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.
Americans have a love affair with the American Lawn! This unnatural habitat is labor intensive to maintain, hard on the environment (i.e. isn’t green in the true sense of the word), and it benefits little.
Consider creating a meadow instead! But, what is a meadow? It may be easier to define what a meadow is NOT: it’s not sterile, it’s not a monoculture; it’s not “needy” of fertilizer, water, weekly mowings, and other pamperings, all of which contribute to greenhouse gasses.
A meadow is a mixture of grasses and wildflowers growing in a sunny, open area. A meadow is a riot of color. It’s diverse, full of many different plants, with as many as 7 different plants (or more) in a 1 foot square – in other words much more intense than your perennial garden. Meadow plants require no water (as opposed to lawns) – except, of course, when seeds, plugs, or plants are first planted.
Meadow plants prefer and can thrive in sterile soils. Meadows are nonpolluting; they do not need weekly chemicals of fertilizers and herbicides. And meadows require no weekly mowing, as opposed to lawns.
Most meadows result from neglect – a time of transition – when a farmer no longer farms, or a lawn is no longer cut, or cattle are no longer grazed there. Meadows are a transitional stage that eventually will be invaded and replaced by shrubs and trees, if not maintained or managed. To keep a meadow a meadow, it does need to be mowed once a year. And the best time to mow your meadow, if you are also trying to support and benefit wildlife, is in late February or early March. This annual mowing prevents tree and shrub seedings (planted by birds or windblown) from surviving and thriving and eventually turning your meadow into a forest.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to LOSE THE LAWN (or part of your lawn) & CREATE A WILDFLOWER MEADOW INSTEAD? If so, you’ll learn a whole lot more by reading my handouts on this topic, found below (CLICK on underlined text to download Pat’s pdf document).
Of course you want to select native plants for your meadow, so be sure to also read my post (and associated handout) on GARDENING FOR POLLINATORS, which includes tons more helpful information and resources!
Surging north over a three-month period (from late February through early May), millions of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds depart their winter homes from southern Mexico to Costa Rica and northern Panama. They head north, reach the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and brave the 500 mile-wide Gulf of Mexico water crossing. If weather cooperates and they’re lucky and strong flyers, they reach the Gulf Coast (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida). Refueling, they then head “back home” to where they were born.
Most years Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reach our southern New Jersey garden around April 20th, but don’t seem to settle in until the end of April or early May. This year (2021), the very first NJ sighting was on April 4. Today the mystery of when they will appear (and when we need to get our feeders hung) has been simplified. Each spring you can monitor Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration north (AND enter your own sightings) on Journey North and on Hummingbird Central. Check these two sites each spring when you begin to wonder when to expect your returning hummingbirds.
The Importance of Well-maintained Feeders
What many people do not realize is that, if you hope to attract nesting hummingbirds in the spring as they journey north, you need to place well-maintained feeders in your yard. The reason is simple: our gardens are mostly dirt when hummingbirds first arrive in mid-April, with little in the way of blooms and nectar.
Hummingbirds are looking for a secure source of food and will settle in when they find it. Feeders are just that. Of course you want to keep those feeders fresh like flower nectar, so be sure to clean them at least once a week and refill them with fresh solution when temperatures are pleasant in early spring and late fall. During periods of toasty hot weather (which is most of the summer) clean and refill feeders every 2-3 days (as soon as the solution begins to look cloudy). Knowing this, you can clearly see that you don’t want to buy the biggest feeder you can find, since you would be dumping un-used sugar water solution every few days.
The proper solution that is most like nectar in the wild is 1 part granulated white sugar (just like you put in your coffee) and 4 parts water. Oh, and don’t try to make your solution healthier by using raw sugar or honey. Both of these can be deadly to hummingbirds; honey and the iron in raw sugar can lead to a fatal fungus disease. I mix a quart at a time and refrigerate the rest. I own 16 feeders so that I can take 8 clean and freshly refilled feeders out to replace the 8 I’m bringing in to clean.
In the early spring and late fall (or any time hummingbird activity is low), I put just 2 ounces into the feeder; a hummingbird’s long tongue can easily reach the solution at the bottom of a feeder. Later in the season, when activity peaks, I’ll fill the feeder to capacity (8 ounces). Sugarcane fields have gobbled up so much important habitat that the last thing I want to do is toss 6-7 ounces of sugar water solution every time I clean and refill a feeder.
My Favorite Hummingbird Feeder
My favorite feeder is the HummZinger mini 8-ounce feeder by Aspects. This feeder is incredibly well thought out (no surprise since Aspects tapped Sheri Williamson, hummingbird expert and author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America, as a consultant). This feeder is easy to clean (which is A MUST – ditch your artsy, hard-to-clean feeders), has a built in ant guard (just fill it with water and they must go for a swim to reach the solution), the proper solution is written inside the lid so you can’t forget (emphasizing NOT to use red dye), the design is NOT bee-friendly (bees can not get to the solution because they do not have long bills and tongues), etc.
I place my eight feeders around our one-half acre habitat so that one bossy male can not defend all eight feeders (and flower beds), though he tries. Two hang from our front porch, one from the back porch, one out my office window, one outside our screened porch, one under the Coral Honeysuckle arbor, one at the back of our perennial garden, and one at the back of our woods. With this many options a female has a better chance of setting up a territory of her own around one of the feeders and nesting somewhere near this secure source of food.
One feeder equates to one bossy male. Two feeders placed out of sight of each other may lure in two territorial males. Three feeders scattered around your yard, some in the front yard and some in the backyard, may lure in a third hummingbird, hopefully a female who will chose to nest in your yard. It is great entertainment watching a male try to defend all of your feeders and gardens, but don’t make it too easy for him or he will be your sole hummingbird.
What few realize is that male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not share well with others, even their own “mate” and young. Once a male has mated with a female, he’s done — and off looking for the next available female. So, be sure to have plenty of food in the way of feeders and well-crafted gardens blooming from early, early spring right up until frost.
Nectar (and the solution in feeders) is what powers and maintains a hummingbird’s incredibly high metabolism. Nectar is like a candy bar to a hummingbird, but who can live on candy bars alone? Their meat or protein comes from eating tiny, soft-bodied insects and spiders. So, a pollinator garden full of insects is like a supermarket to hungry hummingbirds.
By mid-May, in my South Jersey garden, many spring perennials have kicked into high gear, so feeders are not the only show in town. My arbor of lushly blooming Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, is a hotbed of activity. It blooms lushly in May then continues to bloom all summer and fall long, until the first frost (with fewer and fewer flowers as the year unfolds).
Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, has wandered all over my garden and woods much to my delight and that of hummingbirds. It is a heavy seed producer, so I collect the seeds once the flower heads dry and scatter them where I want new stands of this hummingbird favorite.
My old-fashioned Coral Bells, Heuchera spp., pull in hummingbirds too.
I’ve planted a Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, in my woods that the hummingbirds find irresistible.
Another hummingbird favorite in the early spring is the shade-loving Lyre-leaved Sage, Salvia lyrata. It can be quite a thug, so be careful to plant it where you’d like it to carpet the understory. Highbush Blueberries and Azaleas are also good spring nectar plants for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
In mid-June through July, Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), and Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) all kick in as top hummingbird nectar plants in my garden. Trumpet Creeper, a native vine, can be trained up a dead tree or over a sturdy arbor. There’s nothing more fun than sitting under that arbor and blazing away with a camera as hummingbirds feed and perch, feed and perch, over my head.
Bee Balm is the plant that led me to wildlife gardening forty plus years ago now. It pulls in EVERYTHING, from hungry hummingbirds to hummingbird moths, butterflies, a multitude of bees and wasps, the works! Bee Balm or Monarda is in the mint family and will spread. If you have a patch, share some with a new wildlife gardener and help get them hooked.
With hummingbirds, there is so much to share about these little bundles of energy that I’ll return with additional information in a segment covering mid-summer to late fall.
We hate to see them go, but let’s not think about that right now. After all it is spring and we have a solid 5 months of hummingbird madness to enjoy.
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.
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.
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:
I cut the stems off at the ground to make the task of digging the tubers up more manageable
I scrape away any mulch to expose all the tubers
With a shovel or pitch fork I dig down under the tubers (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.
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.
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.
For me shade gardening began after I retired and realized that we had lost our woods to 12′ high Multiflora Rose and Japanese Honeysuckle. We reclaimed it soon after. Simultaneously I began gardening under shade trees in our yard, White Pines and a Tulip Tree that I’d planted as tiny saplings 37 years earlier (in 1984) and a large American Holly and Georgia Hackberry that came up when we didn’t mow part of our backyard 44 years ago (in 1977) . Our last English Setter had died and we no longer needed lawn. I compiled a wish list of natives I wanted to plant in our newly reclaimed woods and other shady areas. Friends generously gifted me with many divisions from plants in their yards that they had had success with. Since then I’ve done the same for others who are embracing a more layered landscape.
I certainly don’t miss the lawn and neither does Clay who does the mowing. In 15 minutes or less he’s easily mowed the pathways and is done. Our shade gardening provides a great deal more habitat, so we find even more nature moments to savor. This layering of plants has certainly increased the joy factor in our yard. And I’ve fallen in love with many, many new-to-me shade-loving natives. As Thomas Rainer says, “more life brings more life.”
I shared a program (via Zoom) on “Shade Gardening with Natives” for the Native Plant Society of NJ’s Southeast Chapter on Monday, November 15, 2021 at 7 pm.
To learn more about shade gardening be sure to read my handouts below:
Pat Sutton’s Shade Gardening Handout – Resources (Click on the underlined text to download and print) This handout includes resources (great books that have helped me) and the many websites with “Native Plant Finder” tools to help you generate a list of plants suitable for your area and site. It also has suggestions for sites to visit to see shade-loving natives in the landscape.
Pat Sutton’s Shade Gardening Handout – Native Plants (Click on the underlined text to download and print) This handout includes a list of shade-loving natives for the Mid-Atlantic, many of which I’ve planted or have growing in my woods or other shady spots on our property.
There is so much to learn about beneficial insects. Many individuals get excited to plant native milkweeds to benefit Monarchs, then panic when Milkweed Bugs and Milkweed Beetles appear that also need Milkweed. Here is a great opportunity to add to your understanding and education — learn about beneficial insects drawn to our wildlife gardens and in need of our help.
Jersey-Friendly Yards has a terrific Line up of speakers and topics as part of their 2021 Webinar Series: “What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard?” Bug experts will teach how to recognize beneficials versus pests, show how to manage pests safely using non-toxic methods, introduce attendees to the buggy relationship between plants and insects, and teach how to build a buggy web of life in your yard using native plants. I am honored to be one of the speakers along with Heather Holm, Kelly Gill, Dr. Dan Duran, and others.
The 2021 Webinars will be free and provided via WebEx Events. They will be held on the second Tuesday of the month from January to June at 7:00 pm. The first one is coming up on January 12, 2020. The live sessions will be an hour long with time for questions. To join the webinars, you will need either a computer, tablet, or smartphone with speakers. You must register to attend these webinars. After each webinar and with presenter permission, Jersey-Friendly Yards will add a link to a video recording of the webinar on their “What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard?” website.
For full details and to register go to the Jersey-Friendly Yards 2021 Webinar Series: “What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard?” Website HERE
(While you are on the Jersey-Friendly Yards Website, be sure to explore all the wonderful resources to help you create a healthy, native, wildlife-friendly landscape)
Here are the 2021 Webinar dates, topics, and presenters:
January 12, 2021 — Getting to Know the Good Guys: Beneficial Insects in the Landscape — Not all bugs are bad, so let’s meet the beneficial insects in your backyard. Predators, parasites, and pollinators—learn about how to recognize these good guys, their biology, and how to keep them happy in your yard. Presenter: Sabrina Tirpak, Principal Laboratory Technician, Rutgers University Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.
February 9, 2021 — Myth Busters: The Truth About What’s Bugging You — Insects are the most diverse group of animals on Earth. With over 1 million described species, insects account for about 75% of all animal species. Insect diversity is essential in maintaining functional ecosystems, productive natural areas and working lands, and overall biodiversity. However, human perceptions of insects are often negative resulting in insects being misunderstood, underappreciated, and in some cases, unnecessarily feared. This session will cover a variety of “insect myths vs. truths” with the goal of reversing common misconceptions. Presenter: Kelly Gill, Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; Partner Biologist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Mid-Atlantic / Northeast Region.
March 9, 2021 — Cultivating Respect for Insects: An Overview of the Ecosystem Services That Insects Provide — Simply put: all life on earth depends on insects, for more reasons than most people realize. This talk will explore some of the immeasurably important ways that insects keep ecosystems functioning, including nutrient recycling, pollination services, and trophic interactions. It will also cover ways in which we can conserve much-needed insect diversity in our own yards. Presenter: Dr. Dan Duran, Assistant Professor, Rowan University Department of Environmental Science.
April 13, 2021 — What Lurks Above and Below: Spotted Lanternfly and Crazy Worms — The invasion has begun! Two non-native species: spotted lanternfly and Asian crazy-worms have already made it into New Jersey’s agriculture, yards, gardens, and forests. Learn the tools to how you can fight back, including their identification, biology, impacts, research, and control measures. The talk will also include how non-native pests have a serious negative impact on ecosystems and their health. Presenter: Paul Kurtz, Entomologist, NJ Department of Agriculture
May 11, 2021 — Attracting Bees and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants — Most insects have a positive impact in our landscapes. Native plants can be selected to attract specific bees and beneficial insects including predatory and parasitic wasps, beetles, flies, true bugs, and lacewings. Learn about the predator-prey relationships of these flower-visiting beneficial insects and how they help keep problem insect populations in balance. The life cycles, diversity, and nesting habitat of native bees will also be discussed along with examples of native plants for different site conditions. Presenter: Heather Holms, Author of the books Native Plants for Pollinators and Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide.
June 8, 2021 — Ferocious Dragons and Dainty Damsels — This primer to the winged jewels known as dragonflies and damselflies will cover the most common species, their natural history (life cycle, seasonality, what they prey on, and who preys on them), and how to identify one from another. Sutton, a long-time successful wildlife gardener, will share how to lure these ferocious mosquito predators into your own yard by creating a no-fuss wildlife pond. Presenter: Pat Sutton, Educator, Naturalist, Author
I know I’ll be virtually attending every single Webinar. “See” you there?
2020 VIRTUAL Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden (43 Years in the Making)
Our wildlife garden has evolved over the last 43 years from a lawn and very few plantings (a Lilac bush and Day Lilies) to probably 100+ native plants and many different components (perennial garden, pocket meadow, shade trees and gardens, wildlife ponds, native woodland, living fences, etc.) that all lure in and benefit wildlife. Read this brief history to learn more.
This was the 4th year I led tours of my wildlife garden for CU Maurice River, a non-profit organization doing great work in South Jersey. With Covid-19, the 2020 Tour was filmed on July 2nd and folks could join the tour VIRTUALLY on Tues., July 14, 2020.
If you missed this garden tour, there is a 2nd opportunity to join me for this Virtual Tour. It will be one of many fun offerings as part of the 2020 Wheaton Arts Virtual ECO WEEK. Details follow:
WHAT VIRTUAL GARDEN TOUR of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden 40+ Years in the Making
WHEN Friday, August 21, 2020 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
WHERE From the comfort of your home
Registration for this event is FREE! But you need to click on the Registration Link HERE. This Virtual Tour (a narrated video tour) will be followed by a Live Q & A session and is sponsored by CU Maurice River.
After you register, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining this selected Zoom webinar. Participants may join and rejoin the webinar at any time during the scheduled presentation.
About the VIRTUAL Tour of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden in Goshen, NJ (Cape May Co.), largely a NATIVE PLANT OASIS (filmed on July 2, 2020)
I’ll bet many of us have gardened more than normal this year, the year of Covid-19. Our wildlife garden and working in it has kept me sane during these uncertain times. I must give some credit for my sanity too to all the garden visitors I’ve discovered, learned about, and enjoyed this year. There have been so many fun sightings perhaps because we’ve been home a lot, out in the garden more, and savoring more. I hope this has been the case for you too.
I enjoyed sharing my garden with CU Maurice River on July 14th and am looking forward to sharing it again during the Wheaton Arts ECO WEEK. If you should join me and see the footage, keep in mind it hasn’t always looked like it does now. Like each and every one of us, I have made some serious mistakes over the years and paid dearly for them. I love sharing my garden, not only because it is packed with Nature Happenings, but also because in doing so, I might help save others some of the angst and frustration I went through. I love sharing my garden also because I have learned so much about wildlife gardening and how wildlife responds to habitat. Truly, create it and they will come!
We see so much in our little 1/2 acre for many reasons. We barely have any grass left to mow. There are robust native perennials and understory trees and shrubs under all of our trees, not lawn. Rather than fight their thugishness, I am thrilled when shade-loving perennials I’ve planted like Common Blue Wood Aster seed further and further out into the lawn each year. More native plants and less lawn equals more habitat. One section of what had been lawn is an itty bitty meadow instead (12 feet x 12 feet). The meadow of native grasses and perennials compliments the formal perennial garden and hosts nectaring and egg-laying butterflies and other pollinators, nesting Box Turtles, and more! Our woods take up about one-third of our property and are filled with native trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses, a sizable brush pile and many smaller brush piles, a butterfly house (made of overlapping branches with roofing shingles in between to keep weather out), and a seating area that is always cooler than the garden and overlooks a busy Hummingbird feeder (Meghan got footage of a hungry female during our virtual tour from this seating area). Many of the butterflies that nectar in our garden lay their eggs on native trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines in our woods. The woods were an impenetrable wall of Multiflora Rose until 2009 when we reclaimed them, so many of the native trees and shrubs are eleven years old. In ridding the woods of invasives the seed bank of natives had a chance. The transformation has been complete, but does take routine vigilance because the very birds we attract are eating invasives elsewhere and sprinkling seeds of those invasives in our woods and elsewhere on our property.
So, join me if you can for this 2nd airing of a 2020 Virtual Tour of my Private Wildlife Garden. CUMR’s Meghan Thompson did the filming. I’ll be narrating the garden tour, which will include some of my favorite garden still shots from this spring and past magic moments. This virtual presentation will showcase many of the pollinators and sights from this season.
You may also want to download and print the latest update of my “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), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County
Pat and Clay Sutton’s garden during the July Tour 2014
For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County. I saw these tours as one of the best ways to “grow” more wildlife gardeners. You can see the excitement in the photo above as tour participants find, study, and share with each other butterflies, spiders, caterpillars, native bees, frogs, turtles, hummingbirds, and the beautiful nectar plants, host plants, wildlife ponds, water features, and habitats that have attracted them.
Initially I led these tours for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where I worked as the Program Director. Between 2007-2014 I led the tours for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May.
Many of the owners of these beautiful, private, wildlife gardens had taken workshops with me and / or attended these tours.
Many garden owners shared with me that a personal goal was to have their own garden included on these tours. The number of wildlife gardens grew and grew. Eventually there were so many educational gems to share that I broke Cape May County into three regions and led back-to-back tours, covering different parts of the county each day. I led these tours in July, August, and September so attendees could see first hand the different “Chocolate Cakes” in bloom month-by-month and the variety of wildlife attracted.
On the final tour, garden-owner Gail Fisher presented me with my very own Chocolate Cake made by her Mom (it was delicious).
And to further spoil us on that final September 2014 garden tour Gail Fisher served homemade Chocolate Cupcakes.
TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF PRIVATE WILDLIFE GARDENS
Many of the gardens that were included on the Cape May County tours can be seen in the photo galleries below. These photos (taken over the years) truly record the evolution of these private wildlife gardens and may give you some great ideas for your own garden.
South Tour (Cape Island: Cape May, Cape May Point, West Cape May, and Lower Township)
Have you called your legislators yet about this desperately needed legislation to address invasive plants in NJ? I e-mailed each of mine (I live in District 1) via the legislative website and DID NOT get an acknowledgement. Others told me the same, that they have not heard anything back. So, I wrote snail-mail letters to each of them and called their local office today (December 4, 2018). When I asked the office staff about my concerns not being acknowledged, I was told that sometimes they get 100s or 1000s of e-mails and letters and do the best they can. Let’s hope that those 100s or 1000s of e-mails and letters they are receiving about this bill are from those of us concerned about the growing, selling, and planting of invasive plants and not from the nursery trade and Farm Bureau pleading economic hardship! If you haven’t contacted your legislators yet, it might be best to call and write via snail-mail (rather than e-mail). Let’s DO THIS!!! Details below.
November 28, 2018 — my 1st post about this:
I am writing to you about some key legislation that New Jersey desperately needs regarding the regulation of invasive plants. As a wildlife gardener and native-plant-enthusiast, the overwhelming abundance of invasive plants spreading through protected lands – plants that are still being sold at nurseries and big box stores and being planted by landscapers – is almost too much to stomach.
Two bills have been introduced to the NJ Legislature and will be discussed this term concerning the sale, distribution, and propagation of certain invasive plant species in New Jersey. In addition, each bill allows the Department of Agriculture to expand the list in the future to include invasive plants not yet listed. Also, each bill would require better labeling of invasive plants – so that consumers are warned.
Our legislators need to hear from us that we support these bills in order for these bills to have a chance to move forward and become law. They are essentially the same bill:
NJ Assembly Bill 4460 (sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. of District 7, Burlington) – Click HERE to see this bill. To TRACK this bill’s progress go to the NJ Legislature page for this bill and click “TRACK” (the 7th box under the bill name). Here is the LINK to TRACK this bill.
NJ Senate Bill 3086 (sponsored by Senator Linda R. Greenstein of District 14, Mercer & Middlesex) – Click HERE to see this bill. To TRACK this bill’s progress go to the NJ Legislature page for this bill and click “TRACK” (the 7th box under the bill name). Here is the LINK to TRACK this bill.
398 Invasive Plant Species in Cape May County
Cape May County, where I live, is the county with the highest number of invasive plant species in New Jersey with 398 species (found on thousands of sites and continuing to spread). Cumberland County has 292 invasive plant species spreading across the county.
These scary facts are from the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, which maintains EDD Maps (early detection and distribution mapping system) that show real-time tracking of invasive species occurrence. You can look up the number of invasive plants in your own County HERE . At the top of the page select “plants (only)” then scroll to the bottom of the page to see the list county-by-county. If you live in another State, select your State at the top of the page.
The spread of invasive plants is impacting our natural areas, wildlife dependent on those areas, native plants, wildlife dependent on native plants, and the very integrity of our protected lands and of our state.
On my own ½ acre property I have to remain vigilant to stay ahead of English Ivy, Burning Bush, Multiflora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, wisteria, Tartarian Honeysuckle, and many other invasives that are seeded in my yard by resident and migrating birds that have eaten their fruits elsewhere. As a long-time wildlife gardener and educator I am knowledgeable enough to recognize invasive plant seedlings. Heaven help others who are not as informed and are frequently victims, as their properties become more and more smothered by invasive plants.
Nurseries are not policing themselves; instead they are growing and selling highly invasive and problematic plants to unsuspecting members of the public and making the situation worse and worse by the day. The same is true for landscapers, who are heavily utilizing these invasives. Since the nursery trade and the landscape trade is acting irresponsibly, it is time for checks and balances to push these growers, sellers, and landscapers to be more mindful of our natural environment.
I have heard horror stories from many of you over the years. Share your personal story when you write to your legislators: (1) whether it is a back-breaking, long-term fight to keep Bamboo or English Ivy or another invasive out of your yard that keeps straying from a neighbor’s yard, (2) a landscaper you hired to put in a butterfly garden of native plants who charged you a fortune to instead plant a garden of invasives (identified as invasives by a friend after the fact), (3) or, one of my favorites, a landscaper you hired to put in a wildlife habitat of native plants and instead they planted invasives; when you questioned why they didn’t plant native plants, they said, “What? These are native, they’re everywhere!” proving they didn’t have the knowledge base to take on the job in the first place.
Protected Lands Overrun With Invasives
I take a walk nearly every day at one or another of the preserved lands near where I live: the Cape May NWR, a Nature Conservancy preserve, or one of the state Wildlife Management Areas. The spread of invasive plants at each of these areas is so disturbing that I feel like I need to take clippers along. I fear that the land managers are overwhelmed and have given up. And who could blame them? The very same invasives that are spreading across the lands they manage are still being sold in nurseries and planted on adjoining properties.
The ecological damages done by invasive, alien plants are far larger than most of us realize: fewer pollinators, fewer birds, some bird species winking out (N. Bobwhite for example), outcompeted native nectar plants and native berry-producing plants, less healthy habitats, uglier landscapes, and impenetrable lands.
What You Can Do To Help Move These NJ Bills Toward Law:
Write snail mail to both of your Assembly representatives and your State Senator (or, BETTER, phone them!) to ask that they sign on as co-sponsors. (It’s too early to urge them to vote.) Add a reason or two why you care about the bill in your own words. **** To those of you who live in District One, your support can have special impact! Your Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak is Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, where the bill is up for discussion this term. (District One: all of Cape May County; and Corbin City, Estell Manor, and Weymouth Township in Atlantic County; and Millville, Vineland, and other municipalities in Cumberland County). As Chair, it is probably inappropriate to ask Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak to co-sponsor the bill, but you can certainly urge him to push the bill forward through his committee and to the Assembly.
Thank you for caring about the natural world and its health. And thank you if you have already reached out to your representatives!
You can begin your letter to the two Assemblymen in your District, “Regarding NJ Assembly Bill 4460, I am writing to express my strong support for this bill and to urge you to co-sponsor it.” ****
You can begin your letter to the Senator in your District, “Regarding NJ Senate Bill 3086, I am writing to express my strong support for this bill and to urge you to co-sponsor it.”
Please share this with others who are as concerned as you are by the unchecked sale, planting, and spread of invasive plants across New Jersey.
It is the peak of fall migration! Any time the winds are from the Northwest, you can bet your bippy there will be birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and bats galore migrating through Cape May Point. The Monarchs will continue to migrate through all of October and, if conditions are right, even the first few days or first week of November.
October 3rd the winds were gentle from the northwest, perfect for migration, so Clay & I decided to “take our walk” at Cape May Point. We got down there and never left.
The floodgates opened and a river of Monarchs and dragonflies was flowing down the dune line, right over the dune crossovers in the town of Cape May Point. That was the place to be. A steady movement of Monarchs floated by while others nectared on the Seaside Goldenrod in the dunes. Some pulses were huge! A steady movement of dragonflies zoomed by including mostly Black Saddlebags and Common Green Darners with some Carolina Saddlebags mixed in (about 1 in every 10 saddlebags). The numbers were uncountable. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Monarchs and dragonflies. I’ve included some photos with this post to share with you the spectacle we witnessed on October 3rd, truly a day we’ll remember forever more.
Many Monarchs reach the tip of the Cape May Peninsula on winds like those that blew on October 3rd from the northwest. These winds blow migrating Monarchs out to the coast. Rather than get blown out to sea, they turn and follow the coastline south, and reach lands end, Cape May Point. On days with the right conditions (gentle winds from the northwest), numbers build and build. Sometimes we’re treated to a late afternoon and evening roost where Monarchs gather by the thousands. The next morning can be quite a spectacle, when they are warmed up by the rising sun and lift off to continue their migration.
Talking with Mark Garland, who heads up the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, he did not expect that there would be a huge roost or roosts of Monarchs the evening of October 3rd in the town of Cape May Point because it was so warm (80 degrees). He shared that those huge roosts usually form in the late afternoon on the colder days when temperatures are 50 degrees or cooler. He thought there would be lots and lots of little Monarch roosts around Cape May Point instead, with 10 Monarchs here and 10 Monarchs there. From what we hear, that was the case. We couldn’t stay that evening to see for ourselves.
We headed back down the next day, October 4th to see what was left over from the flight the day before. The winds switched in the night from northwest to south, so we weren’t expecting too much. Indeed the south winds were not bringing new Monarchs to us, but it was a beautiful day for a walk.
This fall, respond to weather predictions. If the winds are to come from the north or northwest, get to Cape May Point! Just do it!!!
If you should encounter roosts of Monarchs, please do not approach so close that you flush them. Remember that they’re holding on for their lives. The next stop is a big stretch of water and that can be treacherous for Monarchs.
There are many dune crossovers in the town of Cape May Point that take you right next to blooming nectar full of Monarchs. And there are nectar-rich stretches along the dune trails (between the dune and the Plover Ponds) in both the Cape May Point State Park and the South Cape May Meadows. All these sites offer terrific photo opportunities. Please do not leave dune crossovers and trails to venture into dunes for photos; it’s illegal for one thing and disruptive and just poor etiquette.