Wildlife in the Garden

 

Photo of deer mother and babies

These are the guilty parties who have been nipping the heads off my daylilies. We had a bad convergence the other day, rain into the night, that prevented spraying the vulnerable flowers; then dry weather when it was too late to go out. That made a window of opportunity for Mama Deer and her babies.

 

Photo of deer trail through flowerbed

Photo of deer trail through flowerbed

Above are two deer trails I have created/enhanced in my under-tree bed. They look delicate, but deer have a tendency to blunder through the garden, knocking over edging, stepping on and breaking, or grinding, some of the flowers you were hoping to keep. I have four bits of advice for coexisting with deer:

1) Allow natural areas in your lawn; don’t take away all their usual food by having too-perfect grass. 2) Plant mostly deer-resistant flowers. 3) Spray the endangered things, including veg, that you want to protect from them. 4) Plant lots of anything you hope to see flower or fruit. A few will eke through under cover of other plants.

 

Photo close-up of squirrel nest

The squirrel population has been burgeoning this year. They’ve built themselves a squirrel McMansion up in the oak. But today, in a surprising and excellent development, I looked out my window and saw a Golden Eagle perched on the lawn. The squirrels were frozen in various semi-hiding places, giving off warning signals. It seems the rabbit population has gone down, so predators that depend on them may have to hunt other prey.

 

Photo of poison ivy leaves

Leaves of three. When poison ivy plants are just getting started, they don’t always have the characteristic lobes or teeth. One that looks like this, though it might disguise itself as a wildflower or shrub, is just as bad as the others.

 

Photo of garden pathway

This is the garden pathway, showing the deer trail pictured above, branching off. I load on as many fallen leaves as I can in autumn and winter, and you can see how completely they’ve decomposed by summer. Meanwhile, all the branches that come down make nice defining edges.

 

Photo close-up of nicotiana flower

Close-up of a nicotiana blossom, a nice purple, which seems to be one of the rarer colors.

 

Photo of cleome flower

Cleome is a funny sort of creature. The plants smell like sour lemon; they make these curious flowers with stamens like bundles of computer cable, and as the flowers fade, each petal/sepal (whatever it is) curls up like this, in a row. And they have thorns. Cleome are also super-easy to propagate from cuttings. Just include a leaf node on a piece of stem, and stick into moist garden soil directly.

 

Photo close-up of ageratum bloom

I always plant ageratum, reliable grown from seed; the periwinkle blue is a great accent to any other color. In this tight shot, you can see what the flower form really is.

 

 

Garden Upcycling

 

We don’t like plastic going into our waterways and woods. But the fact is companies that distribute millions of plastic containers along with their products don’t come near 100% recycling of those same containers. And if they don’t take back their plastic, it stands to reason the plastic we faithfully recycle can’t be getting reused. Any number of articles, such as this from The Guardian, confirm it. The best thing we can do with plastic is substitute what we take in for something we might otherwise buy. The effort will be small, per person, but the more people who get in the habit, the greater the cumulative gain. Most plastic things we bring into our homes are containers of some kind. Storage tubs that come with butter or yogurt, are easily cycled onwards as…storage tubs. When you start upcycling containers into crafts: candle holders, pencil holders—crafting supply holders, for that matter—you run out of need for such items pretty quickly.

There are a number of uses gardeners can get out of the plastics we accumulate. A few ideas, below:

 

Photo of lip balm tubes

Lip balm tubes are odd things. They’re inconveniently sized, as to causing trouble for wildlife, ocean creatures in particular. The little bullets are mostly empty, as you see above, with the labels stripped off.

 

Photo of lip balm product

And this is how much product is left after the mechanism stops screwing any more above the tube’s edge. You won’t enjoy the leftover as lip balm, unless you don’t mind the nuisance of fingering it out. You can, though, use it as a fingernail/toenail treatment. It’s mostly wax. Meanwhile, the tubes, as demonstrated, can be used by gardeners to store seed we collect. Let your seed dry completely before you seal it away.

 

Photo of pot cut to be plant collar

Sometimes animals insist on digging up things you’ve just planted. You can make protective collars, cut a nursery pot with teeth at the bottom like this, sharp enough to penetrate soft soil. Otherwise, anchor them with sticks.

 

Photo of larkspurs with collars

Here are two larkspurs that needed help, after being repeatedly trampled and bothered with.

 

Photo of water jugs

Three things you can do with water jugs (some of which are also refillable at the store.) First, you can cut them in half to make cloches for protecting tender seedlings from frost, or encouraging cuttings to root. Second, use them as intended, fill them from the hose and carry all the water you need to the back of the garden in one wheelbarrow load. Third, save them until you have several, fill them two-thirds, and build a rectangle. Cap it with a piece of Plexiglas, an old window, or one of those plastic sheets used for dropped ceiling light fixtures, and you have a cold frame for starting early vegetables.

 

Photo of cat treat container

Finally, for today’s ideas, these jumbo cat treat containers are fine for human treats, too.

 

 

 

Good Weather and Burgeoning Nature

Photo of pulmonaria and coleus in garden

A pretty combo of pulmonaria and coleus.

 

Photo of baby deer in garden

Early in the week, a visitor. Mother deer, when the babies are small, will “park” them in a safe place, while going off to browse. If you find a baby, and it looks perfectly healthy, it likely has no troubles at all, and the mother hasn’t abandoned it. Leave things alone, and she’ll come back to take the baby away with her.

 

Photo of baby deer in garden

Here’s another shot. The camouflage worked a little, in that I discovered this one by surprise while out in the evening spraying my plants with Liquid Fence. The baby lifted its head and wrinkled its nose, and I apologized. (Yes, I’ll talk to an animal, if I come across one.) They aren’t afraid of people at this stage of life…and of course you shouldn’t touch them, though having been nearby won’t perturb the mother when she comes back.

 

Photo of baby deer in garden

And here is the little face. The baby was about the size of my larger cat.

 

Photo of chipmunk hole

A chipmunk hole, where they’ve tunneled under the concrete patio. I have a cactus that lives outdoors during the warm months, and the chipmunks always jump right on top of it and perch there, not bothered by the spines.

 

Photo of pawpaw tree

A volunteer pawpaw tree, under one of my oaks. I don’t mind it staying; while I’ve never actually found a pawpaw fruit in the wild, with all the animals that get them first.

 

Photo of several plants in small space

This is a small space, probably any radius from this half-circle bed no more than two feet. But you can spot a clematis, daylily, astilbe, heuchera, impatiens, dusty miller, nasturtium, coleus, and a little larkspur. Also wild violets.

 

Photo of potted plants in garden

The patio pots, with mostly the standbys: impatiens, coleus, petunia. The large one with the colander also has nasturtium and a start from my perennial geranium, and the stewpot has Louisiana iris, a bog plant, since there are no holes in the bottom.

 

 

 

Do We Have the Gall?

Photo of gall on azalea leaf

Here is a fascinating one, of a type I’ve never seen. This azalea leaf has been mutated by whatever creature formed the gall, into a shape that resembles an orchid flower. Functional, or not? You can see the red going up the center vein, but the cells of this leaf are also generally deformed. Some galls are caused by insects, some by mites, some by fungus or bacteria.

 

Photo of wildflower with tiny white blooms

Here is a cute, tiny wildflower. Even the little serrated leaves are cute.

 

Photo of foxglove seedlings

This is a swath of seedling foxgloves, all from the parent plant that died off after blooming last year. That’s nothing sad (mildly sad, maybe, but nature has her ways) because foxgloves are, most varieties, biennials. Some of the ones I’ve started this year have grown so big and robust, I hope they will bloom. Meanwhile, I’ve got plenty here to spread around to other beds.

 

Photo of cloche protecting monarda

You might have come across what looked like snipped-off leaves, on some of your garden plants. I added a monarda to my “round the tree” bed, and came out one day to find it had vanished. I dug up another piece from a stand in the front border, and that one got snipped too. I thought it must be a bird, but the leaves were left lying on the ground, so what could the guilty party have in mind? Another day, I looked through my back door, and saw a grackle snipping at a brand new store-bought monarda. So, if you’ve ever had a similar experience, I can testify I’ve seen the bird in the act. Maybe the strong scent, the oils in the leaves, helps them get rid of lice when they’re nesting. (Now nesting is over, they’ve left my plants alone.) Maybe the scent helps disguise the nest from predators.

 

Photo of lily eaten by deerPhoto of impatiens eaten by deer

Speaking of depredations. We had two solid days of heavy rain here in southeastern Ohio. Normally I use Liquid Fence to keep deer off my tasty garden plants, the lilies, daylilies, impatiens, elephant ears…besides which I plant as many deer resistant flowers as I can find. I have most of the usual ones; sometimes the deer will snip the tops off coneflowers or shasta daisies. But a convergence of circumstance put my garden at risk. The rain meant I couldn’t spray, and then…which is common at this time of year…a deer showed up during the early daytime. They are normally nocturnal in their foraging, so I’d expected to have enough time when things dried up, to stink up my plants for them. (Liquid Fence is a spray you mix that smells like a combination of garlic, pepper, and manure.) As you see, some of this year’s lily flowers got snatched away, and these impatiens I just planted are down to the nubs. The deer also chopped some centaurea, which won’t care, and my goatsbeard, which one or another deer tends to do every year.

 

Photo of cuttings in nursery box

But here are some new impatiens getting a start, as well as cuttings from some petunias I just bought. You can keep a nursery box like this all summer and stick cuttings in as your plants get leggy, or when you just want more.

 

 

 

What’s in the Garden

The last of the unseasonable winter-in-May has passed by, so this week was the real start of getting things planted out. All my seed-grown perennials, that I planted in April, survived the frost just fine, as most perennials will. But the annuals were getting large in their pots, and using up all their potting soil nutrients.

 

Photo of maple with woodpecker holes

Here is one of my front lawn sugar maples. From the time this was taken, the tree has already leafed out in full. As you can see, the dead center trunks make the best of habitats for hole-nesting birds, also flying squirrels (I’ve never seen one, but I assume they’re there, since the owls catch some sort of prey around the feeder), and ordinary squirrels in wintertime. Important to note, the tree is still quite alive and leafs robustly, so although a lot of homeowners would decide to cut down a half-dead tree, it’s worth keeping for the wildlife it supports.

 

Photo closeup of verbascum bloom

A close-up view of a verbascum flower. I grew a bunch from seed last year, but had to wait for this year to see them bloom. Note the pentagon-shaped bud.

 

Photo of plants in garage

When it was freezing at night, and forties by day, I had to make do, finding someplace to get light to my mature seedlings. And a couple of venerable houseplants. In the background, my garage collection of dead appliances.

 

Photo of coneflower heads

This is all that remains of the coneflower seedheads. This structural part that supports the sepals, flowers, and seeds, reminds me of a cycad. There seems to be no purpose to it, other than as a basic derivative of the plant’s evolutionary history. Flowers of the Asteraceae family are over forty million years old, so far as the fossil record currently shows.

 

Photo of Cooper's Hawk nest from distance

In my callery pear, this new nest has appeared. You can see by the recently clipped branches, still green, that it’s either in progress, or just completed. It’s the type of nest, and the tree-crotch location is typical, of a Cooper’s Hawk. But it’s only about five feet off the ground.

 

Photo of Cooper's Hawk Nest

Here’s a close-up.

 

Photo of baptisia australis

This baptisia has been growing in my garden for several years, and this is the first year it has ever bloomed.

 

Photo of red peony

My red single-flowered peony.

 

Photo of wildflower

Finally, this is a wildflower we have locally. It looks like a member of the rose family, but I couldn’t find it in my guidebook. I’m going to give it a chance and see if it develops into a decent groundcover for shade, where it likes to grow. The flowers are as shown, tiny, but the leaves are like a heuchera.

 

 

May Garden Notes

Photo of leaf gall on birch

I think this tree is a gray birch, that got itself next to the garage foundation. Then I neglected getting rid of it, so it shot branches up above the roof-line. When I cut it back one branch took off a piece of flashing. But I feel sorry for the tree, so I trim it back as a shrub and let it live. This year it has all these galls on the leaves, that seem to grow into this strange plant/insect object. You can see some in the background that are stretching.

 

Photo of lilies of the valley

The lilies of the valley are pretty this year, since I raked their bed out for them, and added some fortified potting soil. Its a difficult spot to design, because in the winter the oaks shed masses of leaves, and the bed gets heavily piled; then in the spring the daffodils have to run their course, before there’s room for the next thing. This year I added the dwarf spruce, and a climbing trellis.

 

Photo of squirrel on feeder pole

In the local squirrel gene pool, is this tendency towards red tails. So far this year, only a Cooper’s hawk, seen in pursuit of an unknown bird, so the squirrels are fat and frollicking. I have a whole flock of morning doves, which seem to be the bird-hunting hawk’s favorite prey.

 

Photo of catkins

In the springtime, the oaks drop so many catkins I can sweep them up and use them for mulch. Catkins are high-protein (it seems, as I learned from looking it up, you can eat them if you like…something to remember if you’re ever lost in the wilderness at the right season), and so it takes little time for them to decompose in the garden.

 

Photo of hens and chicks

Here’s a good way to hatch out your hens and chickens, when you want to spread them around.

 

 

Waiting for the Cold Spell to End

Photo of garden cart and plants

These are the seeds I started March 15. The biggest growers are the annuals, the centaurea, nicotiana, and tithonia. They toughen up well enough with temperatures in the fifties, but need an eye kept on them in case the wind blows too cold. Of perennials, I have rudbeckia, columbine, shasta daisy, lupine, achillea, foxglove, hollyhock, catmint, coreopsis, hibiscus. The slower-growing annuals are coleus, impatiens (the big ones flowering above were started from cuttings), larkspur, calendula, ageratum…and I just started the end of spring annuals, that could sprout sown directly; but, in the case of sunflower, are vulnerable to birds eating them, or need a good start to root well and bloom sooner: morning glory, marigold, and nasturtium.

 

Photo of Milkweed border

Along the side of the garage I have a stand of swamp milkweed (white-flowered) that grows every summer into a seasonal hedge. These plants get a lot of love from bees and wasps; so far, I haven’t seen monarchs. But, as every year, I want to tout the tithonia flower, which is very attractive to monarchs. That may be because the kind that migrate to Mexico are looking for a familiar haven along the way (tithonia is also called Mexican sunflower). When they go to seed in the late summer, goldfinches will feed on them too.

 

Photo of old yew bush

On my old property, I planted an acorn and grew a Chestnut oak about twenty or thirty feet tall at the time I left. I’d like to think it’s still there…maybe it isn’t. But owners can do what they need to with their own place. My garage was first hedged with yew, bushes grown a couple feet taller than me. If they were left alone, there’d be no moving up the side between my property and the neighbors’. I don’t myself like trimmed foundation bushes, so I cut them down, rather than try keeping them up—I couldn’t get the stumps, because my chainsaw is only a little battery-operated one. One yew, and I’m happy it did, if I can keep it small, came back and has a sort of Bristlecone pine vibe.

 

Photo of my grandfather and his brother

My grandfather (left), his brother (right). I don’t know who the skinny man in the center is.

 

Photo of my grandfather, his brother and mother

Same group, but with my great-grandmother in the middle.

 

Photo of my great grandmother

My great-grandmother Barker, 1960s, probably Mt. Vernon, Illinois

 

 

This Week’s Doings in the Garden

Below, a very short video, answering the question I posed a while back, as to who’d be using the treehole for a nesting site this year.

 

 

 

Photo of yellow primrose

 

My mother gave me this yellow primrose (a red one too) when I moved to my present house, ten years ago. That’s not even how old it is, having lived however long before I got it. So, if you’ve got some rocks to plant your primroses among, you’ll find them some of the most reliable and long-lived perennials.

 

Photo of violets in yard

 

My yard is full of violets, one of the nicest things to see in the springtime, when they bloom in swaths. The leaves will also stay green even in a drought. All the more mystery why anyone would want a chemically green lawn, instead of a beautiful meadow. Photographing violets doesn’t work on bright sunny days. You need a good overcast sky to get the colors to show true.

 

 

Photo of seedlings being hardened off

 

This is the time of year when caring for the seedlings gets laborious (a little). They can’t spend the night outside, both for temperatures and creature interference. So, for a week or two, I have to carry them out, set them up, carry them back inside, repeat… But they need wind and natural light as soon as possible, when they get to the potting on stage. Hardening off is not just to get them ready for the garden, but because a little pot of soil won’t keep them fed well enough when they’re really growing. Wind gets the root and leaf systems respirating properly, and sunlight cranks up the photosynthesis.

 

 

April Garden News

Here’s a sassy orange tulip I saved from the deer. I have two blooming, and one that will probably get away with making a flower. The others have had their heads bitten off.

 

I’ve been getting into the gardening magazines, getting inspired by projects. I don’t subscribe anymore, but still have a stack never read. So, I’ve gone through my garage, finding every pot or article (large pieces of pipe, an old dryer vent), that could be spruced up with craft paint. At the left is nothing but a shrub-sized plastic pot, such as garden centers use. Here’s one kind of recycling to keep plastic out of circulation altogether! The paints are Martha Stewart metallic and pearlized, and the decoration is done by dipping crumpled plastic wrap in contrasting colors after a base coat dries, then tamping on the freeform design. When they’re ready to go out, add a coat of car wax, to make them more rain resistant.

 

Here are my garden seeds, sprouted and on their way, after two weeks. It’s something of a balancing act to get them early enough they have a healthy amount of growth, comparable to plants you’d buy at the garden store. But growth is especially important with perennials. Last year, for example, I put out probably a dozen hollyhocks, which like most perennials won’t bloom the first year. This year, I count less than half that number surviving, from voles and deer, and crowding by the roots of other plants. Last year’s achillea (deer resistant) has pretty much all come back, but this is the first season they’ll bloom. I had good monarda (also deer resistant) last year, a plant that will flower like an annual, but this year a couple stands don’t seem to have returned. But since even tender annuals can go outdoors in April during the daytime (unless the temperatures are below the upper fifties), it’s better to start early, and have big plants that will bloom as soon as possible.

Seedlings, though, then young mature plants, do get to be a lot to handle indoors.

And by the way, the impatiens flowering pink, above, are from cuttings. They’ll grow easily that way—just snip a top with buds, making your cut between two sets of leaf nodes, and stick it in potting soil. It will root and start blooming within a week or two. The downside is that cuttings are clones. Impatiens are also very easy to start from seeds, and that genetic diversity will improve their chances of not picking up disease.