Learn How to “Garden for LIFE” with Doug Tallamy, Atlantic City, NJ, on Mon., March 11 (7 pm)

Hi Gang,

All too often gardening is one-dimensional and focused simply on creating a tidy, pretty space.  Learn how important it is to garden and landscape with native plants (they are beautiful too) so that butterflies, moths, birds, and all the creatures that bring us joy can survive and flourish.

Just about everyone knows that Monarchs need to lay their eggs on Milkweeds.  That is true of so many of our butterflies and moths; they need a specific native plant to lay their eggs on to create the next generation.  Otherwise they will “wink out.”  Landscapes of Crape Myrtle (native to China and Korea), Bradford Pear (native to China and Vietnam), Forsythia (native to China), Hastas (native to China, Japan, and Korea),  Burning Bush (native to northeast Asia), Norway Maple (native to Europe and western Asia), etc. might as well be plastic to our native butterflies and moths, a dead end for their future.

Learn how simple it is to change the course of dwindling bird, butterfly, and moth numbers by gardening for LIFE with native plants.  Learn from the guru who has taught so many so much, Doug Tallamy: Entomologist, professor at the University of Delaware, and author of three  highly educational, eye-opening, and award-winning books.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Doug Tallamy speak.  Too, please spread the word.  Let’s grow our numbers!   He is coming to Atlantic County (Atlantic City, NJ) the evening of March 11th to share his program, “Nature’s Best Hope.”  DO NOT MISS IT!!!  Bring your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and your landscaper (so you can speak the same language)!  Details follow:

Monday, March 11, 2024
7:00 – 8:30 pm

Doug Tallamy to present “Nature’s Best Hope”

WHERE: Stockton University Atlantic City Campus
Fannie Lou Hamer Event Hall
3711 Atlantic Avenue
Atlantic City, NJ   08401

Admission is FREE; but REGISTRATION is required by clicking HERE

Hosted by the Absecon Island Green Team, Ventnor Green Team, Sustainable Margate, Atlantic City Green Team, Sustainable Downbeach

Copies of Doug Tallamy’s books will be available
for purchase & signing (cash & checks will be accepted)

Plan to attend this exciting event featuring Doug Tallamy, a renowned expert in conservation and ecology. Discover how you can make a positive impact on nature right in your own backyard.  Doug is the inspiration behind reintroducing native trees and plants to repopulate the dwindling bird and pollinator populations. Doug is a dynamic speaker and explains the functionality of native landscaping as opposed to non functional conventional landscapes. The presentation ifs free thanks to the many sponsors who have generously contributed to this event.  Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the best in the field and become a champion for the environment. Mark your calendars and get ready to be inspired!

BIO:  Doug Tallamy is the T. A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 111 research publications and has taught insect-related courses for 41 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His books include Bringing Nature Home, The Living Landscape, co-authored with Rick Darke, Nature’s Best Hope, a New York Times Best Seller and The Nature of Oaks, which won the American Horticultural Society’s 2022 award. In 2021 he cofounded Homegrown National Park with Michelle Alfandari. His awards include recognition from The Garden Writer’s Association, Audubon, The National Wildlife Federation, Allegheny College, Ecoforesters, The Garden Club of America and The American Horticultural Association.

Doug Tallamy’s book, Nature’s Best Hope, planted the idea of Homegrown National Park.  I’ve entered my half acre wildlife habitat to the HNP map.  Have you?  Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Doug Tallamy speak in person and have your questions answered!

Pat

Water in the Winter Wildlife Garden

Heated bird baths are life savers during wicked winter weather, and that has finally come our way.  Have you set up one or two or three to provide birds with drinking and bathing water through snow storms and stretches where all natural water sources are frozen solid?  If not, read on!

Mourning Dove and Brown Thrasher at our heated bird bath

 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.

Two of our brush piles near feeding station to provide important winter cover

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, American Holly, and Waxmyrtle 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 Waxmyrtle) 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.

E. Bluebirds were drawn to our heated bird bath on January 5, 2016, when the temperature was 11 degrees F.

Birds face difficult times when water is scarce or nonexistent during deep freezes like have experienced this week and will undoubtedly face again this winter 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 cord to connect the two.

We’ve had our Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath (photo above) for over 25  years.  The pole with its additional leg for support, when driven into the ground, makes this birdbath very sturdy so it 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.

As of January 20, 2024,  the Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath is available at 1st State Seed Garden Supply (best price, $15 less than other sites) and at  Nature HouseBest NestAmazon,  Freeport Wild Bird Supply,  Feed the Birds, Walmart, and probably elsewhere.

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.

Garden Gang member Steve Mattan shared that he uses a special plug to control when his heated bird bath turns on and off (the plug / thermostatically controlled outlet powers ON at 32-Degrees and OFF at 50-Degrees ).  How cool is that?  Clay & I unplug our extension cord when it’s warm and plug it back in when temperatures drop, but this special plug can save the day if you’re not paying attention.

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

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, their droppings will accumulate in your pond and you could face an algae problem during the warm month fueled by all these 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.

Hermit Thrush at our heated bird bath

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.

Gray Catbird at our heated bird bath

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.

Canna – fall care & winter storage (plus Host Plant for Brazilian Skipper)

My garden is largely made up of natives, but I love hummingbirds and they love Cannas.  I have added some non-native hummingbird favorites, as long as they are not problematic (invasive) and Cannas fit that category.  They bloom all summer and fall until the first frost.

Those of you with Cannas will want to dig up their tubers, if you haven’t already, before the ground freezes hard.  I normally dig mine up  sometime in November or December for the winter.  This year I just tackled the task on January 6th.  If you haven’t done so yet, use a mild day to get this task done before winter sets in.

If the task of digging them ALL up is just too much for you (as it is for me) , dig up just enough tubers (from just a few of your plants) so you’re sure to have enough to plant in all your favorite spots next spring (where tubers you left in the ground rotted over the winter).  Now that I’ve grown older and wiser, that’s what I do and my back is much happier with this decision.

You could leave your Canna tubers in the ground, but some, if not all of them, may ROT over the winter.  I’ve found that most of the Cannas growing in a sheltered, south-facing garden in my front yard survive the winter and resprout nicely each spring.  So I leave those in the ground and the bulk of them survive.  But nearly all the Canna tubers in my backyard gardens rot over the winter, so those are the ones I dig up each late fall / early winter.   If you do dig up Canna tubers and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have viable tubers to plant the following spring plus many extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Canna tubers multiply!   The other day when I dug up 7 Canna tubers I’d planted spring of 2023, my wheelbarrow filled with 50-60 tubers.  Yes, while tapping them on my wheelbarrow to get all the embedded dirt off, many broke into pieces, but that’s OK!.  Each will produce Cannas in spring when planted.

Tubers dug up from only 7 plants

HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS

I dig my Canna tubers up in late November or December, or some years later (before the ground freezes).  My step-by-step process follows:

This is what Cannas look like after the first frost, browned and limp, no longer green
  • 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
By fall, one small tuber planted in spring has multiplied into a sprawling array of tubers
  • With a shovel or pitch fork I dig down under the tubers (placing my shovel well outside the exposed tubers).  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 dry leaves, shredded newspaper, or dry pine needles in the bottom of the bag (to act as insulation against freezing)
  • Lay the Canna tubers  on top

  • Cover the top layer of Canna tubers with more dry 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.
We’ve recycled a friend’s grape tray (that he gave us after wine making) and use it to contain our bag of tubers nestled in pine needles. It is shallow so we can easily slide it into our crawl space under the house

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 a thin layer of 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. 
  • Over the course of the growing season I regularly deadhead spent flowers, careful not to cut off the next bud.

BRAZILIAN SKIPPER

Between 2018 and 2021, there were quite a few Brazilian Skippers sightings in southern NJ, well north of their normal range (but zero sightings in 2022 and 2023).  Brazilian Skippers lay their eggs on Canna leaves to create the next generation.  Many of us with Cannas had an opportunity to study the entire life cycle of this cool southern butterfly.  The eggs are creamy white and often laid here and there (as a single egg) on top of Canna leaves.  Once the caterpillar hatches it makes its way to the edge of a Canna leaf, makes two cuts (or chews), folds the bit of leaf in between over, zippers it shut with silk, and hides inside.

If and when we have another good Brazilian Skipper year, look for these tell tale folded over leaf edges to find your first Brazilian Skipper caterpillars.  Monitor their growth and you’ll be sure to also find their large chrysalis.  Be careful not to be too nosy, or you may attract predators to the Brazilian Skippers’ hidey hole.

If you live in southern New Jersey, like me, report your Brazilian Skipper sightings to the South Jersey Butterfly B/Log.  It’s fun to see the history of their occurrence in southern NJ on this website.  If you live in northern New Jersey, report them to the NABA North Jersey Butterfly Club Recent Sightings page.  If you live elsewhere, report them to the North American Butterfly Association’s Recent Sightings page.

Happy Gardening,

Pat

Leave the Leaves

It is common sense to LEAVE THE LEAVES.  After all, no one rakes them up in the wild.  When we walk a nature trail through a natural area, we do not need to fight our way though mountains of leaves, do we ? !  “Let Nature be the Guide,” Larry Weaner‘s mantra, is spot on when it comes to leaving the leaves.

If you like birds, leaf litter is your friend.  Our leaf litter strewn property is a mecca for birds year round, including winter.  We’ve hosted several American Woodcock each winter.  No matter how severe the winter is, they’ve been able to probe down through our abundant leaf litter into the thawed ground under this thermal blanket of leaves and find one earthworm after the next.   Frozen hard raked bare properties are devoid of feeding opportunities for American Woodcock or American Robins. Too, many normally secretive birds like Hermit Thrush settle in to our yard and are regulars in garden corners with abundant leaf litter.  It is great fun to watch them kick and toss leaves aside to find snack after snack.

I had great fun working on and researching this topic for a program that I’ve given a number of times now.  It has triggered so many “Ah HA!” moments from  audiences and I pray resulted in many more leaves left to do their job.

In this post I have shared the excellent resources that helped me and can help anyone and everyone understand the value of fallen leaves.  Read them, study up, digest the information, value and cherish fallen leaves as much as I do, and join those of us working to educate others.

First you’ll want to read Doug Tallamy’s book, The Nature of Oaks.  This book richly covers the benefits of oaks and all their leaf litter.  If you’ve never heard Doug Tallamy speak about this topic, attend a presentation or google “Doug Tallamy Youtube Nature of Oaks” and watch one of his presentations that occurred in your region.  Be sure to listen until the Q&A session when attendees ask the very questions on your mind, like “But, what am I to do with all my Oak leaves?”  “Won’t they kill my grass?”  etc.

My own woods have very few large oaks.  But since we cleared out the invasives (Multiflora Rose and Japanese Honeysuckle) in 2009, many many Southern Red Oaks and 5 Willow Oaks have been planted there by Blue Jays.  Some of these oaks are taller than me now.  I look forward to mountains of oak leaves as these oaks mature.   The deciduous trees and shrubs of my woods (Common Persimmon, Black Cherry, Black Locust, Black Walnut, Sweet Gum, Red Maple, Dwarf Hackberry, Winged Sumac, Arrowwood Viburnum) all produce leaves that break down quickly.  Doug Tallamy shares that oak leaves take longer than other leaves to break down (3 years) and that is why oak leaves are so beneficial and support so much life!

So, each fall around late October and early November I carve out time to visit cul-de-sacs near me looking for mountains of oak leaves that have been raked to the curb to be carted away like trash.  I take empty trash cans, a rake, and garden gloves.  I can fit 3 trash cans into my car.  So far this fall (2023), I’ve collected 9 trash cans of oak leaves (3 runs).  I use them to bury my woodland spring ephemeral areas with oak leaves.  Since I’ve been doing this I haven’t had to weed my woods in the spring.  My spring ephemerals easily bust through the leaves, while weeds can not.  It is a win win.  I have to hurry though, the township leaf collecting vehicles are due any day.  If you like this idea, be cautious and selective; i.e. collect leaves from yards with large oaks and do not collect leaves from yards with problematic invasives that you could be bringing in to your own yard via seed heads.

While you’re at it, read all 3 of his books.  They will change your life.

Since Doug Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, he has shared the top native plants used by butterflies and moths as host plants to create the next generation. Tallamy refers to these plants as the “Keystone Native Plants.”  He is partnering with other organizations, like National Wildlife Federation, to share Keystone Native Plant information across the country.

For an annotated list of the Keystone Native Plants for your area, go to the National Wildlife Federation Garden for Wildlife website.  Here you’ll find ten different “Keystone Native Plants” Ecoregion handouts (as of November 2023), with others undoubtedly planned. This plant list should be the backbone of your plantings. If you live in southern New Jersey like me, scroll down to “Eastern Temperate Forests – Ecoregion 8″ (which covers nearly all of the East).

Oaks are the top Keystone Native Plant! Then Black Cherry and Beach Plum. Then Willows. Then Birch. And so on. These are the trees that are supporting many, many hundreds of butterfly and moth species. Value these trees and their fallen leaves. You will have made your trees “Ecological Traps” if you instead rake up the leaves, bag them, and send them away (along with all the life they hold and support).

Heather Holm’s 3 books on pollinators of our native plants are beautifully illustrated and packed with natural history information, including where and how our pollinators survive the winter . . . many do so in leaf litter!

Visit Heather Holm’s website and click on the link “Plant Lists & Posters” for beautifully presented and illustrated Native Plant Lists, pollinator fact sheets, and posters, many of which are free to download.  These materials will further help you understand life cycles of our pollinators and teach others!

Also on Heather Holm’s website, click on one of her latest project “Soft Landings.”  Soft Landings is all about leaving the leaves and planting layers of diverse native plants under Keystone trees and shrubs rather than maintaining lawn that needs to be mowed.  This simple switch to gardening under your keystone trees with shade-loving perennials and understory shrubs provides safe sites where the hundreds of species of butterflies and moths using these Keystone trees and shrubs might complete their life cycle and survive when their caterpillars drop to the forest floor to pupate down in the warmth and safety of the leaves.  The downloadable free poster, “Soft Landings” tells the story beautifully. It should convert kids of all ages (yes, I’m talking about big kids too . . . adults) to leave the leaves where they fall.

The Xerces Society’s post, “Leave the Leaves,” is an excellent read addressing those fallen leaves as “free mulch” and  helping to answer questions people have, like whether or not to shred their leaves.  The Xerces Society also sells a very attractive Leave the Leaves SIGN, that might help trigger conversations with neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family, conversations that might help them “get it!” and finally understand.

One more excellent resource to better understand why you want to leave the leaves is the booklet “Life in the Leaf Litter,” by Johnson and Catley, published by the American Museum of Natural History and available on their website as a free download.

Shade Gardening in Your Leaf Litter

Once you’ve read all these terrific resources about just how important leaf litter is, begin shade gardening in leafy spaces on your property . . . in under your trees and shrubs (rather than continue to mow these areas) or along a path through your woods.

Shade-loving perennials will color your leafy spaces in the early, early spring when spring ephemerals bloom and in the fall when the many shade-loving, fall-blooming perennials bloom.  Through the summer months the fall bloomers will add a lovely layer of green to your leafy areas.

To help you along your way with SHADE GARDENING, go to my resources on this topic and learn what has survived and thrived in my shady spaces.  Remember to use as many Keystone Native Plants as possible!

Now with all the time you have available because you are NOT raking your leaves  (nor bagging them up and sending them away), dive in to all this reading and help convert others to LEAVE THE LEAVES!

I thank you and wildlife (fireflies, bumble bees, so many butterflies & moths, etc.) thanks you!!!

As I mentioned, I have an information-rich program on this topic that is illustrated with beautiful photos of so much wildlife that benefits from abundant leaf litter.  If you’d like me to share it with your group via ZOOM, contact me by replying to one of my Garden Gang alerts.

Tour of Private Backyard Habitats in Avalon, NJ, on Wed., August 9, 2023

Hi Gang,

As part of the Avalon Environmental Commission’s “Pollinator Garden Series(click on underlined text to see other programs I will be doing in Avalon in August and September) I will be leading a tour of two private backyard habitats in Avalon, NJ, next Wednesday, August 9, 2023, from 9:30 – 11:30 am.  The Avalon Environmental Commission is hosting this tour.  Donna Rothman, Chair of the Avalon Environmental Commission, will be sharing her garden on this tour.

One garden has been transitioning to native plantings for wildlife for some time.  In this garden participants will get to see some sizable native trees and shrubs that are hugely beneficial to migrant and breeding birds, as well as butterflies and moths for egg laying.  Native perennials have been added as well, including milkweed, to  beds of ornamentals.

Lisa McNichol enjoying her flourishing pollinator garden

The second garden is brand spanking new as of last May (planted May 23, 2022).  By August 2022, when only three months old, this 12′ x 25′ native plant pollinator garden was already drawing in butterflies, egg-laying Monarchs and Black Swallowtails, native bees, flies, and wasps (all beneficial pollinators), and birds.  It has been a haven and teaching garden ever since for the owners’ two grandsons as they studied the life cycles of Monarchs and Black Swallowtails.

Join me if you can.  We’ll meet at the Avalon Pollinator Garden (71st Street and Ocean Drive, Avalon, NJ) in Armacost Park, orient participants, and soon after drive (in our respective cars) to the 1st garden, then on to the 2nd garden.  Please arrive promptly (shortly before 9:30 a.m.) to be oriented for the tour and so that we can leave shortly after to have as much time as possible in the two gardens.

Tour Two Private Backyard Habitats in Avalon, NJ
with Pat Sutton and the Garden Owners
Wed., August 9, 2023 (Rain Date: August 10)
9:30 am – 11:30 am
All are welcome. FREE. No preregistration necessary.

Meet at Avalon Pollinator Garden on 71st Street and Ocean Drive in Avalon, NJ, for orientation, then participants find their way to the two private yards in Avalon.

TOO, if you haven’t marked your calendar yet, DO NOT MISS Doug Tallamy’s upcoming presentation in Avalon, NJ, on Mon., August 28, at 7:00 pm, “Homegrown National Park,” where you will learn the importance of landscaping with native plants to life itself!  Details HERE and HERE).

Learn all about our MOTTO, “Plant it, a NATIVE PLANT GARDEN, and they will come!”
Pat

Tours of CU Maurice River Gardens on Sat., July 15, 2023

Hi Gang,

In recent years CU Maurice River has been hard at work (along with terrific gardening volunteers and growing volunteers) designing and creating rain gardens and pollinator gardens with native plants.

WheatonArts Pollinator Garden

I can’t wait to lead a tour showcasing and sharing three of these native plant wildlife gardens that CU Maurice River has created (and maintains) at public sites in Millville, NJ: (1) First United Methodist Church Serenity Garden, (2) Downtown Millville’s Neighborhood Wildlife Garden, and (3) Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center’s Circle Oasis.  In addition, the July 15th tour will include two private home gardens set in a suburban community.

Saturday, July 15, 2023
Tour of CU Maurice River Gardens, led by Pat Sutton
in Millville, NJ (Cumberland County)
( Rain date Sunday, July 16)
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (Morning Tour)
1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Afternoon Tour)

Millville Neighborhood Wildlife Garden

Join CU Maurice River and Pat Sutton to experience the benefits provided by these revitalized areas that together function as a network of urban green spaces supporting ecological and community health. Every garden is unique and has a story to be told.  Karla Rossini, CU Maurice River’s Executive Director, will share each garden’s story with the group.

At the end of each tour, stay on to socialize and enjoy light refreshments in the last garden.

In the past, Pat Sutton’s Garden Tours with CU Maurice River have filled up quickly.  Please RSVP as soon as possible to be guaranteed a spot.

Registration required:
Cost: $30 for CU Maurice River members / $40 for non-members.
Morning Tour (sign up HERE)*
Afternoon Tour (sign up HERE)*
*the same gardens will be visited on each tour
Call CU Maurice River at (856) 300-5331 for more information

Pat Sutton lives near Cape May, New Jersey. She has been a working naturalist since 1977, first for the Cape May Point State Park and then for 21 years with New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where she was the Naturalist and Program Director (1986 to 2007). Pat has a Masters Degree from Rowan University in Environmental Education and an undergraduate degree in Literature from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Today, Pat is a free-lance writer, photographer, naturalist, educator, lecturer, tour leader, and wildlife habitat/conservation gardening educator.

Pat is a passionate wildlife habitat gardener and advocate for butterflies, moths, bees (all pollinators), birds, dragonflies, frogs, toads, and other critters. Pat has taught about wildlife-friendly and native plant gardening for over 40 years. Her own wildlife area is a “teaching garden” featured in many programs, workshops,  garden tours, and some books.

Help! A Private Company is Spraying the Neighbor’s Yard for Mosquitoes !

As wildlife garden owners, many of us have encountered a neighbor who fears all bugs, feels one mosquito bite is too many, doesn’t realize that ticks are part of our landscape, and feels that they can solve it all by hiring one of the many private companies that promises to take care of mosquitoes and ticks safely. Such companies even have the jargon down by promoting their approach as “pollinator friendly.” I wish that were the case.  For example, Pyrethrins (which are derived from chrysanthemum plants and sold as a ‘natural organic control’) are toxic to many non-target insects, including beneficial pollinators, and are also highly toxic to fish.

Our wildlife gardens and pollinator habitats of native plants and abundant leaf litter are oases for beneficial pollinators. When a private company sprays the neighbor’s property, that spray can and often does drift onto our rich preserved habitats full of life. This drift spray takes a huge toll on pollinators.  Plus, insects do not recognize property lines.

Because our gardens concentrate a super abundance of beneficial pollinators we are obligated to notify any agencies or private companies that do spray for pest insects like mosquitoes and ticks in our neighborhood.  Case in point:  In 2021, I began leading tours and teaching pollinator programs for the Avalon Environmental Commission in Avalon, NJ’s newly created Pollinator Garden in Armacost Park. That July the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control sprayed Armacost Park, including the Pollinator Garden. The Department of Mosquito Control’s entomologist was aghast that a pollinator garden had been sprayed (in their defense, they were completely unaware of the garden). Shortly after, with my urging, the Avalon Environmental Commission contacted the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control and requested that the Pollinator Garden be put on the notification list (NO SPRAY list). For those of you not already on your county’s no spray list, you’ll find full details and contact info towards the end of this post.

I am sharing this Garden Gang Alert because wildlife and pollinator gardeners (and organic gardeners and bee keepers) do have rights as a neighboring “non-target” property when your neighbor signs on with a private company offering mosquito prevention packages, tick prevention packages, or both, with add on options to also treat for “gnats, fleas, stinkbugs and more.” Many of these private companies have packages available where they treat/spray every 3 weeks, with some “added protection!” packages where they spray every 2 weeks. Any treatment is unwelcome to those of us with wildlife gardens and pollinator habitats, but an onslaught of treatments every 2 or 3 weeks could be a death sentence for most of the area’s insects!

Here is HELP if a Private Company is Spraying the Neighbor’s Yard for Mosquitoes

If you live in New Jersey, here is a CHECKLIST to follow if your neighbor has hired a private company (‘Company’) to treat their property for mosquitoes, ticks, etc. and you fear, for good reason, that any spray will drift onto your property and kill the wealth of beneficial pollinators your garden has attracted, concentrated, and is benefiting. I do not know if other states offer a similar option. If your state responds to pesticide drift concerns, please comment in the comment section after my post to share that information with me and others!

    1. Your rights: You have rights not to be drifted upon as a non-target site when a ‘Company’ is hired by a neighbor (the actual rule is: ‘No person applying a pesticide shall permit drift or other movement of the pesticide to infringe on a non-target site, under circumstances where such infringement should be reasonably foreseeable’).
    2. Call the DEP Hotline, 1-877-WARN-DEP (1-877-927-6337) and report your concerns about pesticide drift onto your property during applications by a ‘Company’ hired by a neighbor.
    3. Explain to the DEP Hotline (and/or your county’s NJ-DEP Pesticide Control Program inspector, see # 4) that you garden for wildlife (including pollinators) and that your property is a safe harbor for them and concentrates them. List what efforts you have made to provide for beneficial insects (native plants, host plants, wildlife pond, pollinator garden, etc.) and list insects you’ve attracted to your yard.
    4. Calls to the DEP Hotline (mentioned in #2) such as these are then directed to the NJ-DEP Pesticide Control Program (PCP). You can also call the NJ-DEP PCP directly at (609) 984-6568 and ask to speak with your county’s PCP inspector (each county has an inspector). Ask for your inspector’s email address so that you can cc them when you write to the ‘Company’ hired by your neighbor to treat for mosquitoes, ticks, etc.
    5. In correspondence to the ‘Company’ copy in your county’s NJ-DEP Pesticide Control Program inspector (this lets the ‘Company’ know that if their spray ‘drifts’ onto your property, they will be held accountable).
    6. Write to the ‘Company’ stating concerns about their applications in your neighborhood, noting the above points (that you have rights, that your property concentrates beneficial pollinators, etc.), and request that they provide notification one-day in advance of any upcoming treatments, listing date & time, applicator’s name & license #, product Brand name & copy of the label showing both active & inactive ingredients. Be sure to cc your county’s NJ-DEP Pesticide Control Program inspector. (David Donnelly, a Garden Gang member who successfully thwarted a neighbor’s hiring of one such ‘Company’ shared that “the ‘Company’ does not have to provide this at all to any neighboring sites unless they are asked to do so, that is why it is important to copy in the DEP Inspector for proof that you asked. There is no rule stating a time limit of notification either, but he suggests asking for one day notice so you can make yourself available to watch and video the application if necessary.”)

Effects of Mosquito Sprays Used by Private Companies

Heather Holm, author of 3 excellent books about native pollinators and their close association with native plants, alerted me to the excellent article by Colin Purrington, “Effects of mosquito sprays on humans, pets, and wildlife,” summarizing the active ingredients of the pesticides used by a number of private companies offering to spray yards and ‘eliminate mosquitoes.’ Click HERE to read Purrington’s article so you fully understand the harm these sprays can have! Purrington shares how the active ingredients of the pesticides used impact pollinator populations: “for example, the spray kills Monarch caterpillars, even weeks later due to the presence of insecticide dried onto milkweed leaves,” “pyrethroids kill fireflies, which are most active in a yard in the late evening when mosquito-spraying franchises like to fog,” and Purrington’s “favorite group of unnoticed insects that are killed by evening pyrethroid applications are solitary bees, of which there are approximately 4,000 species in the United States. These are bees that collect pollen and nectar during the day but spend their evenings and nights in holes (e.g., mason bees) or clamped to low vegetation. Everyone has dozens of species of native bees in their yards but few people realize it. So when pesticide applicators claim their pyrethroid sprays ‘don’t harm bees’ or are ‘bee friendly,’ that is entirely untrue.” Heather Holm, Colin Purrington, and I firmly agree that if you want to protect the pollinator populations in your neighborhood, please do not hire a company to spray your yard for mosquitoes!

Mosquito Education

Regarding mosquito issues in your neighborhood, education is, of course, key. Prevention is the first step. Since mosquitoes need to breed in stagnant water, the most effective form of mosquito control is to remove all open containers, unclogging gutters and adding agitators or wildlife to any remaining water features to stop mosquito larvae from surviving within them. The Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control has a MOSQUITO HABITAT CHECKLIST (click HERE) available to help property owners resolve mosquito breeding sites they themselves may have created. Print this checklist and share it with any neighbors who have signed on for treatments by one of these private companies.

Notification List (NO SPRAY List)

If your municipality is spraying at night by truck, in many cases you can contact your municipality or local government and request to have your property not sprayed. If any of you maintain a wildlife garden, keep bees, or garden organically here in Cape May County, New Jersey, where spraying for mosquitoes occurs, you can call and tell the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control that you do not want your property sprayed (609-465-9038, Mon.-Fri., 7 am to 3 pm; ask to be put on their “Notification List” / “No Spray List”).  Be ready to provide: (1) your name, (2) snail mail address (street address), and (3) e-mail address (so they can notify you when spraying needs to be done in your town). If you have called previously to be put on the “Notification List” (“No Spray List”), you will remain on this list indefinitely, unless you choose to be removed from the list by calling the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control. (Those of you who live in other counties, where mosquito spraying also occurs, can call your county mosquito department too.)

In 2009 I called and told them that I did not want my property sprayed (a half-acre wildlife garden & habitat full of native plants, birds, pollinators, and other wildlife). Since then I have been on their “NOTIFICATION LIST” (“NO SPRAY LIST”) and they notify me when my town, Goshen, NJ, is going to be sprayed.

The Insect Crisis is Real

Our wildlife garden is our entire ½ acre property. We’ve learned so much since we purchased the property in 1977, and we’ve corrected some early misguided plantings (Autumn Olive and Butterfly Bush). Today our property harbors hundreds of different native plants. We’ve enjoyed jaw dropping numbers and diversity of butterflies in our garden, tallying 78 different species to date.  I have turned my eye to other pollinators and, with the help of iNaturalist, I am having great fun identifying a wealth of bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and moths (once on my iNaturalist page, click on “Observations” to see some of them). This direction, looking beyond butterflies, was a necessary step as butterfly numbers declined in my garden for reasons I could not understand . . . , that is, until I read Oliver Milman’s book, The Insect Crisis, The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World (published in 2022). I highly recommend reading this book, but I warn you that it will spiral you into a deep depression! Hence, this garden gang alert!

 

Speak up and make your voice heard; we all work too hard to create safe refuges for pollinators to let them be eliminated so easily and so completely. Stop any spraying that could drift into your refuge of native plants where so many pollinators are concentrated.

Case in point: The photos that accompany this post were taken in Cape May Point, NJ, famous worldwide for the fall migration of birds and Monarchs.  They were taken on September 16, 2022 (at the peak of this migration). The yard being sprayed by a private company is directly across the street from native plant gardens planted by the community around the south end of Lily Lake, including a large bed of Butterfly Weed that was covered in Monarch caterpillars when I took these photos.

If we (individuals and communities) create pollinator habitats with plantings of native plants, it is our obligation and responsibility to also protect them from incidents like this. Otherwise all we have accomplished is to have created ecological traps where we are dooming the very pollinators we are trying to benefit by concentrating them in potentially hazardous sites.

Thank you for caring!

Hair Cuts Needed For Some Native Perennials

Hi Gang,

It is time to give some of our favorite fall-blooming perennials HAIR CUTS if you want them bushy (and not top heavy and floppy) by fall.

Years ago Flora for Fauna (native plant nursery) 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

Blooming New England Aster is a magnet for Monarchs and other pollinators, here on October 2nd in my garden

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.  Too, you can be the judge if you need to do your hair cuts earlier.  With the cool and relatively wet (and very pleasant) spring we’ve had in southern NJ in 2023, I noticed that my plants needed hair cuts quite a while ago.  So, I jump started the process this year by almost a month!

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, Nature’s Best Hope, and The Nature of Oaks) 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!

New England Aster in need of its first haircut, otherwise this plant will certainly flop come the fall blooming period
New England Aster after its first haircut.  I cut a good foot or two off the top of each stem (hedge trimmers work great . . . no need to be fussy and cut stem-by-stem).
13 days later, the New England Aster is already branching heavily where each stem was cut.

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 out 2 or more new shoots where it has been cut, in other words it branches and becomes more bushy!

E. Cottontail caught in the act of giving Common Blue Wood Asters a hair cut on May 28, 2021

Some of my asters get regular haircuts  from plentiful E. Cottontails (they must think our yard is one large salad bowl crafted just for them).  I’ve planted the lovely fall-blooming, shade loving Common Blue Wood Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, under our Tulip Tree and in our woods.  Despite hungry rabbits it has flourished and spread into other beds, our meadow, the perennial garden, and elsewhere and that pleases me.  It is so plentiful that it keeps the rabbits busy and away from most other asters.   We’ve fenced our yard, so deer are not an issue for us.  But other gardeners share that deer routinely give their asters hair cuts.

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.

Sutton fall gdn-w-sig
My garden on September 27th full of mounds of blooming asters, thanks to hair cuts earlier in the year.

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:
Goldenrod
Sedum
Sunflower

I love Tall (or Giant) Sunflowers and so do the Monarchs when they are migrating through in the fall
But if I’ve forgotten to give Tall (or Giant) Sunflower the 2 haircuts, it can be a beast to prop up or tie up, and keep from falling over, as you can see
Seaside Goldenrod chopped back after its 1st haircut. As it continues to grow I often spot stems I missed, grab the clippers and take care of business

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 sometimes do this with some of my favorite summer nectar plants so that I have an easier time seeing and photographing pollinators on them:
Culver’s Root
Garden Phlox (I tried this for the 1st time in 2023)
Ironweed
Joe-pye-weed
Sneezeweed
Blue Vervain
various Bonesets

Culver’s Root responding to its haircut, branching nicely!
I gave the Culver’s Root stems in the foreground a haircut, but left the back stems untouched.  This way the untouched stems will bloom on time and the  branching stems (due to a haircut) will bloom a bit later, and so the plant will offer nectar for a longer period

You can always experiment on other fall-blooming perennials 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.

This year for the 1st time (at the suggesting of Lynn Pollard, a Garden Gang Member), I began giving another plant  hair cuts so it grows bushier and lusher for egg-laying Black Swallowtails (otherwise I was ending up with very tall and sparsely leafed, seed-heavy stalks).  Obviously the seed-heavy stalks were problematic, resulting in buckets of seedlings underneath:
Fennel

Happy Wildlife Gardening,
Pat

Some Sources of Native Plants in 2023

Common Blue Wood Asters layer the ground under a 39 year old Tulip Tree and offer late nectar in Pat Sutton’s Wildlife Garden (October 17, 2022)

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!

That said, some straight natives might be ill behaved and total thugs, overwhelming other plants in your garden and leading to hours and hours spent thinning them every single year.  This is the case with Cutleaf Coneflower.  In 2009, a friend shared a cultivar of this plant with me (Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacinata “Herbstsonne,”) that is a Chocolate Cake, always full of pollinators, and not a thug at all because it is sterile.  I’ve raved about my Cutleaf Coneflower for years, many have planted the straight native, and been frazzled by its rambunctious wanderings.

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, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators.

Speak up when you purchase plants.  Ask if the nursery uses Neonicotinoid Insecticides. If they don’t know what you are talking about, it sounds like a nursery to avoid. If they proudly share that they do not use Neonicotinoid Insecticides (verbally and/or on their website), they are a nursery “in the know” and a nursery to support. The Xerces Society’s publication, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” addresses asking nurseries these important questions and is available HERE.  There is a complimentary Xerces Society publication for nurseries, “Offering Bee-Safe Plants: A Guide for Nurseries,” available HERE.  Let nurseries you frequent know about it.  If you find that any of the nurseries on my list are “in the dark” and still using Neonicotinoids, please alert me ! ! ! 

Around the world steps are being taken to protect pollinators from neonics. In 2018, the European Union voted to completely ban all outdoor uses of three types of neonics (citing their impacts to honey bees). Canada followed suit, planning to phase out all outdoor use of three specific neonics in 3-5 years (2021-2023) because of impacts to aquatic ecosystems. In 2016 Connecticut became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of neonicotinoids when the legislature unanimously passed An Act Concerning Pollinator Health (banning sales of neonics for use by general consumers in backyard garden settings). Soon after, Maryland passed a similar bill that restricts the sale of neonics and bans their use by consumers.  And in January 2022, New Jersey became the 6th state to pass a similar bill to save pollinators by classifying bee-killing neonicotinoids (also known as neonics) as restricted use pesticides.

Educate yourself about Neonics by reading the following:

  1. Xerces Society’s “Protecting Bees From Neonicotinoids in Your Garden, 2nd version (includes list of products with neonics in them).”
  2. Xerces Society’s How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, the Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees (in-depth study, 2nd Edition)
  3. 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)
  4. 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

  1. 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.
  2. Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth, conservationists warn        Feb. 12, 2020, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian
  3. The Insect Crisis, The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World, by Oliver Milman. 2022. A devastating examination of how collapsing insect populations worldwide threaten everything from wild birds to the food on our plate.

BIRDS ARE VANISHING

  1. “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).
  2. “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:

  1. Plant NATIVES, especially Keystone Species (read Doug Tallamy’s books to understand what Keystone Species are).
  2. Ask nurseries you frequent if their native plants have been treated with Neonicotinoids (see Xerces Society’s document, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” noted above, for tips and how to ask these important questions) . If they don’t know, ask them to find out. If the answer is yes, don’t purchase and explain why, that Neonics are hazardous to the wildlife you are trying to attract and benefit.
  3. 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. Listen to Doug Tallamy’s talk about his latest book, The Nature of Oaks (search youtube Doug Tallamy Nature of Oaks), and learn that oak leaves are the BEST fallen leaves to LEAVE on the ground because it takes them so long to break down (3 years or more). All that time (3+ years) they are providing for an abundance of LIFE that needs fallen leaves to survive. To truly preserve the life in oak leaf litter (and other leaf litter) do not mow it / mulch it (that would chop up all that life).
  4. DO NOT USE Pesticides (including Organic – they KILL too) or Herbicides or synthetic Fertilizers.
  5. Turn outdoor lights OFF at night (use motion sensor lights instead).
  6. Remove as many invasive plants as possible on your property
  7. 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
  8. Read and give Doug Tallamy’s books (Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope, and The Nature of Oaks ) to family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors.
  9. If you ever have a chance to hear Doug Tallamy speak, BE THERE and bring your neighbor, friend, family member, landscaper, lawn care service worker so they can learn to speak the same language. In the meantime Google “YouTube videos (or podcasts) Doug Tallamy” and you’ll have dozens to choose from, many of which are keynote talks he’s given about the importance of insects, native plants, and much more. Watch them and they may change your life and/or the way you view life. Share them with neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers.
  10. Read and give Heather Holm’s books (Pollinators of Native Plants; Bees, An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide; and Wasps, Their Biology, Diversity, and Role as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants) to family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to help you (and others) understand beneficial pollinators and provide for their nesting needs by leaving stem stubble during spring garden clean up, standing dead trees, utilizing fallen branches and tree trunks to line garden or woodland paths, leaving fallen leaves, and avoiding too much hardscaping, mulching, and turf so that ground-nesting pollinators have places to nest.
  11. Share all this with your neighbors, friends, co-workers, family

Some Sources of NATIVE PLANTS: 2023
by Patricia Sutton
click here for the 5-page printable pdf

5th Edition (10-5-23)

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.

The Jersey-Friendly Yards Website has many helpful resources. Use their searchable plant database to help you select plants for your site. The database has many filters including a “native plants only” filter showcasing 313 natives, as well as filters for wildlife value, region, ecoregion (including barrier island/coastal, Pinelands), deer resistant, light requirement, soil type, soil moisture, drought tolerance, salt tolerance, bloom color, bloom time, plant type, and more.   The site also includes a list of nurseries that sell natives county-by-county.

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 and if they share information about Native Plant Sales.  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.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website  has an excellent “Native Plants Database” that allows you to search for natives in your state narrowing the search based on plant type (tree, shrub, wildflower, etc.), conditions (sun, shade, dry, wet), and specifics (bloom time, bloom color, height).

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds: How to Attract Them

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Coral Honeysuckle, a GREAT native spring nectar source that often reblooms all summer long

Hi Gang,

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on migrating north! The first Cape May County, NJ, sighting was on Thursday, April 6, 2023, at feeders in a yard in West Cape May.  It was a female, which makes one wonder if it was a wintering bird somewhere in the states, since the first migrants are males.

You can monitor Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration north (AND enter your own sightings) on the 2023 Hummingbird Central  map and on the  Journey North  map.  When you go to each of these sites,  be sure to set the date for these migration maps to 2023.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been surging north from their wintering grounds (northern Panama and Costa Rica, north to southern Mexico) since mid-February and March.  They have already been sighted at a number of locations in MD, DE, and the Philadelphia area. They will steadily move north with each good migration weather day, the opening of important nectar plants, and warm enough days with insect life.

With these recent sightings I quickly hung 4 feeders today!  And thankfully native nectar sources that I planted for hummingbirds and other pollinators are also about to bloom: Coral Honeysuckle, Wild Columbine, and Red Buckeye to name a few.

We often don’t see the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird in our yard until around April 20th (despite early sightings elsewhere), and some years they take another week or two to settle into our yard and habitat.  So, be patient!

Why Feeders?

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 8 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.

Keep an eye on Journey North’s Ruby-throated Hummingbird MAP  and on Hummingbird Central’s MAP to see their movement north so you are ready for them.

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 have been no LIVE maps since 2018. 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:

  1. a pesticide-free property (since hummingbirds also feast on soft-bodied insects and spiders)
  2. 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 2023

A number of native plant sales and reputable nurseries are gearing up for 2023.   Be sure to support them.  Here is my post:  Some Sources of Native Plants: 2023.

All About Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

To read more about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds check out my additional post below.  You may also want to print my Ruby-throated Hummingbird Fact Sheet (the reverse side covers Hummingbird Feeder maintenance and gardening for hummingbird info).

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part One: They’re Back

  • my favorite hummingbird feeder (nature centers sell them, as does Amazon)
  • spring nectar plants that have worked for me in the Mid-Atlantic Region to lure hummingbirds to settle in and nest in your yard.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part Two: Summer Nectar – COMING SOON:

  • summer nectar for the Mid-Atlantic Region including many natives and a few non-natives (that are not problematic).
  • proper feeder maintenance during the heat of summer
  • the importance of insects
  • places to bathe

Happy Wildlife Gardening,  Pat