Gardening For Birds
Horticulture Chairman, Jerry Weise, has shared two articles written by Laura Courtney of the Camellia Garden Club of Greater Charleston
Leaf Litter is for the Birds!
Leaves, easily turned into protective mulch, soil-enhancing leaf mold or rich compost, are the fall season’s gift to the composter. After the last tomatoes are picked, and annuals and perennials have died back, nature provides a bounty that assures the next year’s crops will have the best soil possible. Let your non-gardening neighbors curse autumn’s raking tasks. Composters realize that the piles of leaves will produce mineral-rich organic material that trees graciously shed just for them.
I always have more trouble finding ‘brown’ than ‘green’ for my compost piles so I look forward to fall leaves. This year I raked leaves several times and stored them in lawn bags until I had 4 very full bags. Then using our mulching mower with the bag attached my husband mulched all the leaves and then distributed then between my two compost bins.
I don’t rake and mulch all of the fall leaves. I have several areas in my garden where I let the leaves stay where they fall, they are part of my wildlife habitat. Leaf litter may be simple, but it can easily meet all of a bird’s basic needs. In many communities, this material is collected and discarded every autumn to keep landscaping “neat” but leaf litter is vital to birds’ habitat and needs.
* Food: Many insects, including flies and spiders, thrive on leaf litter, and insect-eating birds can feast on the bounty. Other small creatures such as earthworms, salamanders and toads also enjoy leaf litter and can be food for birds, as can the berries, fruits and nuts that collect with the leaves. Some birds, such as jays, will also cache seeds and nuts in leaf litter for later use.
* Water: The moisture that collects in fallen leaves can be an important water source for ground-dwelling birds. If enough water collects, the birds may drink from puddles in the leaves, and many birds will bathe in the dew that collects on leaf litter.
* Shelter: Leaf litter provides important shelter and camouflage for ground birds while they are roosting or foraging. This helps protect the birds from predators, and a layer of leaf litter can provide insulation against storms and temperature changes that can be fatal to exposed birds.
* Nesting Sites: Ground nesting birds choose areas rich in leaf litter to raise their young because of the shelter and food available in the fallen leaves. Many other bird species will pick through leaf litter for nesting materials such as twigs, leaf stems and mosses.
In North America alone, more than 120 birds have been observed feeding in or otherwise making use of leaf litter.
Some of the most popular species that depend on fallen leaves for rich food sources include:
* Common yellowthroats and other ground warblers
* Dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned sparrows and other ground feeding sparrows
* Towhees, including the spotted, eastern and green-tailed species
* Northern mockingbirds
* Jays, crows, and ravens, that eat insects and cache nuts
* Large thrushes such as the American robin, hermit thrush and veery
* Game birds such as wild turkeys, quail and pheasants
Additional Leaf Litter Benefits
In addition to being useful to birds, leaf litter also has other great benefits.
* Cost: Instead of buying mulch and fertilizer, leaf litter can be used as free, natural soil supplements for gardens, flower beds and landscaping.
* Ease: Save hours of labor involved in raking and disposing of leaf litter by simply letting it decay naturally.
* Insulation: Leaf litter will insulate and nourish the roots of plants and trees, keeping them healthier and stronger.
* Environmentally Friendly: Thousands of tons of decaying leaves are added to landfills every year, but using leaf litter instead helps recycle material naturally.
With benefits to birds, landscaping and the environment, leaf litter is a valuable material that will attract birds, meet their basic needs and encourage them to stay in bird-friendly landscaping.
‘MAHOGANY SPLENDOR’ HIBISCUS
Until I got my greenhouse I had given up on growing tropical hibiscus in my garden, it was too much trouble. The joy of growing a potted hibiscus all summer long doesn’t make up for the stress at the end of the season caused by deciding between attempting to overwinter it inside or putting them on the compost pile. Now that I am able to overwinter small potted plants and grow cuttings in my greenhouse I can once again enjoy them in my yard.
One of my favorite is ‘Mahogany Splendor’ Hibiscus.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus Acetosella Mahogany Splendor) –
If you have never grown Hibiscus from seeds, then let this be your first time! This tropical plant shoots up in no time, adds color to the garden for months, and needs almost no care to keep it happy. Grow this Hibiscus seed and you have got one of the showiest red-leaf plants available.
Not only is the dark color of ‘Mahogany Splendor’ beautiful, with their deeply lobed leaves and their serrated edging it has mistaken for a Japanese maple. This hibiscus is suppose to be heat and drought tolerant, and in full sun develop the dark purple coloring to their leaves. But it will thrives in a wet spot as well.
I’ve found ‘Mahogany Splendor’ hibiscus is not winter hardy in our area, though some info on the plant says it is hardy between Zones 7-11 where it dies back to the ground and emerges again in the spring. Perhaps if it is grown in a very protected spot on on a barrier Island it might come back, but so far, it has not come back for me living more inland.
It can grow from 3-6 feet tall. I’ve found it needs much pruning during the growing season to keep it from getting too leggy and flopping over. (this is a good time to take cuttings.) It does bloom with flowers as dark as its leaves, but blooms very late. Often a frost or freeze will kill it with unopened buds still on the plant.
If you’ve ever wanted the look of a Japanese maple but don’t have the space or don’t want to spend the money for a Japanese Maple check out ‘Mahogany Splendor’ hibiscus.
(Photo from my plant that started blooming last week and still has some flowers blooming this week.)
Gardening Can Be Scratchy
How many times while walking around your yard have you reached down to tweak out a weed and encountered an unseen brier? Or been harvesting berries (dewberries, blackberries, raspberries) and run afoul of their prickles? Or tending the roses without wearing gauntlets and been stabbed by their thorns? Ouch! Usually such experiences remind us why we bought those gardening gloves in the first place and vow to use them but have no further ill effects.
Sometimes, though, a scratch from a rose thorn can produce an infection called rose scratch fever or Sporotrichosis. The infecting organism is the fungus Sporothrix schenkii and before modern diagnostics and antibiotic medicines were developed this fever could be fatal. A gardening friend suffered for months with a case of rose scratch fever before it was correctly diagnosed and treatment was successful.
So last May I was watching the Kentucky Derby winner being draped with the traditional ‘blanket of roses’ and I wondered how that beautiful and valuable horsehide was protected from errant scratches. Obviously all thorns would be removed. Then I wondered about the construction of that floral symbol of victory so similar to the Greco-Roman laurel wreath for champion athletes. Here are a few interesting facts from my research.
Roses were presented to all the ladies at a fashionable Louisville Derby party and were such a hit that the president of Churchill Downs, Col. Lewis Clark, adopted the rose as the race’s official flower. The garland first appeared in 1896 when the winning horse, Ben Brush, received an arrangement of pink and white roses.
The red rose became the official flower of the Derby in 1904. In 1925, New York sports columnist Bill Corum called the Kentucky Derby the ‘Run for the Roses’. The name stuck and in 1932 the garland as it still is today was placed on Burgoo King, the winner of the 58th running.
The garland consists of more than 400 Freedom red roses and is sewn into a green satin backing with the seal of the Commonwealth on one end and the twin spires and number of the running on the other. The Derby garland is 122 inches long, 22 inches wide and weighs about 40 pounds. Each rose stem is inserted into its own water vial hidden in the backing. All of this is carefully hand-sewn into place on a bed of thornless greenhouse foliage. The garland is also adorned with a crown of roses, green fern and red ribbons featuring a single rose standing upright surrounded by the same number of roses as thoroughbreds running in the current race. The single rose symbolizes a champion rising above the rest.
The winning jockey is presented with a bouquet of 60 long stemmed roses wrapped in 10 yards of ribbon. (No scratches there.)
Since Grindstone’s victory in 1996 the garland has been taken to Danville, KY to be freeze-dried and so preserved for the winner’s owner.
The first garland of roses was designed by florist Grace Walker of Louisville in 1932 at the request of Churchill Downs. She designed another 34 garlands for the Derby. To honor her memory Kroger (yes, the grocery store!) floral designers faithfully follow Walker’s last design, completed in 1967. The work begins on the garland Friday night, Derby Eve. The public is invited to watch the designers work from 4pm to 11pm though the work continues on into the night. The completed garland is displayed until 8:30 am and then it and the jockey’s bouquet are transported to the racetrack with a police escort!
Jerry W. Weise, GCSC, Inc. Horticulture Chairman
Finally a bit of warmth and drier weather has come our way. Gardeners are itching to get outside and begin the spring clean-up and planting. As gardeners we know to be wary of deciduous vines we can’t identify because poison ivy and oak can cause more grief than just an itch. As well as protecting ourselves and families from poisonous plants we need to keep our pets safe, preventing poisonings. An excellent article ran in the Post and Courier on 3/7/2014. Following are some facts I learned from this article.
Many human medications are toxic to both dogs and cats; anti-inflamatory drugs like ibuprofen and Tylenol, O.T.C. cough/allergy medications, ADD-ADHD medications. Make certain you store pet medications in a different place than your own.
Common substances toxic to dogs are chocolate (with dark chocolate being most toxic so beware where you put the Easter candy), artificial sweetener xylitol, rat poisons, glucosamine joint supplements and silica gel packs used to absorb moisture.
Toxic to cats are lilies and plants containing calcium oxalate crystals such as philodendron.Lilium speciosum var. rubrum Cats like to chew on plants but very small ingestions of 2 or 3 petals or leaves or even pollen licked off a cat’s fur can result in severe potentially irreversible kidney failure. The lily species to keep away from your cats are tiger, day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese show. Additional common houseplants dangerous to cats are cyclamen, Kalanchoe species, Dieffenbachia (known also as ‘Dumbcane’ because it paralyzes the vocal cords if chewed), daffodils and lily of the valley.
Human foods harmful to dogs are sugarless gum and candies sweetened with xylitol which can be life-threatening even in small amounts. Also toxic to dogs are macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes, garlic, onions, yeast-based dough and table salt.
Be safe and keep your pets safe. They can jump/climb onto counters and tables so keep household cleaners, insecticides, jewelry, 7-day pill cases, glow sticks and yes, ladies, your purses stored in tightly closed cabinets.
A recently produced video titled “Handbag Hazards” is available at www.petpoisonhelpline.com/Ask-the-Vet-Videos
Enjoy Spring Gardening!
“A Little Latin Goes a Long Way”
Common names of plants can vary from region to region and different plants can bear the same moniker. The binomial or botanical name eliminates this confusion. The first part of the name is the genus which names a group of plants that share a wide range of characteristics. The second name is the species or specific epithet. (When I was a kid reading books from the adult section of the public library I thought that meant a curse word!) It actually means an identifying trait or fact about a plant.
Most of you know the most frequently occurring epithets like alba (white), contorta (twisted), or rubra (red). You can sleuth out the meanings of many more by thinking of a related English word. Your dentist would recognize dentata as ‘toothed’ (like many oak leaves). Speaking of oaks, their genus is Quercus so does ‘Oakleaf’ Hydrangea’s name, Hydrangea quercifolia now make sense? Folia is the root word for foliage so longfolia means having long leaves. Perforate you know so perfoliata meaning ‘though the leaves’ makes sense.
Opposite leaves are actually joined with the stem running through them, as in the bloom bearing stem of our native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens or Coral Honeysuckle or Woodbine, to quote a few common names. Guess what erecta means?!! The US Marines’ ‘Semper Fi’, short for ‘Semper Fidelis’ or always faithful is a well known slogan. So sempervirens is an identifier for an evergreen.
GCSC, Inc. Horticulture Chairman Jerry W. Weise
Information given at GCSC, Inc. Board meeting on June 6, 2013
(and not so trivial information)
reported at the GCSC, Inc. State Convention
on April 26, 2013.
Research in plant DNA frequently causes botanists to re-classify a plant’s genus. Coleus has been re-named. The genus is now Plectranthus so Flower Show schedules and entry cards should read Plectranthus scutellarioides. The common name continues to be coleus, which may appear in schedules or on entry cards in addition to the genus, species and cultivar. For example: Plectranthus scutellarioides ‘Bronze Pagoda’ (coleus).
Lady GaGa now has a fern named for her. Don’t you love researchers with a sense of humor? They found one part of the fern’s genome sequence was GaGa! As our former GCSC President Maida Dantzler quipped, it is easier to say than guanine adenine guanine adenine!
Dolly Parton has gotten into the act. Collaborating with her uncle Bill Owens, country music singer/songwriter, she has immortalized the comeback of the chestnut tree. The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was nearly wiped out in the 1900’s by a fungal blight from Asia. Thanks to the long years of breeding efforts by the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), fungal resistant trees have been created. This valuable source of lumber and forage for wildlife and humans was and is important to the Smoky Mountains area and throughout Appalachia. The recently released song “Oh, Chestnut Tree” spreads awareness of the near extinction of this magnificent forest giant and its comeback. For a free download of the song and to learn more about ACF, go to www.acf.org
Tulips In the Tropics?
This query was passed along to me as Horticulture Chairman for The Garden Club of SC.
Because we do not have the necessary chill and cold soil temps, most of SC treats tulips as annuals. Plant your bulbs immediately! Hopefully you will get a few blooms. I, too, love tulips and long for the yearly bloom and multiplying I got from my bulb garden in Ohio. I have decided not to spend my $ on tulips in this warm soil of Mt. Pleasant.
Narcissus thrive, especially if in a well drained soil, and bloom profusely each year. The beloved daffodils (yellows, peaches, Pheasant’s Eye, etc.) will give you multiple years of bloom but I have found that most eventually succumb to our hot and moist soil. Mid to upstate where soils are cooler and have more clay content have better survival rates.
Right plant, right place is good advice. We have many bulbs that produce beautiful blooms but it takes a readjustment of timing in your thinking when moving to the south. Glads are corms that can be planted in spring for early bloom, late spring for summer bloom and in August for fall bloom. Daylillies thrive here. Iris species produce fabulous blooms (bearded, Japanese near a pond, Louisiana in a damp area). The Dutch iris prefer cooler summer soils than the Lowcountry affords so they usually only repeat one or two years.
Lycoris or Spider Lillies come in shades of red, orange and ivory and they reliably bloom each fall, have green foliage all winter, disappear in summer and multiply almost like rabbits.
Another great bulb for our coastal gardens is the Crinum. This huge bulb almost grows above ground. Leaves are 2-4 feet long and bloom stalks with multiple flowers of white, pink tones to bright reds can stand 3-4 feet tall. Amaryllis bulbs will also survive our hot summers and reliably bloom for years in the garden.
I miss the spring bloom of lilacs and peonies but would not trade my camellias, the south’s ‘winter rose’, for all the tea in China! Enjoy the thrill of exploring new plants.
Jerry Weise, Horticulture Chairman
When Do I Prune Hydrangeas?
First, what species of hydrangea do you have? The four most commonly grown are: Hydrangea macrophylla, the Mopheads and Lacecaps; H. arborescens, the best known variety is ‘Annabelle’; H. paniculata, the PeeGee/Limelight types; H. quercifolia.
Hydrangeas that bloom in shades of blue, mauve, purple and pink are H. macrophylla. White blooms could be any hydrangea. Blooms of Oakleaf are white and cone shaped and the large leaves are shaped like red oak leaves. H. paniculata (PeeGee) is the only hydrangea that can be pruned and trained into a tree form. PeeGees prefer cooler weather than our coastal area, flourishing in the mountains and piedmont areas. H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ has very large white blooms made up of tiny individual blossoms that open green, turn white for 2-3 weeks and slowly turn green again.
Prune Mopheads, Lacecaps and Oakleaf hydrangeas in the summer only before August. This timing is for hydrangeas that bloom on old wood, or growth that occurred before the current season. Like azaleas and camellias these plants set buds for next year’s bloom in August to October. If pruned in fall, winter or spring the season’s blooms are lost. Dead stems may be removed anytime. Dead blossoms may be cut off with short stems to make the plant neat. For better air circulation and to revitalize the shrub about 1/3 of the living stems may be cut to the ground each summer on older (at least 5 years old) plants.
Annabelle and PeeGee types bloom on new wood so they can be pruned anytime except spring for Annabelles and summer for PeeGees because they are readying for bloom then.
Jerry Weise GCSC Horticulture Chairman