulch is well on its way to becoming soil.  If you have the time and ability you can add some compost and fertilizer to the mulch as you lay it.  This will increase its rate of decomposition and add nutrients to your new bed.  Essentially you are making a compost pile right where you want to plant.       

If possible, leave the pulled weeds in the sun or put them in a plastic bag to solarize them.  Solarization is the process of magnifying the sun’s natural heat to kill the weed seeds and roots.  For our larger patch we laid out a tarp to pile on the pulled weeds.  The tarp is used as a barrier so any live roots or ripe seeds do not have access to the ground to regrow.  Keep in mind that whatever vegetation the tarp is on will die as well (you can use this to your advantage by increasing your solarization space while decreasing the area to weed).  If you have access to a solid concrete pad (patio, driveway, etc.) this can be used so you don’t end up with a dead patch in your yard. 

After the weeds were piled on the tarp, we covered the weeds in black plastic sheeting to encourage a faster death rate.  We have found that black plastic is best for solarization because it is best at trapping the heat and does not quickly break down.  White or clean plastic can also be used, but in our collective experience black plastic is best; the thicker the better.  White plastic is blinding in the sun and does not attract as much heat, and the clear plastic tends to degrade too fast and leave trashy plastic strips around your garden/yard.   

Depending on the size and location of your weed pile, solarization usually takes a few weeks to work, generally 3-10 weeks.  To speed up the process create your pile in an area that gets a lot of direct sun throughout the day and use landscape staples or rocks and bricks to hold the plastic down and restrict airflow.  After the solarization is complete, there will be no live plant matter left.  The dead plant matter can then be added to your compost pile as carbon.

So, all in all, weeds are pesky, but not something to get grumpy about.  With a little foresight, planning, and work you can use the weeds to your advantage.  Through solarization, composting and mulching, Mulberryweed and other invasives can be turned from a nuisance and a landscape liability into an asset in the form of carbon for your compost if you use some elbow grease, sunlight and patience to cook it down.


Beech Hollow Community Gardens

Get Involved!

Cub Scout Troop # 586 removing invasive plants and weeds.

Cub Scout Troop # 586 removing invasive plants and weeds.

Native bee on Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.

Are you interested in being part of an amazing and like-minded group of volunteers to do work in restoring our local habitat?  Join the Beech Hollow Community Gardens group to get the latest updates and details about upcoming volunteer days at local Atlanta area community parks and gardens.  This group will help create fellowship and connections between our native plant loving friends and local native plant community gardens.  Together, we will work in public and community gardens, public parks, and other public green spaces, to establish pollinator gardens, install native plants, remove harmful invasive species, beautify with native wildflowers and shrubs, and restore the health of our neighborhood habitats.  Let’s all come together to get our public green spaces back into shape and make our city pollinator friendly again!

Each posted volunteer day will run from 9 am to 12 noon, and will start with a bit of learning about native plants and their natural communities.  We will learn about which plants provide larval host support for butterflies, which plants have nectar and pollen for native bees, and which plants provide important forage and shelter for migratory birds. We will also touch on the history of the native plant garden with its human community! After that info warm up, we will weed, mulch and plant as the volunteer day allows.

There is a nice colony of Crested Iris in the garden, Iris cristata.

If you want to get involved, keep up to date with the latest volunteer opportunities, check out past and future projects and connect with other volunteers, visit

Just to give a little head’s up on some upcoming volunteer days, we will be at Freedom Park Bird & Butterfly Garden in Freedom Park on:

August 10th to tidy up for upcoming Audubon Garden tour. 

October 12th  is a very exciting work day, we will be laying out a garden expansion for the bird and butterfly garden! 

On November 9th, we will be working with Cub Scout troop #586 do some weeding and take advantage of Fall’s excellent planting conditions to install some new native plants in Freedom Park Bird & Butterfly Garden at Freedom Park.