Learn how to create a garden to benefit ALL pollinators and beneficial insects.
I hope your Memorial Day Weekend was relaxing and enjoyable. I spent much of mine in our gardens. One of the tasks I addressed follows. There’s still time. Read on!
Years ago Flora for Fauna owner Karen Williams shared some sage advice about maintaining one of my favorite native perennials, New England Aster, and I’m about to share it with you. Though this post is for folks with plants that are several years old and flourishing, not for brand, spanking new plants that have just been put into the ground this year.
NEW ENGLAND ASTER
2 HAIR CUTS: Memorial Day & 4th of July
New England Aster can get very tall and top heavy by the time it blooms in the fall. And the last thing any of us want is for its lovely spread of glowing purple flowers, nectar, and joy to be laying on the ground come fall.
To help it grow into a many-branched, bushy plant instead of a tall, gangly, top-heavy plant, all you need to do is to give it 2 hair cuts on or around the 1st two holidays of the growing season: Memorial Day and 4th of July. Of course these dates are not single-day events, but roughly when you want to give New England Aster its hair cuts.
As a wildlife gardener I don’t clean up and toss the cuttings, but instead leave them on the ground at the base of the plant. That way any caterpillars that went for a tumble with the cuttings can climb back onto the plant and continue to munch. Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, shares that 112 species of butterflies and moths lay their eggs on our native asters, making asters one of the TOP 20 perennials used by butterflies and moths for egg laying. Don’t be surprised if some of your cuttings take root and become additional asters!
Around Memorial Day, I cut each stem 1/2 (or 2/3) off (or about a foot or two off the top, depending on how tall it is, if that is easier for you to remember). I use big shears and just chop away. What happens next is that each cut plant stem sends up 2 or more new shoots where it has been cut, in other words it branches and becomes more bushy!
Around 4th of July, I give my plants their 2nd hair cut (not back to the 1st cut, but cutting back some of the new growth since Memorial Day). You may want to be more creative for this hair cut and cut the many stems in your plant different lengths. For instance, give the stems in the foreground more of a hair cut, the stems in the middle less of a hair cut, and the stems in the back just a little hair cut. This way your plant stems will bloom at different heights.
You may find that some plants haven’t grown as tall as others, so you may choose to pass on the 2nd hair cut for some plants. If so, you’ll find that these plants will bloom earlier. This staggers the blooming period so that you have New England Aster nectar, color, and joy far longer in your wildlife garden.
A bit more advice: once given hair cuts, New England Aster has “ugly legs.” The stems below the 1st haircut look “not so nice” . . . the leaves darken and fall off and the stems are quite bare. So you’ll want to have other perennials in the foreground blocking that view, so you’re not looking at ugly bare legs.
You can give 1-2 haircuts to some other fall-blooming perennials that grow tall and flop, so they’ll instead branch and become more bushy:
For some summer-blooming plants that grow too tall for your garden, you can give them one haircut around Memorial Day, forcing them to branch, become bushier, and bloom lower. I do this with some of my favorite summer nectar plants so that I have an easier time seeing and photographing pollinators on them:
You can always experiment on other summer and fall-blooming perennials too that have flopped in your garden. If you’re not sure how hair cuts will turn out on plants other than those I’ve mentioned, try giving a hair cut to one stem ONLY (or if you have several plants of Cut-leafed Coneflower, for example, in your garden, give one of them hair cuts so you can compare results with your uncut plants). Then see how your plant reacts and whether you like the results.
Once hooked on wildlife gardening with native plants, it can be a real challenge to find native plants. Yes a few have been mainstreamed, and the nursery down the street may carry them. But beware of cultivars of native plants. Cultivars are plants created or selected for specific characteristics such as early blooming or color, often at the expense of nectar, berries (the plants may be sterile), and sometimes even the leaf chemistry is changed so the plant can no longer be used as a caterpillar plant. We (wildlife gardeners) want the nectar, the berries, and we want the leaf chemistry intact so our butterflies can create the next generation!
Be careful too that your plants are Neonicotinoid free. Neonicotinoids are systemic (get into every part of the plant, including pollen, nectar, even dew) pesticides that are applied to many commercially-available nursery plants and are harmful to bees, caterpillars, moths, and butterflies.
Educate yourself about Neonics by reading the following:
- Xerces Society’s Protecting Bees From Neonicotinoids in Your Garden (includes list of products that have neonics in them)
- Xerces Society’s How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, the Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees (in-depth study, 2nd Edition)
- Xerces Society’s “Neonicotinoid Movement in the Environment” POSTER (how neonics move through the landscape and are being found even where they were not used)
- American Bird Conservancy’s Neonicotinoid Insecticides Harm The Little Creatures, including how 90 percent of food samples taken from Congressional cafeterias contain neonicotinoid insecticides (highly toxic to birds and other wildlife) .
HUGE IINSECT DIE-OFF / INSECT APOCALYPSE
- ‘A car “splatometer” study finds huge insect die-off’
Nov. 13, 2019, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian
Measuring how many bugs fly into car windshields might sound silly. But to scientists predicting an “insect apocalypse,” the numbers are deadly serious.
- ‘Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth, conservationists warn Feb. 12, 2020, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian
BIRDS ARE VANISHING
- “Birds are Vanishing from North America”
The number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 2.9 billion, or 29 percent, over the past 50 years (1970-2019), scientists find (Science, 2019).
- “A Neonicotinoid Insecticide Reduces Fueling and Delays Migration in Songbirds,” by Margaret Eng, Bridget Stutchbury, Christy Morrissey. Science, 13 September 2019, Vol. 365, Issue 6458, pp. 1177-1180.
WHAT WE CAN DO
Here are just a few of the things that each and every one of us can do:
- Plant NATIVES
- Leave fallen leaves on the ground: they are full of insect life, they protect tree and shrub and perennial roots, they break down and naturally nourish your soil, and they prevent erosion
- DO NOT USE Pesticides (including Organic) or Herbicides or synthetic Fertilizers
- Turn outdoor lights OFF at night (use motion sensor lights instead)
- Remove as many invasive plants as possible on your property
- Share some of your native “Chocolate Cake” perennial divisions (that are also Keystone Species: Asters and Goldenrods, for example) with others to help get them hooked
- Read and give Doug Tallamy’s books (Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope) to family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors
- Share all this with your neighbors, friends, co-workers, family
Some Sources of NATIVE PLANTS: 2020
by Patricia Sutton
click here for the 4-page printable pdf
3rd Edition (4-24-20)
The Meadow Project (“Urban and Suburban Meadows” and “Hometown Habitat” by Catherine Zimmerman) shares an excellent state-by-state “Find Native Plants” link, with many additional sources of native plants.
Be sure to also check with your state’s Native Plant Society to see if they have a list of nurseries that carry native plants. The Native Plant Society of NJ’s Native Plant Nurseries list includes the percentage of natives that each nursery carries, so you can readily see which nurseries you can let your guard down in and which you need to pay sharp attention.
To help people find the top ranked plants in their county Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, is working with National Wildlife Federation on their Native Plant Finder website. In browsing this site, there are many, many plants for my own area (Cape May County, NJ) that I have been promoting for years and know to be TOP ranked plants that are not yet included . . . so keep checking back and realize that this is a work in progress.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on their way! As of today, they’ve been seen as far north as the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
They are surging north from their wintering grounds (northern Panama and Costa Rica, north to southern Mexico). They will steadily move north with each good migration weather day, the opening of important nectar plants, and warm enough days with insect life.
The first sightings are often scouts, well ahead of the rest. When I learn of the 1st sightings in MD, DE, and PA I hang my feeders . . . so pretty soon.
You might wonder why I recommend putting out a hummingbird feeder, which is obviously an artificial nectar source. When hummingbirds arrive, my garden is still dirt! Without well-maintained feeders, “on-the-move” Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will keep going. Nothing much is in bloom.
Why More Than 1 Feeder?
I hang 7 feeders scattered around our yard, so that returning males (they migrate first) can’t take control of our whole yard. I want females to settle in too and consider nesting in our yard. I’ll space the feeders out. I put one feeder on each end of my front porch (and enjoy them from the front porch rockers). I hang one from a shepherd’s hook on our back porch, easily viewed from the kitchen and sunroom. I hang one from the arbor into our perennial garden. I hang one from a tree limb at the back of our garden. I hang one outside my office window. And I hang the last one in the back of our woods. This way females will have options, places to set up their own territory and nest in our yard, away from bossy, territorial males (who DO NOT share, even with females they’ve mated with).
The Proper Solution for a Hummingbird Feeder
The solution I use (that is most like nectar) is 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. I make a quart at a time and refrigerate what’s left. I’ll only put two ounces into each feeder in the spring (and in late fall) because use is light and the last thing any of us want to do is waste sugar water (sugar cane fields are gobbling up important habitat). I mark my calendar so that each week, like clockwork, I empty and clean the feeders with hot soapy water, then rinse them with boiling water, and then put in 2 ounces of fresh solution. NO red dye is necessary; the feeders have enough bright red parts to attract hummers and red dye is cancer causing (and outlawed in many countries). Hummingbirds have long tongues and can easily reach the 2 ounces of solution. I don’t fill the feeders with more solution until activity gets crazy once young are on the wing and during migration when so many birds are tanking up and moving through our habitat.
The site I recommended for 23 years, Hummingbirds.Net, is still available. On this site you can view 23 years of spring migration maps (1996-2018) for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but there is no live 2020 map. The creator of this great website is no longer able to maintain it because of technical (and expensive) changes (his explanation can be read at the top of the page HERE).
If you are a new wildlife gardener, be sure to also provide:
- a pesticide-free property (since hummingbirds also feast on soft-bodied insects and spiders)
- a habitat filled with native perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines that provide nectar attractive to hummingbirds from spring thru fall!
Some Sources of Native Plants in 2020
A number of native plant sales and nurseries are gearing up for 2020. Go to my recently updated list of “Some Sources of Native Plants in 2020“ to learn of reputable nurseries and sources of native plants. With the COVID-19 Health Crisis, before visiting a nursery or attending a sale CALL FIRST and/or check their WEBSITE FIRST to learn (1) if opening dates, special sales, etc. have been postponed or cancelled, (2) of special arrangements for social distancing (prepayment, curbside pickup, MAIL-ORDER options). Normally I try to feature “fund raiser” special spring sales first, but since so many have been postponed or their dates are TBA, I’ve listed nurseries with MAIL-ORDER options first.
All About Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds
When the website “Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens” was active I (and many others around the country) wrote posts for it. The website Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens is no longer, but our posts have been hosted at another site and are still available. Here are two posts I wrote about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds full of additional helpful information:
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part One: They’re Back – Originally written in May 2013; includes information about:
- my favorite hummingbird feeder (Amazon sells them, and once the Coronavirus quiets and nature centers are open, they often do too)
- spring nectar that have worked for me in the Mid-Atlantic Regiion to lure hummingbirds to settle in and nest in your yard. Some additional spring native nectar plants for the Mid-Atlantic Region, not mentioned in this 2013 post, include: Lyre-leaved Sage, Highbush Blueberry (a shrub), Red Buckeye (a shrub), and azaleas.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part Two: Summer Nectar – Originally written in late July 2013; focuses on:
- summer nectar for the Mid-Atlantic Region including many natives and a few non-natives (that are not problematic). Some additional summer and fall native nectar plants for the Mid-Atlantic Region, not mentioned in this 2013 post, include: Blazing Star, Foxglove Beardtongue, Garden Phlox, Swamp Azalea (a shrub), Turk’s Cap Lily, Horsemint, Obedient Plant (though beware, this plant is a thug and may overwhelm all other plantings in its spreading path), and Turtlehead.
- [proper feeder maintenance during the heat of summer
- the importance of insects
- places to bathe
In this “new normal” with the Coronavirus news escalating every day, please stay safe, stay home if you don’t feel well, practice social distancing, remain healthy, enjoy your wildlife gardens and spring unfolding. I know the natural world is helping keep me sane right now,
Wildlife needs are pretty basic: food, cover, and water.
FOOD needs can be met by planting (or preserving) native nectar plants and native berry-producing and seed-producing plants.
COVER is crucial so that birds and other wildlife can avoid becoming a predator’s next meal. Cover also provides safe places to nest, roost through the night, or get out of bad weather. Native evergreens like Red Cedar and American Holly offer excellent cover for wildlife. If your yard is wide open and without adequate cover, gather fallen branches and make a winter brush pile. You’ll be amazed by all the action it attracts as birds dash for the safety it offers when a hungry hawk flies through the yard. Or collect discarded Christmas trees and place them near bird feeding stations and bird baths, so that birds are not too vulnerable when they come to feed or drink or bathe. And next spring seriously consider planting a Red Cedar (or American Holly) or two or three!
Providing WATER is just as important as providing food and cover
Songbirds lose water through respiration and in their droppings. To replace lost water, most songbirds need to drink at least twice a day. In order to stay fit and healthy birds also need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition. Bathing loosens dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen. Preening is a daily ritual where birds carefully clean, rearrange, and oil their feathers (one-by-one) with their bill — spreading oil along each feather from the preen gland. This daily preening successfully waterproofs their feathers and traps an insulating layer of air underneath to keep them warm. Keeping their feathers in perfect condition through daily preening is a matter of life and death. Well maintained feathers enable birds to fly at a moment’s notice and regulate their body temperature.
Birds face difficult times when water is scarce or nonexistent during deep freezes like we experience some winters or during drought periods.
Heated Bird Bath
Providing water in the wildlife garden is something many accomplish easily spring through fall, yet fail to do once freezing winter temperatures settle in. There are solutions even in the dead of winter. A heated bird bath coupled with an outdoor socket is the key. We use an outdoor power cable to connect the two.
We’ve had our Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath (photo above) for over 20 years. The pole with its additional leg for support, when driven into the ground, is very sturdy and remains standing no matter what! In the summer months I use the same stand to hold a large plastic dish/tray (like you’d put under a large flower pot) full of gooey fruit for butterflies. So even though expensive, this heated birdbath has served me (and wildlife) very, very well. Beware that most of today’s standing heated bird bath designs are tipsy by comparison (bird baths balanced on inadequate tripod legs), looking like they’d topple over every time a frisky squirrel leaps up.
Presently the Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath is available at 3 mail order sites: Nature House and Wayfair and Amazon. Several winters ago I was alerted by a Garden Gang member who is also the owner of 3 Ace Hardware Stores in southern NJ, that they would carry it in their 3 stores for an even better price ($89.99): (1) Galloway (322 S Pitney Road; 609-748-7400), (2) Northfield (331 Tilton Road; 609-272-3132), and (3) Egg Harbor Township (2254 Ocean Heights Avenue; 609-653-8001). Give them a call to see if that is still the case this winter. Don’t assume this heated bird bath is available in all Ace Hardware Stores (call ahead if you live near a different one to see if they carry it or can get it).
Some heated bird baths rest on the ground and come with additional hardware so they can be attached to a railing like this one (photo above). If far from cover, place some cut evergreen branches nearby, as we have.
Wildlife gardening friend Jean Riling uses a Bird Bath De-icer unit to keep her bird bath water from freezing (photo below). Ecosystem Gardener Carole Brown uses a heated dog bowl.
Shy away from “artistic” bird baths that may look pretty but are not as serviceable to birds: too deep, too fragile and likely to break if they topple over, or (most important of all) are too hard to keep clean. The heated bird baths we’ve used are made of a hard black plastic material that is very easy to clean with a good scrub brush and a little muscle.
If you have a wildlife pond and are thinking of putting a de-icer into it to make that your winter water source for birds, this could lead to some serious problems. If indeed large flocks of birds descend on your pond to drink and their droppings accumulate, you could face an algae problem in your pond during the warm month fueled by all the bird droppings.
Remember, birds need cover to avoid hungry predators. Place your heated bird bath near a safe retreat like an evergreen tree or shrub or near a brush pile or, as we have, place some cut evergreen branches around it.
Stay away from chemicals! Some folks, who don’t know better, add chemicals to keep their bird bath water from freezing (like glycerine, anti-freeze, or salt). This is a death sentence for the birds. These chemicals can destroy the waterproofing capability of birds’ feathers, or poison the birds.
During lengthy periods of frozen conditions water is in such demand that heated bird baths become heavily soiled. To avoid the spread of disease, maintain your heated bird bath with care by scrubbing it out with a soft bristle brush, rinse it with fresh water to wash out any residual bird droppings, and refill it with fresh water at least once (and often twice) a day. With heavy use heated bird baths may be emptied by flocks of birds twice a day or more. We keep a jug of water handy by the backdoor to easily facilitate this task.
Beyond helping birds survive brutal winter weather, our heated bird baths give us great pleasure. We’ve had excellent looks (and photo opportunities) at some real skulkers like Hermit Thrush, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and other secretive birds not normally seen in our yard in winter.
Winter can be a stressful time for birds. Lengthy stretches of sub-zero weather can freeze solid every last bit of available water. Natural foods can be buried by snow. Heavy snow or freezing rain can creep into the deepest cover where birds are roosting.
Let’s do what we can to help birds survive a tough winter. Add a heated bird bath or two to your wildlife habitat in winter.
Now that it’s early December I’d like to share a late fall garden task for those of us living in the Northeast where winters can be harsh.
I normally try to dig up my Cannas sometime in November for the winter. This year I’m running late and ran out today before the predicted snow to do the deed. Those of you who have Cannas will want to dig them up, if you haven’t already, before it gets too cold to perform this task.
You could leave your Canna tubers in the ground, but they may rot over the winter, so it’s a lottery (you may lose them all). Some of the ones I’ve left in the ground make it through the winter (especially in a south-facing garden), but most rot. If you dig them up and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have viable tubers to plant next spring & some extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors.
Canna tubers multiply! If you planted 3 Canna tubers, don’t be surprised if they’ve multiplied into 30 Canna tubers. For about 5 years I dug up all my Canna tubers each fall. This was very labor intensive, but it enabled me to give 100s away each spring (the extras after I’d planted what I wanted).
If the task of digging them all up is just too much for you , dig up the tubers from just a few of your plants so you’re sure to have enough to plant next spring. That’s what I’ve been doing in recent years, only digging up enough for my own garden needs. My back is much happier with this decision too.
HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS
I dig my Canna tubers up in late November or early December (before the ground freezes). My step-by-step process follows:
- I cut the stems off at the ground to make the task of digging the tubers up more manageable
- I scrape away any mulch to expose all the tubers
- With a shovel or pitch fork I dig down under the tubers (starting my dig well beyond the exposed tubers and cut off stalks). I loosen the tubers and pry the enormous mass out of the ground
- You can break big ones apart into smaller and more manageable tubers
- Tap the dirt off the Canna tubers
- Place a large plastic bag in a shallow tray or a crate
- Put a layer of leaves, shredded newspaper, or pine needles in the bottom of the bag (to act as insulation against freezing)
- Lay the Canna tubers on top of the leaves, shredded newspaper, or pine needles . . . layer by layer
- Cover the top layer of Canna tubers with more leaves, shredded newspaper, or pine needles (to protect them from a brutal cold winter). Tuck more of the insulating material (leaves, pine needles) down around the edges.
- Pull the bag shut
- We put our Canna tubers in the crawl space under our house because we don’t have a garage or basement. A friend with a basement, puts hers into trash cans with leaves or shredded newspaper and keeps them in her basement. You could probably store the crate or trash can full of Canna tubers in a garage as well.
PLANTING CANNAS IN SPRING
- Once the ground is warm, plant single canna tubers here and there around the garden in spots that get full sun. They are a lovely accent in the garden. Or you might enjoy planting a border or a circular bed of them (they make a great “hide and seek” spot for kids to play in).
- Don’t plant your canna tubers too deep, otherwise they’ll take forever to peek through the soil & bloom. Simply scrape away a shallow area (not a deep hole), lay down the Canna tuber, and cover it with soil.
- One tuber will grow into several tubers (sometimes numerous tubers) and send up a number of stalks that will bloom all summer and right through late fall until the first frost, drawing in constant nectaring hummingbirds.
2019 Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden (42 Years in the Making)
Our wildlife garden has evolved over the last 42 years from a lawn and very few plantings (a Lilac bush and Day Lilies) to probably 100+ native plants and many different components (perennial garden, pocket meadow, shade trees and gardens, wildlife ponds, native woodland, living fences, etc.) that all lure in and benefit wildlife. Read this brief history to learn more.
This is the 3rd year I have led tours of my own wildlife garden for CU Maurice River, a non-profit organization (registration will be required through CU Maurice River, not through me). Sign up for the session that best fits your schedule:
As of June 21, both tours are SOLD OUT (WAIT LIST ONLY). To be added to the wait list e-mail CitizensUnited@CUMauriceRiver.org
July 13, 2019 (Saturday) — 2 tours: (1) 9:30 a.m. to Noon (Morning Session), (2) 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. (Afternoon Session) — LIMIT/tour: 20. COST/tour: $20 (CU member), $30 (nonmember). To register for this CU Maurice River trip click HERE to reserve your spot now (or) call the CU Maurice River office at (856) 395-3238. Sunday, July 14 is the Rain Date.
About the Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden in Goshen, NJ (Cape May Co.), largely a NATIVE PLANT OASIS on July 13, 2019 (Saturday)
Join me for a tour of my 42-year-old wildlife garden in Goshen (Cape May Co.), NJ. During the tour we’ll study and identify pollinators and see many “Chocolate Cake” natives (and some nonnatives that are not problematic) in action. I’ll share mistakes I have made and joys the garden has brought us. Our garden showcases many different ways a habitat can offer the basics: food, cover, and water.
Our ½ acre property was largely bare in 1977. See how it’s grown since then. We’ve planted native shade trees (from tiny 1′ tall seedlings) that today tower over the house, put in two wildlife ponds, a pocket meadow (where we previously mowed), extensive shade gardens, wildlife corridors, shrub islands, a woodland of native plants (saved from a jungle of Multiflora Rose in 2009), an extensive butterfly and hummingbird garden (also full of native bees and so many other beneficial pollinators), native nectar plants galore, an extensive array of native host plants, feeding stations, and many and different water features.
You are sure to enjoy many fun garden features and design ideas in this garden. This totally educational experience will benefit and dazzle long-time gardeners and new-to-wildlife-gardening participants alike.
I can’t wait to share my gardens with tour participants. The gardens have just burst into bloom with Beebalm, Sundrops, and Culver’s Root. Coral Honeysuckle and Coral Bells are blooming and pulling in hummingbirds. And many, many other native perennials are in bud and will be in full bloom by July 13! From now until the frost every day will be a different mix of blossoms.
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird activity is insane right now! I have a feeder outside my office window (as I write this) that entertains me non-stop as multiple hummingbirds feed (tolerating each other), while others dash in to drive them off and settle in for their own long drink. Of course we also get to enjoy them feasting on insects and nectar throughout our property.
- Our wildlife ponds were deafening this spring with Spring Peepers calling from mid-April to the end of April. S. Gray Treefrogs have been courting (i.e. calling!!!) and mating in the garden and ponds since early May. Any rainy night there is a resurgence of them. Lots of tadpoles lurk in the depths, soon to emerge. Leopard Frogs have settled in. Green Frogs will soon follow.
- Found my 1st Monarch caterpillar (it was sizable: 1/2″) on our Common Milkweed on May 26, so I obviously overlooked the egg-laying female. We’ve had several Monarchs in the garden since, including females laying eggs on June 5, 15, & 17. This morning I easily found teensy tiny Monarch caterpillars by looking for holes in milkweed leaves, peeked under the leaf, and low and behold there were was a hungry caterpillar.
- Dragonflies galore are patrolling the garden and our woods, mating and laying their eggs in our ponds. We’re finding lots and lots of exuviae on pond plants (what’s left behind when a dragonfly emerges as a winged adult from its underwater nymph life stage).
- Butterfly diversity and numbers are picking up, especially now that I have my gooey fruit dishes set up.
- PLANT IT AND THEY WILL COME, and they have! I am looking forward to sharing the joy that our garden has given us (and could give to you too if you get hooked on native plants and wildlife gardening)!
Maybe take a peak at the history of our 42-year old wildlife gardens on our website: HERE.
Before / after the garden tour you may feel inspired to add new plants to your garden . . . If so, there are 2 very close opportunities to acquire native plants:
Josh Nemeth, The Wildlife Gardener, will welcome tour participants at his nursery (behind his house) from Noon to 1 p.m. (after the morning tour) and from 4:30-5:30 p.m. (after the afternoon tour) at 795 Goshen Road, Cape May Court House, NJ 08210 (3/10 of a mile from Suttons’ Garden); firstname.lastname@example.org ; (609) 536-8036. The Wildlife Gardener cannot accept credit cards at this time, so all sales are cash or check only.
For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County
Pat and Clay Sutton’s garden during the July Tour 2014
For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County. I saw these tours as one of the best ways to “grow” more wildlife gardeners. You can see the excitement in the photo above as tour participants find, study, and share with each other butterflies, spiders, caterpillars, native bees, frogs, turtles, hummingbirds, and the beautiful nectar plants, host plants, wildlife ponds, water features, and habitats that have attracted them.
Initially I led these tours for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where I worked as the Program Director. Between 2007-2014 I led the tours for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May.
Many of the owners of these beautiful, private, wildlife gardens had taken workshops with me and / or attended these tours.
Many garden owners shared with me that a personal goal was to have their own garden included on these tours. The number of wildlife gardens grew and grew. Eventually there were so many educational gems to share that I broke Cape May County into three regions and led back-to-back tours, covering different parts of the county each day. I led these tours in July, August, and September so attendees could see first hand the different “Chocolate Cakes” in bloom month-by-month and the variety of wildlife attracted.
On the final tour, garden-owner Gail Fisher presented me with my very own Chocolate Cake made by her Mom (it was delicious).
And to further spoil us on that final September 2014 garden tour Gail Fisher served homemade Chocolate Cupcakes.
TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF PRIVATE WILDLIFE GARDENS
Many of the gardens that were included on the Cape May County tours can be seen in the photo galleries below. These photos (taken over the years) truly record the evolution of these private wildlife gardens and may give you some great ideas for your own garden.
Have you called your legislators yet?
Have you called your legislators yet about this desperately needed legislation to address invasive plants in NJ? I e-mailed each of mine (I live in District 1) via the legislative website and DID NOT get an acknowledgement. Others told me the same, that they have not heard anything back. So, I wrote snail-mail letters to each of them and called their local office today (December 4, 2018). When I asked the office staff about my concerns not being acknowledged, I was told that sometimes they get 100s or 1000s of e-mails and letters and do the best they can. Let’s hope that those 100s or 1000s of e-mails and letters they are receiving about this bill are from those of us concerned about the growing, selling, and planting of invasive plants and not from the nursery trade and Farm Bureau pleading economic hardship! If you haven’t contacted your legislators yet, it might be best to call and write via snail-mail (rather than e-mail). Let’s DO THIS!!! Details below.
November 28, 2018 — my 1st post about this:
I am writing to you about some key legislation that New Jersey desperately needs regarding the regulation of invasive plants. As a wildlife gardener and native-plant-enthusiast, the overwhelming abundance of invasive plants spreading through protected lands – plants that are still being sold at nurseries and big box stores and being planted by landscapers – is almost too much to stomach.
Two bills have been introduced to the NJ Legislature and will be discussed this term concerning the sale, distribution, and propagation of certain invasive plant species in New Jersey. In addition, each bill allows the Department of Agriculture to expand the list in the future to include invasive plants not yet listed. Also, each bill would require better labeling of invasive plants – so that consumers are warned.
Our legislators need to hear from us that we support these bills in order for these bills to have a chance to move forward and become law. They are essentially the same bill:
NJ Assembly Bill 4460 (sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. of District 7, Burlington) – Click HERE to see this bill. To TRACK this bill’s progress go to the NJ Legislature page for this bill and click “TRACK” (the 7th box under the bill name). Here is the LINK to TRACK this bill.
NJ Senate Bill 3086 (sponsored by Senator Linda R. Greenstein of District 14, Mercer & Middlesex) – Click HERE to see this bill. To TRACK this bill’s progress go to the NJ Legislature page for this bill and click “TRACK” (the 7th box under the bill name). Here is the LINK to TRACK this bill.
398 Invasive Plant Species in Cape May County
Cape May County, where I live, is the county with the highest number of invasive plant species in New Jersey with 398 species (found on thousands of sites and continuing to spread). Cumberland County has 292 invasive plant species spreading across the county.
These scary facts are from the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, which maintains EDD Maps (early detection and distribution mapping system) that show real-time tracking of invasive species occurrence. You can look up the number of invasive plants in your own County HERE . At the top of the page select “plants (only)” then scroll to the bottom of the page to see the list county-by-county. If you live in another State, select your State at the top of the page.
The spread of invasive plants is impacting our natural areas, wildlife dependent on those areas, native plants, wildlife dependent on native plants, and the very integrity of our protected lands and of our state.
On my own ½ acre property I have to remain vigilant to stay ahead of English Ivy, Burning Bush, Multiflora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, wisteria, Tartarian Honeysuckle, and many other invasives that are seeded in my yard by resident and migrating birds that have eaten their fruits elsewhere. As a long-time wildlife gardener and educator I am knowledgeable enough to recognize invasive plant seedlings. Heaven help others who are not as informed and are frequently victims, as their properties become more and more smothered by invasive plants.
Nurseries are not policing themselves; instead they are growing and selling highly invasive and problematic plants to unsuspecting members of the public and making the situation worse and worse by the day. The same is true for landscapers, who are heavily utilizing these invasives. Since the nursery trade and the landscape trade is acting irresponsibly, it is time for checks and balances to push these growers, sellers, and landscapers to be more mindful of our natural environment.
I have heard horror stories from many of you over the years. Share your personal story when you write to your legislators: (1) whether it is a back-breaking, long-term fight to keep Bamboo or English Ivy or another invasive out of your yard that keeps straying from a neighbor’s yard, (2) a landscaper you hired to put in a butterfly garden of native plants who charged you a fortune to instead plant a garden of invasives (identified as invasives by a friend after the fact), (3) or, one of my favorites, a landscaper you hired to put in a wildlife habitat of native plants and instead they planted invasives; when you questioned why they didn’t plant native plants, they said, “What? These are native, they’re everywhere!” proving they didn’t have the knowledge base to take on the job in the first place.
Protected Lands Overrun With Invasives
I take a walk nearly every day at one or another of the preserved lands near where I live: the Cape May NWR, a Nature Conservancy preserve, or one of the state Wildlife Management Areas. The spread of invasive plants at each of these areas is so disturbing that I feel like I need to take clippers along. I fear that the land managers are overwhelmed and have given up. And who could blame them? The very same invasives that are spreading across the lands they manage are still being sold in nurseries and planted on adjoining properties.
The ecological damages done by invasive, alien plants are far larger than most of us realize: fewer pollinators, fewer birds, some bird species winking out (N. Bobwhite for example), outcompeted native nectar plants and native berry-producing plants, less healthy habitats, uglier landscapes, and impenetrable lands.
What You Can Do To Help Move These NJ Bills Toward Law:
- Identify your State Senator and two Assembly Members here: Find Your NJ Legislative Representatives (click on underlined text to follow link)
- Write snail mail to both of your Assembly representatives and your State Senator (or, BETTER, phone them!) to ask that they sign on as co-sponsors. (It’s too early to urge them to vote.) Add a reason or two why you care about the bill in your own words. **** To those of you who live in District One, your support can have special impact! Your Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak is Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, where the bill is up for discussion this term. (District One: all of Cape May County; and Corbin City, Estell Manor, and Weymouth Township in Atlantic County; and Millville, Vineland, and other municipalities in Cumberland County). As Chair, it is probably inappropriate to ask Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak to co-sponsor the bill, but you can certainly urge him to push the bill forward through his committee and to the Assembly.
Thank you for caring about the natural world and its health. And thank you if you have already reached out to your representatives!
You can begin your letter to the two Assemblymen in your District, “Regarding NJ Assembly Bill 4460, I am writing to express my strong support for this bill and to urge you to co-sponsor it.” ****
You can begin your letter to the Senator in your District, “Regarding NJ Senate Bill 3086, I am writing to express my strong support for this bill and to urge you to co-sponsor it.”
Please share this with others who are as concerned as you are by the unchecked sale, planting, and spread of invasive plants across New Jersey.
It is the peak of fall migration! Any time the winds are from the Northwest, you can bet your bippy there will be birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and bats galore migrating through Cape May Point. The Monarchs will continue to migrate through all of October and, if conditions are right, even the first few days or first week of November.
October 3rd the winds were gentle from the northwest, perfect for migration, so Clay & I decided to “take our walk” at Cape May Point. We got down there and never left.
The floodgates opened and a river of Monarchs and dragonflies was flowing down the dune line, right over the dune crossovers in the town of Cape May Point. That was the place to be. A steady movement of Monarchs floated by while others nectared on the Seaside Goldenrod in the dunes. Some pulses were huge! A steady movement of dragonflies zoomed by including mostly Black Saddlebags and Common Green Darners with some Carolina Saddlebags mixed in (about 1 in every 10 saddlebags). The numbers were uncountable. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Monarchs and dragonflies. I’ve included some photos with this post to share with you the spectacle we witnessed on October 3rd, truly a day we’ll remember forever more.
Many Monarchs reach the tip of the Cape May Peninsula on winds like those that blew on October 3rd from the northwest. These winds blow migrating Monarchs out to the coast. Rather than get blown out to sea, they turn and follow the coastline south, and reach lands end, Cape May Point. On days with the right conditions (gentle winds from the northwest), numbers build and build. Sometimes we’re treated to a late afternoon and evening roost where Monarchs gather by the thousands. The next morning can be quite a spectacle, when they are warmed up by the rising sun and lift off to continue their migration.
Talking with Mark Garland, who heads up the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, he did not expect that there would be a huge roost or roosts of Monarchs the evening of October 3rd in the town of Cape May Point because it was so warm (80 degrees). He shared that those huge roosts usually form in the late afternoon on the colder days when temperatures are 50 degrees or cooler. He thought there would be lots and lots of little Monarch roosts around Cape May Point instead, with 10 Monarchs here and 10 Monarchs there. From what we hear, that was the case. We couldn’t stay that evening to see for ourselves.
We headed back down the next day, October 4th to see what was left over from the flight the day before. The winds switched in the night from northwest to south, so we weren’t expecting too much. Indeed the south winds were not bringing new Monarchs to us, but it was a beautiful day for a walk.
This fall, respond to weather predictions. If the winds are to come from the north or northwest, get to Cape May Point! Just do it!!!
If you should encounter roosts of Monarchs, please do not approach so close that you flush them. Remember that they’re holding on for their lives. The next stop is a big stretch of water and that can be treacherous for Monarchs.
There are many dune crossovers in the town of Cape May Point that take you right next to blooming nectar full of Monarchs. And there are nectar-rich stretches along the dune trails (between the dune and the Plover Ponds) in both the Cape May Point State Park and the South Cape May Meadows. All these sites offer terrific photo opportunities. Please do not leave dune crossovers and trails to venture into dunes for photos; it’s illegal for one thing and disruptive and just poor etiquette.
If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the Monarch migration, read my previous post, “Cape May Monarch Migration, Fall 2018 (click on underlined text to get to link).”
I’ve been rejuvenated and given hope, having seen this mega flight. May you too connect with one of the Monarch flights this fall.
I had so many Monarch caterpillars in my various patches of Milkweed (Butterfly Weed, Swamp Milkweed, and Tropical Milkweed) in August that they stripped some of it bare. Luckily I have a robust stand of Common Milkweed and was able to move many of the still-hungry caterpillars to that stand. I heard from many gardeners who had planted only a few milkweed plants and were unprepared for the bounty of Monarch caterpillars. Lesson: Plant More Milkweed!!!
Afterwards, I was away for a week over Labor Day running 2 butterfly counts in South Carolina (the 26th year I’ve run these counts), and when I returned the Monarch caterpillars in my garden had disappeared, hopefully to safe places where they went into their chrysalis stage.
We’re all hoping that this will be a magical fall at Cape May for Monarch migration. If yesterday (September 25) was an indicator, I think we’re in for a treat. Clay and I played hooky yesterday and walked some of our favorite spots on The Point (the southern tip of NJ): South Cape May Meadows, Cape May Point State Park, Triangle Park in the town of Cape May Point, and the streets of Cape May Point. Despite heavy rain to the north and the west, the sun came out in Cape May and the Monarchs were nectaring in force. One garden on Alexander Avenue in Cape May Point had 50 nectaring Monarchs on a breathtaking stand of Late-flowering Thoroughwort.
Some falls I and others have enjoyed seeing 100s (some years 1000s) of Monarchs roosting together in the dunes at Cape May Point or in trees in certain yards. Some of these roost sites are used fall after fall. The dune crossover by St. Peter’s By the Sea Church at the intersection of Ocean and Harvard Avenues in Cape May Point is often good. Sometimes on a good flight day, when 100s or 1000s of Monarchs are being blown out to the coast and south to Cape May Point, by late afternoon (2:30 or 3 p.m.) they begin to gather in sheltered spots, where they will spend the night communally. You can view them that evening or early the next morning before the sun hits them and warms them up enough to take off and continue their migration.
If you would like to keep your finger on the pulse and not miss a big movement of Monarchs at Cape May or an evening roost (or soon-after-dawn departure from that roost), here are a few tips. Follow the Cape May Bird Observatory’s “Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project” at these 3 sites (click on the underlined text / link to reach these sites):
- Monarch Monitoring Project BLOG (updated almost daily in Sept & Oct)
- Monarch Monitoring Project Facebook Page: “Cape May Monarchs”
- Monarch Monitoring Project (primary site with in-depth information)
When you read the Blog, be sure to scroll back and read the September 16th post, “Don’t Bring Monarchs to Cape May.” Share with friends who have either transported Monarchs to Cape May or plan to do so.
This fall there are some great opportunities to learn about migrating Monarchs from the folks studying them. Don’t miss:
MONARCH TAGGING DEMO
Fridays, Saturdays, & Sundays: September 7 to October 14
(weather permitting) 2:00 pm – 2:45 pm
Meets at the East Shelter next to the Hawkwatch Platform at Cape May Point State Park. Join CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project naturalists to learn about the Monarch butterflies that migrate through Cape May. You’ll learn how you can help with Monarch conservation. After the talk, watch as small tags are affixed to Monarchs to track their migration. No preregistration necessary. Family-friendly. Cost: FREE.
MONARCH MONITORING PROJECT DROP-IN
September 10 through October 25
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays only
1:00 – 1:30 pm
Stop by Triangle Park, at Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point to learn about the Monarch Monitoring Project. The team may be tagging monarchs, tending to the gardens that support the monarchs, or engaged in other project activity. No reservations needed for this free program, but contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project are welcome.
2nd ANNUAL MONARCH FESTIVAL
Sunday, October 7
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
At the Nature Center of Cape May (1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ). The festival will include educational programs, butterfly tagging demonstrations, children’s crafts, along with music and food! Join in the celebration and learn why this area is so special to the migration of the butterflies and what you can do to help conserve wildlife. Suggested $5 donation to support the nature center programs throughout the year. Call the NCCM at 609-427-3045 with any questions about the festival.
Enjoy this fall’s Monarch migration!