Severe Drought in the Wildlife Garden, Summer 2022

It is early September and our 45-year old wildlife garden should be beckoning me out the door to enjoy drifts of blooms, butterflies dashing about, and countless other pollinators.

Instead the garden and yard are mostly brown with very little blooming. Buds are forming on fall blooming goldenrods and asters, thankfully, so there will be some color and nectar and pollinators to come. But for right now our wildlife garden and yard is sadly depressing. Blooms are scarce and butterflies and other pollinators are too. Tree and shrub leaves are curled up and / or falling like late fall leaves. As one who has keenly studied pollinators, I fear that many butterfly and moth caterpillars have succumbed or fallen from food sources (while attached to dead and dying leaves). Next year’s butterfly populations (and probably populations for years to come) will certainly be affected.

Just last summer (and most summers) this is what our garden looks like.

Goshen, in Cape May County, NJ, has experienced a severe drought this summer. Joe Martucci, the Meteorologist for the Press of Atlantic City, recently put it into perspective with the following key points: (1) 2022 began with a deficit of rainfall since last winter, (2) it was the 3rd driest July in 100 years, (3) it was the driest summer since 1966, (4) it was the 3rd hottest summer on record (since 1895), and (5) it was the hottest August on record.  Couple all of that with our yard’s lack of rainfall and it is a wonder anything is alive.

Since October 2013 I have been a volunteer weather observer with CoCoRaHS (the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network), a nationwide legion of volunteer data collectors. So I have accurate rainfall data for our yard. Too, CoCoRaHS provides comparative 30 Year Average by PRISM rainfall for our area. The numbers this summer are scary. We saw 7.1” less rainfall this summer (June, July, and August) than the 30 year average. That is mega!

RAINFALL            30 Yr Avg              2022
                                   By PRISM        Sutton Yard
June                              3.26”                    0.84”
July                                3.86”                    2.45”
Aug                               4.34”                     1.07”
TOTAL                        11.46”                    4.36”

How to Cope with Drought:

  1. Plant NATIVES. If this concept is new to you, read Doug Tallamy’s books. My “Gardening for Pollinators” handout (click HERE) directs you to many resources to help you select the most important (to wildlife) and suitable (to your site, soils, and conditions) natives for your area.
  2. When establishing a pollinator garden, set up a watering system to keep your wildlife garden alive during severe drought so you and pollinators do not lose nectar sources (and host plants for future generations). During droughts when natural areas are crisped, our tended gardens may provide the only nectar! This same watering system will make it easy to water new plantings (until they get established). Realize that even natives need some assist when first planted and during severe drought. 

3.  Incorporate rain barrels into your landscape. I’ve set up two rain barrels (one at each end of our back roof) and have two hoses from each running out into the garden where I’ve planted native perennials that like “wet feet”: Cardinal Flower, Swamp Milkweed, White Turtlehead, Turk’s-Cap Lily, Red Beebalm, Common Boneset, etc. I am very grateful for the rain barrels and what they accomplish; much of the year they stand empty.

4.  Plant native trees and shrubs in fall (rather than spring) when rains and snows are more likely. This way new plantings will get the rainfall they need to get established and be less stressed. Summer plantings can be done, but only with lots and lots of watering during dry stretches. Spring plantings should be fine unless our “new normal” includes regular summer droughts.

5.  If you plan to travel (or be away for lengthy periods like we were) in summer, make arrangements with a friend to water if there is no natural rainfall. Summer travel is much of the reason our garden is so baked (all told we were away for 31 days).

6.  If plants look dead, don’t give up on them too soon. Cut off dead growth so the plants instead can focus on supporting live and/or new growth. Hopefully the roots have some life left. Wait until next spring to see. You might be pleasantly surprised by the resiliency of native plants.

CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network

Years ago I began keeping my own rainfall records because I quickly learned that available rainfall data shared in the local newspaper from nearby towns was inches different from the rainfall in my own yard. A gardening friend alerted me to CoCoRaHS (click HERE). I joined CoCoRaHS, bought their official rain gauge, put it up, and became part of the team. 

A friend who lives three miles away joined CoCoRaHS the same day and we began logging in our data simultaneously. Immediately it was evident how different the rainfall was just three miles apart. For example, on October 13, 2013, my gauge held 0.75 inches of rain and three miles away my friend’s gauge held 1.29 inches of rain. Who would have thunk?

Consider joining CoCoRaHS, a great citizen science project. Let your friends, co-workers, and family know about it so more and more sites can be added to the data. Imagine what we all can learn together.

On CoCoRaHS’s website you can look at the entire country, your region, state, or county and see the rainfall recorded by the network of observers on any given day, month, or year-to-date. It’s fascinating if you’re a keen gardener and/or a weather geek.

If you have any comments or questions, please use the “Comment” option at the end of this post, so others can benefit from everyone’s comments, questions, tips, and answers.

Tours of CU Maurice River Gardens on Sat., September 17, 2022

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 September 17th tour will include two private home gardens set in a suburban community.

Saturday, September 17, 2022
Pat Sutton Tour of CU Maurice River Garden Network
in Millville, NJ (Cumberland County)
( Rain date Sunday, September 18)
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.

Mosquito Control Spraying: I am on the NO SPRAY List to Keep my Wildlife Garden a Safe Haven

Hi Gang,

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 might want to call and tell the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control that you do not want your property sprayed.

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 neighborhood in Goshen, NJ, is going to be sprayed.

Being a long-time wildlife gardener with a yard free of herbicides, pesticides, and other hazards, I wish to keep my property that way . . . free of any killing agents, and safe for pollinators, all wildlife, and me!

Neighbors and fellow wildlife gardeners are often completely unaware that spraying is occurring. As you read on you’ll understand why (the spraying is done at night). If you live in Cape May County, reach out today to get your property on the “NOTIFICATION LIST” (“NO SPRAY LIST”) so it remains a safe haven and not an ecological trap:

Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control

609-465-9038

(Monday through Friday, 7:00 am to 3:00 pm)

Ask to be put on their “Notification List” (“No Spray List”)

Or you can contact Kyle Rossner, their Entomologist, and he would be happy to add you to the list and answer any questions or concerns.  Kyle Rossner can be reached at 609-465-9038, x-3909; kyle.rossner@co.cape-may.nj.us

Be ready to provide:

  1. your name
  2. snail mail address (street address)
  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.)

This year, 2022, we had substantial rains in June. But July through early August most areas have received very little rain.

As of this writing, August 3rd, the next scheduled spraying will occur Thursday, August 4, and/or Friday, August 5, 2022, between the hours of Midnight and 7:00 am, when mosquitoes are flying and when diurnal pollinators like bees and butterflies are not flying. Portions of the following municipalities may be sprayed: Wildwood, West Wildwood & Wildwood Crest, Diamond Beach & Cold Spring in Lower Township, US Coast Guard Base in Cape May, and West Cape May.

The Department will use Aqua Reslin, trade name for permethrin, and/or Aqua Anvil / Anvil 10+10, trade names for sumithrin, and/or Duet / Aqua Duet, trade names for prallethrin and sumithrin, and/or Zenivex / Aqua Zenivex, trade names for etofenprox, applied as ultra-low volume aerosols.

To keep abreast of spray notifications, click HERE. Notifications are taken down shortly after the spray date(s), so check regularly (at least weekly).

Each time I receive a spray notification I go through the formal channels to learn where the spraying will occur and if it will be on my street. I learn that it will be (or was) on “such and such a street” (because complaints were called in from there). So if one of your neighbors has just moved to Cape May County and is unaware of our biting insects (Hey: we live in an area where mosquitoes and other biting insects are part of the landscape . . . salt marshes, freshwater marshes, and wet woods), and this neighbor calls in to complain, your neighbor’s property and the street it is on may get put on the map of places to be sprayed. Spraying is often in response to complaints (plus subsequent site visits, sampling, and testing by the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control).

Imagine if the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control heard from all of us who DO NOT want our properties sprayed!

Kyle Rossner explained that heavy rain will never prompt an adult mosquito treatment, but rather lead to a sharp increase in mosquito populations, which (depending on the month and more importantly the mosquito species) could lead to an increase in mosquito-borne pathogens cycling in the local mosquito populations. The proven presence or increased risk factors for these pathogens is what triggers spraying for adult mosquitoes.

An increase in mosquitoes in our own yard is made up almost entirely by Asian Tiger Mosquitoes, the tiny black and white striped (body and legs) mosquitoes. They are hard to ignore since they are most active during the day (a day biter) and unusually aggressive. And this mosquito’s abundance is the result of you and I, not the environment. When unknowing residents leave shallow dishes under pots, buckets that are not overturned, and other items that can collect rain water (water barrels, discarded tires, rain gutters, even discarded cups with water in them are used as breeding sites) then Asian Tiger Mosquitoes multiply and thrive. Their eggs are tolerant of and survive periods of drought.

Kyle Rossner does site visits when complaints are called in to the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control. In my yard he spotted some saucers under flower pots and educated me, sharing that the sneaky female Asian Tiger Mosquito lays her eggs in likely sites (even sites that are bone dry), and when it rains and these containers fill, her eggs are already there, hatch, and in an as little as 7 days during hot summer stretches these eggs can produce countless flying, biting, persistent, and annoying adult Asian Tiger Mosquitoes. I should know. My neighbor is a collector of “stuff.” His yard is brim full of sites where they can breed and there are times we have a hard time enjoying our wildlife garden because of the swarms of Asian Tiger Mosquitoes produced next door. Despite this, I still do not want my property sprayed. I do want my neighbor to be educated, though.

Several years ago my friend and fellow wildlife gardener Keith Parker had some “Do Not Spray, Pollinator Garden” signs made. Keith, myself, and others display this sign prominently along the street in front of each of our properties, not only for the spray trucks to clearly see, but also for neighbors who may be calling to have their property sprayed and not thinking about the consequence to pollinators (and us). I believe Keith has given away all the signs he had made, but you can find some fun “Do Not Spray” signs for sale on ETSY HERE and at the Tallgrass Prairie Center’s Website HERE .

Happy Wildlife Gardening,

Pat

Native Plants Struggle During Drought

Hi Gang,

Dreaming of rain filling our CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge, here with 0.75 inches of rainfall (from better times)

I am writing this on August 3rd.  It has been a relentless hot and rain free July into early August for our South Jersey wildlife garden. We were away in late June and the first week of July. Upon our return, we feared the worst, but were heartened to find that my CoCoRaHS Rain Gauge (a citizen science rain, hail, and snow network across the US, Canada, and the Bahamas) held 2.10″ of rain. YEA, the garden was alive and lush.

But during the month since, the extreme heat has continued and all rain storms have missed us. Predicted storms move east, reach the Delaware Bay, and fizzle. Upon reaching the bay, storms move north of the Cape May Peninsula or south of us and leave us parched for rain. Severe weather needs warm waters to draw from, and in our case, the cold waters of Delaware Bay take the oomph out of storms heading our way. We call it the Cape May Bubble and it is really getting old.

Fifteen-year-old Flowering Dogwoods in our woods look near death, covered in curled up and withered leaves. Flower beds of native plants are still blooming, but running through their blooms in a flash, in fact so quickly that the garden and its pollinators are left wanting for more.

Our decision now is not whether or not to water, it is a matter of triage. We are watering plants most desperately in need of water to keep from losing them.

If you, like me, are watering to keep your wildlife gardens alive for all the pollinators and other wildlife dependent upon them (knowing that nearly all nectar in the wild is gone, cooked to a crisp), let me highly recommend a post shared on Izel Native Plants, “Diagnosing Problems in the Summer Landscape,” by Chelsea Ruiz, a Horticulturalist and Garden Writer.

Chelsea Ruis shares sage advice about how to properly water natives as you diagnose their problems.

Join me in a Rain Dance?

Pat

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 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.

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.  A good foot or two of growth was cut off the top.
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
Ironweed
Joe-pye-weed
Sneezeweed
Blue Vervain
Boneset

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.

Happy Wildlife Gardening,
Pat

Spring Cleanup in the Wildlife Garden

WHEN and HOW to clean up the winter wildlife garden is a question I am often asked.  My advice: (1) wait until you have a stretch of warm days (not a warm day here and there), (2) don’t go at it with a rake, but instead break off stems and set them loosely single-layer along the border of your property or in your woods (which is what I do) so overwintering insects can still complete their life cycle (because, believe me, there is hidden life you will not “spot,” (3) leave your old mulch down, especially if it is salt hay since salt hay will break down into soil (it does not need to be removed), (4) wait to put new salt hay down for a while until more and more of your perennials come up and you can see where they are.

Spring cleaning, if done with wildlife in mind, is a slow process. On hands and knees each section is tackled slowly enough to spot garden treasures (overwintering chrysalises on stems, partially grown caterpillars in curled up leaves, microscopic eggs on plant material). Each spring many treasures are found along the way: spider egg sacks (some intact, others that had been discovered by hungry birds and emptied sometime over the winter), Carolina Mantid egg cases, and plant stems that have been nibbled to the core (proof that the garden’s dormant insects aided wintering birds).

Learn more about how and when to clean up your wildlife garden by reading two columns I wrote:

Spring Cleanup in the Perennial Garden,
Don’t Overdo It, PART ONE
by Pat Sutton
Originally published on the website Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens (sadly a website that no longer exists).  I very much am hoping to update and rewrite this article to share here.

Spring Cleanup in the Perennial Garden,
Part TWO
by Pat Sutton
Originally published on the website Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens (sadly a website that no longer exists).  I very much am hoping to update and rewrite this article to share here.

Gardening for Pollinators

Snowberry Clearwing nectaring on Wild Bergamot in Pat Sutton’s wildlife garden on July 11th

Learn how to create a garden to benefit ALL pollinators and beneficial insects.

For Pat Sutton’s frequently updated

“Gardening for Pollinators” HANDOUT   (6-7-22 update)

CLICK HERE

I’ve studied butterflies (and moths) for 40+ years, but am relatively new to identifying all the other pollinators in my garden.  I’ve photographed these other pollinators for years and am now going back through photos and getting help with ID from Heather Holm’s three amazing books and iNaturalist!  I’m learning so much natural history from Heather Holm’s books and from iNaturalist, for instance that a wasp I’ve found nectaring in my garden, the Four-banded Sand Wasp (or the Four-banded Stink Bug Wasp) targets Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs as prey.  How cool is that ! ! ! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unfolding of Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old Wildlife Garden

The Unfolding of a Wildlife Garden, One Year in the Sutton Garden

(I presented this program for the first time on February 17, 2022 for CU Maurice River at their CU Social)

About the presentation:   Ben Werner and I worked on this project all of 2021 (getting video footage and stills) and since then have put in 100s of hours pulling together some of the stories that unfolded in the garden.

There is a 45 minute MONARCH EPISODE  because one very big story had to be told, that of Monarchs and milkweed. 2021 was a very good year for Monarchs in my garden and hopefully yours too. I had Monarchs in the garden daily from mid-June on. I found lots of eggs, lots of caterpillars, watched and filmed a Monarch caterpillar going into it’s chrysalis in the garden (what a happenstance gift that I was at the right spot with my camera when that five minute transformation occurred). I discovered five different chrysalises in the garden, and watched and filmed the Monarch emerging from two of them. So of course, the Monarch’s story had to be told so I could share this priceless footage.

There is a 45 minute UNFOLDING WILDLIFE GARDEN episode because there were so many other wildlife garden stories to be told.  Filming covers all of 2021, capturing the unfolding of four seasons in Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old wildlife garden. It showcases her favorite visitors while also demonstrating how (and why) she maintains her wildlife habitat in many, many maybe-new-to-you wildlife-friendly ways. Learn firsthand the many reasons why Pat is a “hands off” gardener after the hard work of spring clean up and readying the garden. This approach leaves a great deal more time for study and learning, rather than fussing, fussing, fussing with deadheading, removing spent stems, moving plants, etc.

Hopefully each episode will be as riveting to viewers as it was to Ben and I as we put it together. We had such fun with these episodes that many more will follow focusing of different aspects of wildlife gardening!

Pat hopes these presentations will convert attendees to her wildlife-friendly garden methods as she showcases discoveries she made that would not have survived in more heavily tended gardens.

Through an unsettling and uncertain time, the Sutton’s wildlife garden soothed the soul, entertained, and educated. In this wildlife habitat so much happens right before your eyes, with layer upon layer of nature unfolding. Migrant and nesting birds find countless caterpillars and other juicy treats, as well as plentiful fruits and seed heads. Varied and beautiful pollinators benefit from native perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines that offer a cascade of blooms from early spring until blooming shuts down with late fall’s first frost.

Busy water features draw in wintering birds to heated bird baths, and migrants and nesting birds to a whole array of warm-season water features, from misters to fountains to bird baths.

A din of calling Green Frogs on many summer nights led to their egg masses being discovered the next day. The transition of “Cover” provided in this wildlife garden will be showcased, from brush piles in late fall through winter, to robust stands of perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines, including a number of native evergreens.  Pat will also include how she is addressing “Privacy LOST” after a neighbor took down lots of vegetation.

Life cycles occur on a daily basis. Each year Monarchs can be found in this garden daily from mid-June on, mating and laying eggs, helping to swell the summer population so that by fall the migratory population is robust and substantial. This year Pat witnessed and filmed a Monarch caterpillar in its “J” position metamorphosing into its chrysalis, and several Monarchs emerging from their chrysalises in her garden. Will these magical moments be shared in the presentation? You bet!  These mesmerizing moments will help to tell the story that wildlife gardens like Pat’s (and hopefully like yours) contributed directly to a heartening and hopeful migration of Monarchs through the Cape May Peninsula in Fall 2021.  A wonderful 25,000-30,000 Monarchs were counted on October 1, 2021, lifting off from overnight roosts in the Cape May Point dunes to continue their migration.  On October 21, 2021, another push of migrating Monarchs gathered at lands end.  They lingered at nectar and safe roost sites until October 22 when winds calmed and they could continue their migration.  I couldn’t be there to witness it, but ‘m told that the numbers were comparable to the October 1st exodus, so roughly another 25,000-30,000 Monarchs.

Consider booking one or both of these episodes for your group!

You may also want to download and print the latest update of Pat’s “Gardening for Pollinators” Handout (CLICK HERE), which includes lots of sage advice, Chocolate Cake nectar plants month-by-month, and sources of helpful signage.  It will prove very helpful during the Virtual Tour and afterwards!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For twenty-three years (1991-2014), Pat Sutton 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.

  • South Tour (Cape Island: Cape May, Cape May Point, West Cape May, and Lower Township)
  • Mid-County Tour (North Cape May, Villas, and Erma)
  • North Tour (Cape May Court House, Goshen  . . . including my own garden, Dennisville, Eldora, South Seaville, and Ocean View)

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 it gets too cold to perform this task.  I normally dig mine up  sometime in November for the winter.  This year I tackled it November 25th.  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.   If you do dig up Canna tubers and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have viable tubers to plant next spring plus many extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Canna tubers multiply!   If you planted 3 Canna tubers, don’t be surprised if they’ve multiplied into 30 or more.

Tubers dug up from only 10 plants (November 25)

HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS

I dig my Canna tubers up in late November 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

In recent years Brazilian Skippers have occurred in southern NJ, well north of their normal range.  They lay their eggs on Canna leaves to create the next generation.  Many of us with Cannas have 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.

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

MEGA Monarch & Dragonfly Flight, Cape May Point, NJ, October 3, 2018

Hi Gang,

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.

A blizzard of Monarchs on Seaside Goldenrod at Cape May Point, October 3, 2018. A day for the record books!

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.

Thousands of Black Saddlebags and Common Green Darners migrating down the Cape May Point dune line over nectaring Monarchs in the Seaside Goldenrod.

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!!!

Monarchs nectaring on Seaside Goldenrod with the Delaware Bay beyond. Please don’t flush them for a photo. Their migration is hazardous enough!
All these photos were taken on October 3, 2018, from designated trails and dune crossovers in Cape May Point. Please don’t walk up into the dunes for photos. For one thing it is illegal and very poor etiquette.

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.

There are also 100s and 100s and 100s of Common Buckeyes nectaring on the Seaside Goldenrod in the dunes at Cape May Point now.

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.

To Hope,

Pat