Whether you’re entirely new to gardening, or are a certified ‘green thumb’ who is transforming an existing garden into a wildlife habitat garden, it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out where to begin. You know your garden can … Continue reading
As a wildlife habitat gardener, I know how important it is to leave as many seedheads and spent flowers standing in my garden in the winter for food and cover for birds and small mammals. But my garden has taken a beating … Continue reading
It was a snowy day here in Stamford, CT so most people stayed inside and took it easy. But the bird feeder was like Grand Central Station all day long.
By the way, this is the view of my wildlife-friendly garden from my office window…it’s a wonder I get any work done at all.
Don’t you love the way the birds are ‘stacked’ in the branches of the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ’Contorta’) just waiting their turns to get something to eat?
Sorry for the poor quality of the photo, I took it through the window.
Over on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens , I published a post about six great plants, some are annuals and some are perennials in my Connecticut garden (zone 6), for attracting beneficial insects to your garden.
Creating more habitat for birds, butterflies and bees is really easy. You can even combine these plants and create your very own habitat planter.
Drum Roll Please…
What exactly are the 6 plants for attracting beneficial insects to your garden? Here’s a quick peek…
Visit Native Plans & Wildlife Gardens to find out about the 6 plants for attracting beneficial insects to your garden and how to best use them in your garden.
Fall is a time of transition in many gardens. From the exuberance of summer to the sleepiness of winter. It’s a time when those plants that do double-duty, you know the ones…those with ‘multi-season interest’, begin to take center stage again.
While every gardener wants an eye-catching autumn garden, instead of focusing on vibrant fall foliage as the only way to add color and interest to your fall garden, consider adding a few berrying shrubs, too. Not only do shrubs with berries add a pop of fall color to your garden, they are also a vital ingredient in any wildlife-friendly garden.
There are lots of options for fall-berrying shrubs, but two of the most versatile groups of shrubs are hollies and viburnums.
Hollies (Ilex) can be an excellent choice for many gardens. Tough, often evergreen shrubs, hollies come in any array of sizes, from small to quite large and a variety of shapes, from round to upright to conical. Many hollies have brightly colored berries that are an important staple in the diet of birds and small mammals and also add a brilliant spot of color to your garden.
Hollies are at home in both formal and informal gardens. They are the classic foundation plant – used to hide the ‘uglies’, soften the corners of houses or flank the front door. Most hollies respond well to pruning, making them easy to incorporate into gardens of all sizes.
Remember, hollies bear male and female flowers on different plants so you will need a male plant to fertilize your females in order to get berries.
Evergreen hollies also provide much-needed shelter and nesting spots for birds and add structure to your garden all year long. Want to learn more about hollies? Check out the book Hollies for Gardeners by Christopher Bailes.
The Under-Used, Unsung Superstar
As a genus, viburnums (Viburnum) are probably my favorite shrub. But they are woefully underused by many gardeners, even though there seems to be a viburnum for virtually any garden situation.
Looking for a shrub you can plant in both full sun and full shade? Try V. trilobum (American cranberry bush) or V. prunifolium (blackhaw viburnum). Got dry soil? Try V. rhytidophyllum (leatherleaf viburnum). How about wet soil? Consider V. opulus (European cranberry bush).
Viburnums look their best when allowed to attain their inherent beauty and grow into their natural size and shape. Pruning should be done to keep the shrub healthy, not necessarily to control its size. Keep in mind, most viburnums should be considered large shrubs, easily growing to over 8′ tall and wide. There are many ‘dwarf’ cultivars but they should be considered medium-sized shrubs since many will grow to at least 5′ tall and wide.
It can be difficult to pinhole exactly how to best use viburnums in a designed garden since their growth habits vary so widely. They can be used as specimen plants, planted in mass as a privacy screen, as part of a mixed bed or border, or as a transition plant for the edge of a woodland garden.
Since many viburnums can be self-sterile, for the best fruit set, plant another viburnum of the same species nearby. Just make sure the flowering time overlaps.
For much more info on all things viburnum, check out Viburnums by Michael Dirr.
To whet your appetite for these berried beauties, here’s a quick look at a few hollies and viburnum that will make worthwhile additions for your garden…
Recently, fellow Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens team member, Genevieve Schmidt, wrote a post about native plant alternatives for several overused plants found in many gardens in California, where Gen lives, gardens and works as a landscaper.
As Gen mentions in her post,Plant This, Not That: California Natives Edition, by simply looking beyond the every-house-on-my-street-has-one-of-those plants, and instead choosing a similar native plant, gardeners “could be adding wildlife value and getting a similar color or textural effect in the garden”.
Pat Sutton also joined Gen and wrote about eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), in her post Plant This, Not That: New Jersey Natives Edition. And now it’s my turn to jump on the bandwagon and write a post for Connecticut (and New England) gardeners and suggest a native alternative to three non-native staples of many local gardens.
Read about my native plant alternatives to hybrid hollies, butterfly bush and maiden grass at Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens.
This week I’ve been looking at ways to keep deer away from your prized plants. (If you’d like to be entered to win a free bottle of Deer Off deer repellent, read this post.) As gardeners, we are always looking for a list of foolproof deer-resistant plants or the best deer-repellent we can find so we can grow all the plants we want to grow, not just those the deer seem to leave alone. But keeping deer out of your garden has far-reaching benefits that you may not realize.
For many gardeners, the more disturbing truth about having deer in your garden is that you also have ticks in your garden. Many ticks carry diseases which can be quite serious. Here in Connecticut, where Lyme disease was first identified back in the 1970′s, it is estimated that approximately 25% of the ticks are infected with Lyme Disease. (For more information about Lyme Disease, visit the CDC’s Lyme Disease webpage.)
Keeping Deer Out Is NOT Enough
Another disturbing truth, especially here in New England, is that even if you do manage to keep deer out of your garden, you are still susceptible to tick bites and tick borne-illnesses. I’m not qualified to get into the intricacies of a deer tick’s life cycle but you can find more info here and here.
This is especially important information for wildlife and habitat gardeners who invite birds and small mammals into their gardens. While I often advocate for creating a wildlife-friendly garden, just remember those little lovelies can be tick hosts, too.
So how do you balance the safety of you and your family with your desire to create a wildlife-friendly garden? Just like many other aspects of gardening, there are going to have to be trade-offs. Many tick-scaping practices involve eliminating or reducing habitat for a whole host of beneficial insects, birds and small mammals.
While there is some evidence that suggests having a highly bio-diverse landscape can help control the number of ticks, it’s important to think about how you and your family use your garden because there are ways to manage or isolate know tick habitats so you can have the best of both worlds.
The very first thing I suggest to all my garden design clients is that they get rid of any Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) shrubs on their property. Sure they’re deer-resistant but they are also highly invasive in many states, are known mice hotels and there has been a link established between Japanese barberry and Lyme Disease. But before you go out in the garden and chop them down, check out this info from UCONN on proper Japanese barberry removal.
Other tick management strategies include:
♦ Use plants that are deer-resistant and limit the use of deer favorites. Find a reliable local resource to provide appropriate lists of deer resistant plants in your area.
♦ Ticks prefer densely wooded areas and those transitional areas in some gardens between woodland and grass or ornamental beds. Keep that in mind as you design your garden.
♦ Reduce or remove brush piles and leaf litter, favorite hiding places for small mammals. I understand this may be an especially difficult proposition for habitat gardeners. But if reducing ticks in your garden is your primary objective, this can definitely help.
♦ Trim tree branches to let more sunlight into your garden. Ticks generally do not like sunny spots.
♦ Studies have shown that a 3′ wide barrier of wood chips, mulch or gravel between woodland borders and play spaces can greatly reduce the number of ticks in the play area.
♦ If you have play equipment, position in a sunny spot and remember the 3′ barrier rule.
♦ Groundcovers, like pachysandra, is a favorite tick habitat. We inherited a garden with tons of pachysandra and the common refrain to the kids when they were young was ‘stay out of the pachysandra, the ticks live there’.
To find out much more about managing tick habitat, download the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station’s Tick Management Handbook.
Are ticks a problem where you garden? if so, I’d love to hear about what are you doing to reduce ticks in your garden.
On the 20th of each month, I blog over on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens. This month, I’ve written a post about the difficulty gardeners have in finding reliable online resources.
I hope you’ll check out the post, Online Resources for Wildlife Gardeners, and while you’re there, don’t forget to read the comments section for links to other websites that will sure to be of interest. And, of course, please feel free to leave your own link, too.
Creating a garden that is colorful, beautiful and attractive to local wildlife is not difficult if you follow a few basic guidelines:
♦ Every garden begins with healthy, living soil. So before you plant another thing do yourself a favor and get your soil tested. For more on the benefits of health soil and how to build it in your garden, check out this post. And here’s a list of soil testing labs.
♦ Take an inventory of the plants that are currently growing in your garden. Note the flowering and/or berrying time of different plants. If you’re not sure exactly which plants are growing in your garden right now, check out this post by Gen over at North Coast Gardening about using Google Image search and how it can help identify plants. Remove all invasive plants you find.
♦ Now the fun begins, it’s time to start choosing new plants for your habitat garden! This is where your plant inventory comes in handy. A habitat garden is rich in bio-diversity, from both a plant perspective and a wildlife perspective. Your goal is to provide food (think flowers, nuts & berries) throughout the year, shelter and water for the wildlife that will make your garden their home. A great place to start is with plants native to your area. Not sure where to start? Check out this list of recommended native plants by state on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website.
If you don’t have many evergreens, plant a few more. If you have loads of plants that flower in the spring but not the fall, focus on late-blooming shrubs and perennials. You get the idea. But keep in mind, don’t plant one of everything. Be selective and plants in groups of three or five, if you have the room. A large clump of berrying shrubs is much more enticing than one here and another way over there. Check out this post for more tips on designing a habitat garden.
♦ OK, you’ve designed and planted your habitat garden, now it’s time to think about maintaining it. Think organic. If possible, do not use any pesticides, insecticides or herbicides in your garden. If you must use something, use non-synthetic organic products. Here’s a list of OMRI-certified products, just make sure to read the label and use accordingly. Use compost and compost teas to feed your soil which in turn, feeds your plants. Just like people, healthy plants are better able to fight off minor infestations and infections.
Now it’s your turn…what’s your best tips for creating or maintaining a habitat garden?
An easy way to add color to your fall garden is with trees and shrubs that have bright colorful berries. And for my money, the shrub with the brightest berries has got to be purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma). It’s true, Callicarpa is not a ‘4-season shrub’ that most landscape designers love to use, but this quiet unassuming shrub sure knows how to shine once the fall arrives.
There are several different species of Callicarpa, including C. americana that is native to part of the US, that are a bit more jumbled and wild-looking in appearance. Callicarpa dichotoma seems to have a much more graceful and refined habit making it easier to combine with other shrubs.
Birds eat the berries but only after all other berry-sources have been depleted. This means the berries persist on the shrub well into the winter in some years. The purple berries dusted with snow is a beautiful site.
♦ Purple beautyberry flowers and fruits on new wood so you can prune it back quite severely in early spring. I usually prune mine just as the new leaves start to appear.
♦ Growing to about 4’ tall and wide and hardy in zones 5 – 8, Callicarpa dichotoma prefers full to partial sun and well-draining soil.
♦ Purple beautyberry is not very drought tolerant. Keep in mind, it is supposed to produce the best berries when it has consistent levels of moisture in the soil during flowering.
♦ Branches are arching and layered, giving an interesting architectural look to a mixed border. Small, pale pink flowers appear in early to mid-Summer but are almost unnoticeable. The real show comes when the berries mature.
♦ Since beautyberries are unassuming most of the year, use them as background plants. Suitable companion plants include peonies, echinacea and low-growing conifers.
♦ For maximum impact, plant purple beautyberry in masses.
♦ Purple beautyberry seems to be deer-resistant in my garden.
What plants are adding color to your fall garden?