Monday, September 22, 2008

The Pleasure Of Bird-bathing

When we think of attracting birds to our yards, we think of bird feeders. To be sure, they do bring many species within viewing distance. But birds are also attracted to water. And they especially appreciate bird baths this time of year because of heat and dry conditions. A large population of juvenile birds and the start of migration season will bring even more to bathe. In addition, there are many species that dine on insects and would never frequent a seed feeder. So the addition of water features will attract more such as flycatchers, mockingbirds, tanagers, thrashers, thrushes, vireos and warblers.

There are many kinds of baths available on the market: bowls and dishes, puddles and fountains, some suspended and some set on the ground. With a little ingenuity, you can make your own from a tray, garbage can lid or a Frisbee. Any type of bath will attract birds, but some species prefer particular structures and bath placement. To attract a diversity of species, consider more than one type of bath.
The most popular type of bird bath with humans is the bowl or dish on a 3' pedestal, perhaps because they function well as landscape ornaments. Fortunately, they are popular with many birds, too. They readily attract cardinals, catbirds, chickadees, doves, finches, goldfinches, mockingbirds, nuthatches, orioles and sparrows.

Dishes or bowls set on the ground or partially buried are especially popular with ground birds such as quail. But they also attract doves, juncos, robins and sparrows.
Multi-level pools and fountains can have the added attraction of moving water powered by recirculating submersible pumps. These types of baths draw buntings, cardinals, catbirds, cedar waxwings, chickadees, doves, finches, flycatchers, goldfinches, grosbeaks, mockingbirds, nuthatches, orioles, sparrows, titmice, thrushes, vireos and warblers.
Moving water can also be provided by a simple dripper or a garden hose with a water fountain placed above a bowl, dish or shallow pool. The Water Wiggler is a useful battery-operated device that provides movement by gently agitating the water. The sound of the water attracts birds likes doves, juncos, mockingbirds, quail, robins, sparrows and towhees.
Even a small hanging cup will attract a few little birds like chickadees, finches and titmice for a drink.
Hummingbirds seem like they're always on the move. Just as they eat in flight, they bathe on the wing. To please them, set up a mister near your hummingbird feeder or over your pedestal bath. They'll fly to and fro through the mist, then perch somewhere in a tree to preen and dry.
Keeping bird baths is a simple and pleasurable task. Here are a few tips:
  • Provide clean water. Still water may need to be replaced daily since it can become stagnant in the heat. Flowing water may be freshened less frequently.
  • Refill the bath before it becomes dry. This is always important, but especially so if you are running a submersible pump.
  • Maintain a shallow depth. Water more than 2" deep is too deep for the little creatures. They want to bathe, not swim.
  • Provide non-slip footing. Plastic and glazed ceramic baths my have slippery surfaces. You may improve them by creating small islands or shoals of pebbles in the center or around the edges.
  • Extend the bathing season by adding a thermostatically controlled water heater.
So, while the time is best, set up a bird bath near your home. The birds will show their appreciation by providing you with an educational and entertaining experience.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Fall Bulbs For Warm Climates

Well, of course fall is on the way. And though some parts of the U.S. are already enjoying moderating temperatures, we in the Deep South are not. So it's difficult for us to get into the mood to think about planting fall bulbs. In fact, one customer recently wondered whether there are any fall bulbs that perform reliably in our heat. For some of us, average minimum winter temperature is only 40 degrees Fahrenheit. So I decided to put together a quick list of fall bulbs that do well in warm climates.
As you scan the list below, you'll notice that a number and, usually, a letter follows each plant name. That is the warmest USDA climate zone where that plant is reported to succeed. If the plant does well in much colder zones, I feel it's unnecessary to state the climate range. However, there are some bulbs that are only successful in the warmest zones, so I noted their range, e.g. "9-11."
  • Allium aflatunense 9b
  • Allium giganteum 9b
  • Allium sphaerocephalum 'Hair' 9b
  • Allium moly 9b
  • Allium 'Mount Everest' 9b
  • Allium neapolitanum 9b
  • Allium oreophilum syn. ostrowskianum 10b
  • Allium schubertii 9b
  • Allium siculum syn. bulgaricum) 9b
  • Allium sphaerocephalum 10b
  • Anemone blanda 10b
  • Anemone coronaria (De Caen) 10b
  • Camassia cusickii 9b
  • Camassia leichtlinii 9b
  • Chionodoxa forbesii 9b
  • Chionodoxa luciliae 9b
  • Colchicum spp. 11
  • Crocus sativus 9b
  • Crocus speciosus 9a
  • Crocus vernus 11
  • Crocus zonatus 10b
  • Erythronium revolutum 9b
  • Freesia 8-11
  • Fritillaria persica 10a
  • Fritillaria uva-vulpis 9b
  • Hippeastrum papilio (Butterfly Amaryllis)8 - 10
  • Hippeastrum hybrids (Dutch and South African Amaryllis) 8 - 11
  • Ipheion uniflorum 9b
  • Iris danfordiae 9b
  • Iris x hollandica 9b
  • Iris reticulata 9b
  • Lycoris aurea 10b
  • Lycoris radiata 9b
  • Lycoris squamigera 11
  • Muscari latifolium 9b
  • Muscari macrocarpum 9-11
  • Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica 9b
  • Ranunculus asiaticus 8a - 11
  • Scilla hyacinthoides (syn. campanulata) 10b
The following narcissus are known to do well into zone 10b:
  • Narcissus Accent
  • Narcissus Actaea
  • Narcissus Barrett Browning
  • Narcissus Bell Song
  • Narcissus Carlton
  • Narcissus Chinese Sacred Lily
  • Narcissus Dutch Master
  • Narcissus Fortissimo
  • Narcissus Golden Bells
  • Narcissus Grand Soleil d'Or
  • Narcissus Hawera
  • Narcissus Ice Follies
  • Narcissus Jetfire
  • Narcissus Mount Hood
  • Narcissus Pheasant Eye
  • Narcissus Pipit
  • Narcissus Replete
  • Narcissus Rijnveld's Early Sensation
  • Narcissus Rip Van Winkle
  • Narcissus Tahiti
  • Narcissus Sir Winston Churchill
  • Narcissus Tete-a-Tete
  • Narcissus Thalia
Beginning July through December, you'll find a great selection of fall bulbs for warm climates at

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Third Mistake: No Clue About Plants

This is the third in a series of articles on common gardening mistakes.

A third mistake is beginning your gardening project without enough information about plants. In this article, I'll give you a list of things you need to know about them, and help you find that info.

As I wrote in my last blog post, gardening should be pleasant and satisfying. Much of the satisfaction comes from success. Without it, you'd probably give up. So would I. So we need to know as much about our craft as possible. We don't need to be experts, either. Just a little
information is enough to start. But I bet that the more you learn, the more you'll want to learn.

Life Cycle

On of the first things you'll need to know when selecting plants is their life cycle. A life cycle describes how long it takes for a plant to grow, flower, produce seed and die. Imagine how disappointed you would be to plant a flower expecting years of pleasure, only to have it die within a season. Knowing the life cycle of any plant will help you choose one for its intended use and avoid disappointment.

There are three types of life cycles: annual, biennial, and perennial. An annual plant is one that grows, flowers, seeds and dies within a single growing season. Examples include marigolds, tomatoes, and zinnias. A biennial plant is one that grows during the first season, then produces flowers, seeds and dies the second season. Examples include cabbage, carrots, foxglove, money plant and parsley. A perennial plant is one that requires at least three years to complete its life cycle. Examples include chrysanthemums, daylilys, hostas, roses, woody shrubs and trees.

Though it may confuse matters a bit, there are some biennials and perennials that produce flowers during the first growing season. If they are too tender to live through the winter, gardeners may use them as annuals, enjoying them for a single year and planting them again the next year.


This refers to the characteristic appearance of the plant. There are common and scientific terms that are used to describe plant appearances. I won't go into them here. But it is important for you to know the habit of plants you might choose for your landscape. Know that looks can be deceiving, especially when the plant is young, so a little research is necessary. Imagine your dismay if you purchase a plant thinking it has a low, mounding habit because it looked that way at the nursery only to discover that it has an upright, ascending one.


Certainly, plants should be chosen with purpose in mind. Size is a factor in whether a plant suits a purpose, so it's important to know its potential or ultimate size. Let's consider foundation planting around a house. Though certain shrubs may be just the right size for a few years, they can outgrow their usefulness. And I'm not inclined to spend weekends pruning them to maintain an appropriate size. So I plant with potential or ultimate size in mind.

Growth Rate

Growth rate is nearly as important a factor as plant size. Because we tend to be impatient, we want plants that grow fast so they will look mature or fulfill their purpose in short order. But the problem is that plants which grow quickly may not stop growing when you think they should. If you want a large plant, my advice is to buy one.

Hardiness - cold and heat

Plants can't migrate when summer or winter approach, so they must be chosen with cold-hardiness and heat-tolerance in mind. The fact that you find a plant for sale at your local big-box is no indication that it is appropriate for your area. Again, a little basic research is necessary.

And while you're at it, learn the following characteristics of any plant: moisture requirement, nutrient requirements, pH requirement and sun exposure preference. If you have a deer problem, research that, too. With this information, you'll be able to choose plants appropriately according to what you've already learned about your planting site. For "how-to" information on that, see my last blog post.

I promised that I'd help you find plant information. Here are some places to look:

Check out the plant listings at You'll find some basic facts such as plant hardiness, sun exposure, moisture and pH requirements.

Read articles on this blog. You'll find plenty of information now, and there's more to come.

Consult books. With so much information on the internet, it's fair to ask whether books are even necessary. I think so for a few reasons:

  • If you own them you usually know where to find them, provided you haven't loaned them out; (In fact, I have a ceramic plaque posted on my wall that I bought several years ago as a souvenir from the University of Salamanca which warns, "HAI EXCOMUNION RESERVADA A SU SANTITDAD CONTRA QUALESQUIERA PERSONAS, QUE QUITAREN, DISTRAXEREN, O DE OTRO QUALQUIER MODO ENAGENAREN ALGUN LIBRO, PERGAMINO, O PAPEL DE ESTA BIBLIOTHECA, SIN QUE PUEDAN SER ABSUELTAS HASTA QUE ESTA ESTA PERFECTAMENTE REINTEGRADA. So don't even ask to borrow mine.)
  • They seem easier on the eye;
  • They don't burn your lap when you're reading in bed;
  • They may become collectible.
Your local public library is a treasure trove of information. Not only may you borrow books without risk of excommunication, but you may be able to buy some cheap. Libraries often have periodic book sales. Some even devote part of their space to permanent book sales, so you may be able to purchase great material for a couple of dollars.

As I write this, I'm scanning the shelves around my desk. The vast majority of my books on plants were published by Timber Press. You should check out their online catalog. The National Arboretum Book Of Outstanding Garden Plants by Jacqueleine Heriteau with Dr. Marc Cathey, published by Simon and Schuster, is worth owning.

If you insist on browsing the internet, a quick search will turn up lots of information on practically any plant that comes to mind. But you should definitely check out Paghat's Garden for interesting observations, excellent photography, and a fascinating perspective on gardening and plants.