Canna – fall care & winter storage (plus Host Plant for Brazilian Skipper)

My garden is largely made up of natives, but I love hummingbirds and they love Cannas.  I have added some non-native hummingbird favorites, as long as they are not problematic (invasive) and Cannas fit that category.  They bloom all summer and fall until the first frost.

Those of you with Cannas will want to dig up their tubers, if you haven’t already, before it gets too cold to perform this task.  I normally dig mine up  sometime in November for the winter.  This year I tackled it November 25th.  If you haven’t done so yet, use a mild day to get this task done before winter sets in.

If the task of digging them ALL up is just too much for you (as it is for me) , dig up just enough tubers (from just a few of your plants) so you’re sure to have enough to plant in all your favorite spots next spring (where tubers you left in the ground rotted over the winter).  Now that I’ve grown older and wiser, that’s what I do and my back is much happier with this decision.

You could leave your Canna tubers in the ground, but some, if not all of them, may ROT over the winter.  I’ve found that most of the Cannas growing in a sheltered, south-facing garden in my front yard survive the winter and resprout nicely each spring.  So I leave those in the ground and the bulk of them survive.  But nearly all the Canna tubers in my backyard gardens rot over the winter, so those are the ones I dig up each late fall.   If you do dig up Canna tubers and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have viable tubers to plant next spring plus many extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

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

Tubers dug up from only 10 plants (November 25)

HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS

I dig my Canna tubers up in late November or some years later (before the ground freezes).  My step-by-step process follows:

This is what Cannas look like after the first frost, browned and limp, no longer green
  • I cut the stems off at the ground to make the task of digging the tubers up more manageable

  • I scrape away any mulch to expose all the tubers
By fall, one small tuber planted in spring has multiplied into a sprawling array of tubers
  • With a shovel or pitch fork I dig down under the tubers (placing my shovel well outside the exposed tubers).  I  loosen the tubers and pry the enormous mass  out of the ground

  • You can break big ones apart into smaller and more manageable tubers
  • Tap the dirt off the Canna tubers
  • Place a large plastic bag in a shallow tray or a crate
  • Put a layer of dry leaves, shredded newspaper, or dry pine needles in the bottom of the bag (to act as insulation against freezing)
  • Lay the Canna tubers  on top
  • Cover the top layer of Canna tubers with more dry leaves, shredded newspaper, or pine needles (to protect them from a brutal cold winter).  Tuck more of the insulating material (leaves, pine needles) down around the edges.
  • Pull the bag shut
  • We put our Canna tubers in the crawl space under our house because we don’t have a garage or basement.  A  friend with a basement, puts hers into trash cans with leaves or shredded newspaper and keeps them in her basement.  You could probably store the crate or trash can full of Canna tubers in a garage as well.
We’ve recycled a friend’s grape tray (that he gave us after wine making) and use it to contain our bag of tubers nestled in pine needles. It is shallow so we can easily slide it into our crawl space under the house

PLANTING CANNAS IN SPRING

  • Once the ground is warm, plant single canna tubers here and there around the garden in spots that get full sun.  They are a lovely accent in the garden.  Or you might enjoy planting  a border or a circular bed of them (they make a great “hide and seek” spot for kids to play in).
  • Don’t plant your canna tubers too deep, otherwise they’ll take forever to peek through the soil & bloom.  Simply scrape away a shallow area (not a deep hole), lay down the Canna tuber, and cover it with a thin layer of soil.
  • One tuber will grow into several tubers (sometimes numerous tubers) and send up a number of stalks that will bloom all summer and right through late fall until the first frost, drawing in constant nectaring hummingbirds. 
  • Over the course of the growing season I regularly deadhead spent flowers, careful not to cut off the next bud.

BRAZILIAN SKIPPER

In recent years Brazilian Skippers have occurred in southern NJ, well north of their normal range.  They lay their eggs on Canna leaves to create the next generation.  Many of us with Cannas have had an opportunity to study the entire life cycle of this cool southern butterfly.  The eggs are creamy white and often laid here and there (as a single egg) on top of Canna leaves.  Once the caterpillar hatches it makes its way to the edge of a Canna leaf, makes two cuts (or chews), folds the bit of leaf in between over, zippers it shut with silk, and hides inside.

Look for these tell tale folded over leaf edges to find your first Brazilian Skipper caterpillars.  Monitor their growth and you’ll be sure to also find their large chrysalis.  Be careful not to be too nosy, or you may attract predators to the Brazilian Skippers’ hidey hole.

If you live in southern New Jersey, like me, report your Brazilian Skipper sightings to the South Jersey Butterfly B/Log.  It’s fun to see the history of their occurrence in southern NJ on this website.  If you live in northern New Jersey, report them to the NABA North Jersey Butterfly Club Recent Sightings page.  If you live elsewhere, report them to the North American Butterfly Association’s Recent Sightings page.

Happy Gardening,

Pat

Shade Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic

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 will be sharing 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.   Those attending will benefit greatly by having my handouts below available during the program.  Registration is required ; please let the SE Chapter know you plan on attending by signing up HERE.

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.

Pat Sutton’s New Jersey’s Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines That are Beneficial to Birds  (Click on the underlined text to download and print)   This list is annotated with the  number of NJ bird species that feed on fruits, seeds, cones, or catkins of each.

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

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

(This will be presented by Pat Sutton for CU Maurice River at their CU Social)

I had to postpone the original October 28, 2021 presentation until February 17, 2022. This was not an easy decision, but will ensure the best possible presentation. I simply needed more time to create it. CU Maurice River has contacted all registrants directly.

So, please mark your calendar with the NEW date :

WHEN

Thursday, February 17, 2022
6:30 – 9:00 p.m.

WHERE
ZOOM: From the comfort of your home

All CU Socials are free for CU Maurice River Members and $25.00 per non-member.  Click HERE to join as a member (annual cost of membership: $20 — individual / and $30 — family).  Call (856) 300-5331 for more information.

Registration is required!    Please let CU Maurice River know you plan on attending by signing up HERE.

Be prepared!  Please have your favorite device handy with a solid internet connection in order to participate.  Registration is required so that CU Maurice River can get you the Zoom meeting link, which will be sent out the day before the presentation.

About the presentation:   Join Pat Sutton for this virtual presentation (on Zoom) for CU Maurice River at their CU Social. Filming covers all of 2021, capturing the unfolding of four seasons in Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old wildlife garden. It showcases her favorite visitors while also demonstrating how (and why) she maintains her wildlife habitat in many, many maybe-new-to-you wildlife-friendly ways. Learn firsthand the many reasons why Pat is a “hands off” gardener after the hard work of spring clean up and readying the garden. This approach leaves a great deal more time for study and learning, rather than fussing, fussing, fussing with deadheading, removing spent stems, moving plants, etc. Pat hopes her presentation will convert attendees to her wildlife-friendly garden methods as she showcases discoveries she made that would not have survived in more heavily tended gardens.

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

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

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

Life cycles occur on a daily basis. Each year Monarchs can be found in this garden daily from mid-June on, mating and laying eggs, helping to swell the summer population so that by fall the migratory population is robust and substantial. This year Pat witnessed and filmed a Monarch caterpillar in its “J” position metamorphosing into its chrysalis, and several Monarchs emerging from their chrysalises in her garden. Will these magical moments be shared in the presentation? You bet!  These mesmerizing moments will help to tell the story that wildlife gardens like Pat’s (and hopefully like yours) contributed directly to a heartening and hopeful migration of Monarchs through the Cape May Peninsula in Fall 2021.  A wonderful 25,000-30,000 Monarchs were counted on October 1, 2021, lifting off from overnight roosts in the Cape May Point dunes to continue their migration.  As I write this on October 21st, another push of migrating Monarchs has gathered at lands end and will lift off and continue their migration when winds are favorable.

I hope you can join me for this Zoom presentation which will definitely convey the joy of wildlife gardening and lots and lots of “how to” information!

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

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

For twenty-three years (1991-2014), Pat Sutton led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County  

Pat and Clay Sutton’s garden during the July Tour 2014

For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County.  I saw these tours as one of the best ways  to “grow” more wildlife gardeners.  You can see the excitement in the photo above as tour participants find, study, and share with each other butterflies, spiders, caterpillars, native bees, frogs, turtles, hummingbirds, and the beautiful nectar plants, host plants, wildlife ponds, water features, and habitats that have attracted them.

Initially I led these tours for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where I worked as the Program Director.  Between 2007-2014 I led the tours for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May.

Many of the owners of these beautiful, private, wildlife gardens had taken workshops with me and / or attended these tours.

Many garden owners shared with me that a personal goal was to have their own garden included on these tours.  The number of wildlife gardens grew and grew.  Eventually there were so many educational gems to share that I broke Cape May County into three regions and led back-to-back tours, covering different parts of the county each day.  I led these tours in July, August, and September so attendees could see first hand the different “Chocolate Cakes” in bloom month-by-month and the variety of wildlife attracted.

On the final tour, garden-owner Gail Fisher presented me with my very own Chocolate Cake made by her Mom (it was delicious).

And to further spoil us on that final September 2014 garden tour Gail Fisher served homemade Chocolate Cupcakes.

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF PRIVATE WILDLIFE GARDENS

Many of the gardens that were included on the Cape May County tours can be seen in the photo galleries below.  These photos (taken over the years) truly record the evolution of these private wildlife gardens and may give you some great ideas for your own garden.

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

Gardening for Pollinators

Pat Sutton’s Wildlife Garden in early July

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

For Pat Sutton’s frequently updated

“Gardening for Pollinators” HANDOUT   (7-6-20 update)

CLICK HERE

I was in the midst of working on an update, but 3 days of physical therapy / week (for a bad back) and Grand Jury duty 1 day / week have kept me from wrapping it up.  So, check back for my 2021 update.

Hair Cuts Needed For Some Native Perennials

Hi Gang,

It is time to give some of our favorite fall-blooming perennials HAIR CUTS if you want them bushy (and not top heavy and floppy) by fall.

Years ago Flora for Fauna owner Karen Williams shared some sage advice about maintaining one of my favorite native perennials, New England Aster, and I’m about to share it with you.  Though this post is for folks with plants that are several years old and flourishing, not for brand, spanking new plants that have just been put into the ground this year.

NEW ENGLAND ASTER
2 HAIR CUTS: Memorial Day & 4th of July

Blooming New England Aster is a magnet for Monarchs and other pollinators, here on October 2nd in my garden

New England Aster can get very tall and top heavy by the time it blooms in the fall. And the last thing any of us want is for its lovely spread of glowing purple flowers, nectar, and joy to be laying on the ground come fall.

To help it grow into a many-branched, bushy plant instead of a tall, gangly, top-heavy plant, all you need to do is to give it 2 hair cuts on or around the 1st two holidays of the growing season: Memorial Day and 4th of July. Of course these dates are not single-day events, but roughly when you want to give New England Aster its hair cuts.

As a wildlife gardener I don’t clean up and toss the cuttings, but instead leave them on the ground at the base of the plant.  That way any caterpillars that went for a tumble with the cuttings can climb back onto the plant and continue to munch.  Doug Tallamy (author of Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope, and The Nature of Oaks) shares that 112 species of butterflies and moths lay their eggs on our native asters, making asters one of the TOP 20 perennials used by butterflies and moths for egg laying.  Don’t be surprised if some of your cuttings take root and become additional asters!

New England Aster in need of its first haircut, otherwise this plant will certainly flop come the fall blooming period
New England Aster after its first haircut.  A good foot or two of growth was cut off the top.
13 days later, the New England Aster is already branching heavily where each stem was cut.

Around Memorial Day, I cut each stem 1/2 (or 2/3) off (or about a foot or two off the top, depending on how tall it is, if that is easier for you to remember). I use big shears and just chop  away. What happens next is that each cut plant stem sends out 2 or more new shoots where it has been cut, in other words it branches and becomes more bushy!

E. Cottontail caught in the act of giving Common Blue Wood Asters a hair cut on May 28, 2021

Some of my asters get regular haircuts  from plentiful E. Cottontails (they must think our yard is one large salad bowl crafted just for them).  I’ve planted the lovely fall-blooming, shade loving Common Blue Wood Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, under our Tulip Tree and in our woods.  Despite hungry rabbits it has flourished and spread into other beds, our meadow, the perennial garden, and elsewhere and that pleases me.  It is so plentiful that it keeps the rabbits busy and away from most other asters.   We’ve fenced our yard, so deer are not an issue for us.  But other gardeners share that deer routinely give their asters hair cuts.

Around 4th of July, I give my plants their 2nd hair cut (not back to the 1st cut, but cutting back some of the new growth since Memorial Day). You may want to be more creative for this hair cut and cut the many stems in your plant different lengths. For instance, give the stems in the foreground more of a hair cut, the stems in the middle less of a hair cut, and the stems in the back just a little hair cut. This way your plant stems will bloom at different heights.

You may find that some plants haven’t grown as tall as others, so you may choose to pass on the 2nd hair cut for some plants. If so, you’ll find that these plants will bloom earlier. This staggers the blooming period so that you have New England Aster nectar, color, and joy far longer in your wildlife garden.

Sutton fall gdn-w-sig
My garden on September 27th full of mounds of blooming asters, thanks to hair cuts earlier in the year.

A bit more advice: once given hair cuts, New England Aster has “ugly legs.” The stems below the 1st haircut look “not so nice” . . . the leaves darken and fall off and the stems are quite bare. So you’ll want to have other perennials in the foreground blocking that view, so you’re not looking at ugly bare legs.

You can give 1-2 haircuts to some other fall-blooming perennials that grow tall and flop, so they’ll instead branch and become more bushy:
Goldenrod
Sedum
Sunflower

I love Tall (or Giant) Sunflowers and so do the Monarchs when they are migrating through in the fall
But if I’ve forgotten to give Tall (or Giant) Sunflower the 2 haircuts, it can be a beast to prop up or tie up, and keep from falling over, as you can see
Seaside Goldenrod chopped back after its 1st haircut. As it continues to grow I often spot stems I missed, grab the clippers and take care of business

For some summer-blooming plants that grow too tall for your garden, you can give them one haircut around Memorial Day, forcing them to branch, become bushier, and bloom lower. I sometimes do this with some of my favorite summer nectar plants so that I have an easier time seeing and photographing pollinators on them:
Culver’s Root
Ironweed
Joe-pye-weed
Sneezeweed
Blue Vervain
Boneset

Culver’s Root responding to its haircut, branching nicely!
I gave the Culver’s Root stems in the foreground a haircut, but left the back stems untouched.  This way the untouched stems will bloom on time and the  branching stems (due to a haircut) will bloom a bit later, and so the plant will offer nectar for a longer period

You can always experiment on other fall-blooming perennials that have flopped in your garden. If you’re not sure how hair cuts will turn out on plants other than those I’ve mentioned, try giving a hair cut to one stem ONLY (or if you have several plants of Cut-leafed Coneflower, for example, in your garden, give one of them hair cuts so you can compare results with your uncut plants). Then see how your plant reacts and whether you like the results.

Happy Wildlife Gardening,
Pat

Some Sources of Native Plants in 2021

Pat Sutton’s Wildlife Garden: Swamp Milkweed in seed (on left), Smooth Blue Aster (in center), Cut-leaf Coneflower (on right)

Once hooked on wildlife gardening with native plants, it can be a real challenge to find native plants.  Yes a few have been mainstreamed, and the nursery down the street may carry them.  But beware of cultivars of native plants.  Cultivars are plants created or selected for specific characteristics such as early blooming or color, often at the expense of nectar, berries (the plants may be sterile), and sometimes even the leaf chemistry is changed so the plant can no longer be used as a caterpillar plant.  We (wildlife gardeners) want the nectar, the berries, and we want the leaf chemistry intact so our butterflies can create the next generation!

Be careful too that your plants are Neonicotinoid free.  Neonicotinoids are systemic (get into every part of the plant, including pollen, nectar, even dew) pesticides that are applied to many commercially-available nursery plants and are harmful to bees, caterpillars, moths, and butterflies.

Around the world steps are being taken to protect pollinators from neonics. In 2018, the European Union voted to completely ban all outdoor uses of three types of neonics (citing their impacts to honey bees). Canada followed suit, planning to phase out all outdoor use of three specific neonics in 3-5 years (2021-2023) because of impacts to aquatic ecosystems. In 2016 Connecticut became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of neonicotinoids when the legislature unanimously passed An Act Concerning Pollinator Health (banning sales of neonics for use by general consumers in backyard garden settings). Soon after, Maryland passed a similar bill that restricts the sale of neonics and bans their use by consumers.

Educate yourself about Neonics by reading the following:

  1. Xerces Society’s  Protecting Bees From Neonicotinoids in Your Garden (includes list of products that have neonics in them)
  2. Xerces Society’s How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees, the Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees (in-depth study, 2nd Edition)
  3. Xerces Society’s “Neonicotinoid Movement in the Environment” POSTER (how neonics move through the landscape and are being found even where they were not used)
  4. American Bird Conservancy’s  Neonicotinoid Insecticides Harm The Little Creatures, including how 90 percent of food samples taken from Congressional cafeterias contain neonicotinoid insecticides (highly toxic to birds and other wildlife) .
  5. NJ Audubon’s “Neonicotinoid Fact Sheet – Neonicotinoids, Pesticides Placing New Jersey’s Wildlife, Farms, and Families at Risk
  6. NJ Audubon’s “Impacts of Neonicotinoids on Non-Target Species and Ecosystems

HUGE IINSECT DIE-OFF / INSECT APOCALYPSE

  1. A car “splatometer” study finds huge insect die-off
    Nov. 13, 2019, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian
    Measuring how many bugs fly into car windshields might sound silly. But to scientists predicting an “insect apocalypse,” the numbers are deadly serious.
  2. Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth, conservationists warn        Feb. 12, 2020, by Damian Carrington, Environmental Editor, The Guardian

BIRDS ARE VANISHING

  1. “Birds are Vanishing from North America”
    The number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 2.9 billion, or 29 percent, over the past 50 years (1970-2019), scientists find (Science, 2019).
  2. “A Neonicotinoid Insecticide Reduces Fueling and Delays Migration in Songbirds,” by Margaret Eng, Bridget Stutchbury, Christy Morrissey.  Science, 13 September 2019, Vol. 365, Issue 6458, pp. 1177-1180.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Here are just a few of the things that each and every one of us can do:

  1. Plant NATIVES, especially Keystone Species (read Doug Tallamy’s books to understand what Keystone Species are).
  2. Ask nurseries you frequent if their native plants have been treated with Neonicotinoids. If they don’t know, ask them to find out. If the answer is yes, don’t purchase and explain why, that Neonics are hazardous to the wildlife you are trying to attract and benefit.
  3. Leave fallen leaves on the ground: they are full of insect life, they protect tree and shrub and perennial roots, they break down and naturally nourish your soil, and they prevent erosion.
  4. DO NOT USE Pesticides (including Organic – they KILL too) or Herbicides or synthetic Fertilizers.
  5. Turn outdoor lights OFF at night (use motion sensor lights instead).
  6. Remove as many invasive plants as possible on your property
  7. Share some of your native “Chocolate Cake” perennial divisions (that are also Keystone Species: Asters and Goldenrods, for example) with others to help get them hooked
  8. Read and give Doug Tallamy’s books (Bringing Nature Home, Nature’s Best Hope, and The Nature of Oaks ) to family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors.
  9. If you ever have a chance to hear Doug Tallamy speak, BE THERE and bring your neighbor, friend, family member, landscaper, lawn care service worker so they can learn to speak the same language. In the meantime Google “YouTube videos (or podcasts) Doug Tallamy” and you’ll have dozens to choose from, many of which are keynote talks he’s given about the importance of insects, native plants, and much more. Watch them and they may change your life and/or the way you view life. Share them with neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers.
  10. Read and give Heather Holm’s books (Pollinators of Native Plants; Bees, An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide; and Wasps, Their Biology, Diversity, and Role as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants) to family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to help you (and others) understand beneficial pollinators and provide for their nesting needs by leaving stem stubble during spring garden clean up, standing dead trees, utilizing fallen branches and tree trunks to line garden or woodland paths, and avoiding too much hardscaping, mulching, and turf so that ground-nesting pollinators have places to nest.
  11. Share all this with your neighbors, friends, co-workers, family

Some Sources of NATIVE PLANTS: 2021
by Patricia Sutton
click here for the 5-page printable pdf

2nd Edition (4-25-21)

To help people find the top ranked plants in their county Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, is working with National Wildlife Federation on their Native Plant Finder website.  In browsing this site, there are many, many plants for my own area (Cape May County, NJ) that I have been promoting for years and know to be TOP ranked plants that are not yet included . . . so keep checking back and realize that this is a work in progress.

The Jersey-Friendly Yards Website has many helpful resources. Use their searchable plant database to help you select plants for your site. The database has many filters including a “native plants only” filter showcasing @ 300 natives, as well as filters for wildlife value, region, ecoregion (including barrier island/coastal, Pinelands), deer resistant, light requirement, soil type, soil moisture, drought tolerance, salt tolerance, bloom color, bloom time, plant type, and more.   The site also includes a list of nurseries that sell natives county-by-county.

The Meadow Project (“Urban and Suburban Meadows” and “Hometown Habitat” by Catherine Zimmerman) shares an excellent state-by-state “Find Native Plants” link, with many additional sources of native plants.

Be sure to also check with your state’s Native Plant Society to see if they have a list of nurseries that carry native plants.  The Native Plant Society of NJ’s Native Plant Nurseries list includes the percentage of natives that each nursery carries, so you can readily see which nurseries you can let your guard down in and which you need to pay sharp attention.

 

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds: How to Attract Them

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Coral Honeysuckle, a GREAT native spring nectar source that often reblooms all summer long

Hi Gang,

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are on their way! As of today, April 6, 2021, the bulk of the sightings have occurred as far north as Berlin, MD, with a few outliers north of that (Little Egg Harbor Twp, NJ; Brooklyn, NY; Danielson, CT; and Hyannis, MA).

You can monitor Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration north (AND enter your own sightings) on Journey North  and on Hummingbird Central.

They are surging north from their wintering grounds (northern Panama and Costa Rica, north to southern Mexico). They will steadily move north with each good migration weather day, the opening of important nectar plants, and warm enough days with insect life.

The first sightings are often scouts, well ahead of the rest.  With the 1st NJ sighting on April 4, 2021, I’m going to get my feeders hung today!

Why Feeders?

You might wonder why I recommend putting out a hummingbird feeder, which is obviously an artificial nectar source. When hummingbirds arrive, my garden is still dirt! Without well-maintained feeders, “on-the-move” Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will keep going.  Nothing much is in bloom.

Why More Than 1 Feeder?

I hang 8 feeders scattered around our yard, so that returning males (they migrate first) can’t take control of our whole yard. I want females to settle in too and consider nesting in our yard. I’ll space the feeders out. I put one feeder on each end of my front porch (and enjoy them from the front porch rockers). I hang one from a shepherd’s hook on our back porch, easily viewed from the kitchen and sunroom. I hang one from the arbor into our perennial garden. I hang one from a tree limb at the back of our garden. I hang one outside my office window. And I hang the last one in the back of our woods. This way females will have options, places to set up their own territory and nest in our yard, away from bossy, territorial males (who DO NOT share, even with females they’ve mated with).

The Proper Solution for a Hummingbird Feeder

The solution I use (that is most like nectar) is 1 part sugar and 4 parts water. I make a quart at a time and refrigerate what’s left. I’ll only put two ounces into each feeder in the spring (and in late fall) because use is light and the last thing any of us want to do is waste sugar water (sugar cane fields are gobbling up important habitat). I mark my calendar so that each week, like clockwork, I empty and clean the feeders with hot soapy water, then rinse them with boiling water, and then put in 2 ounces of fresh solution. NO red dye is necessary; the feeders have enough bright red parts to attract hummers and red dye is cancer causing (and outlawed in many countries).  Hummingbirds have long tongues and can easily reach the 2 ounces of solution.  I don’t fill the feeders with more solution until activity gets crazy once young are on the wing and during migration when so many birds are tanking up and moving through our habitat.

Keep an eye on Journey North’s Ruby-throated Hummingbird MAP  and on Hummingbird Central’s MAP to see their movement north so you are ready for them.

The site I recommended for 23 years, Hummingbirds.Net, is still available.  On this site you can view 23 years of spring migration maps (1996-2018) for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but there have been no LIVE maps since 2018. The creator of this great website is no longer able to maintain it because of technical (and expensive) changes (his explanation can be read at the top of the page HERE).

If you are a new wildlife gardener, be sure to also provide:

  1. a pesticide-free property (since hummingbirds also feast on soft-bodied insects and spiders)
  2. a habitat filled with native perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines that provide nectar attractive to hummingbirds from spring thru fall!

Some Sources of Native Plants in 2021

A number of native plant sales and reputable nurseries are gearing up for 2021.   Go to my list for last year to get websites and contact info (because I’ve not yet had a chance to update this page for 2021): Some Sources of Native Plants in 2020. With COVID-19 and so many unknowns still on the horizon, before visiting a nursery or attending a sale CALL FIRST and/or check their WEBSITE FIRST to learn of special arrangements for social distancing (prepayment, curbside pickup, MAIL-ORDER options). 

All About Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

To read more about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds check out my additional post below.  You may also want to print my Ruby-throated Hummingbird Fact Sheet (the reverse side covers Hummingbird Feeder maintenance and gardening for hummingbird info).

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part One: They’re Back

  • my favorite hummingbird feeder (Amazon sells them as do nature centers that have come up with safe ways to be open during Covid)
  • spring nectar plants that have worked for me in the Mid-Atlantic Region to lure hummingbirds to settle in and nest in your yard.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Part Two: Summer Nectar – COMING SOON:

  • summer nectar for the Mid-Atlantic Region including many natives and a few non-natives (that are not problematic).
  • proper feeder maintenance during the heat of summer
  • the importance of insects
  • places to bathe

In this “new normal” with Coronavirus in the mix, please stay safe, get vaccinated so you are not a threat to yourself or others, practice social distancing, remain healthy, enjoy your wildlife gardens and spring unfolding. I know the natural world has been key to my sanity through this,

Pat

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Part One – SPRING ARRIVAL

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Coral Honeysuckle

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.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird on a HummZinger mini feeder

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.

A hummingbird’s long bill and even longer tongue easily extends to the bottom of a feeder

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.

 

HummZinger mini (8-ounce) 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.

In May

Our Coral Honeysuckle arbor, May 21, 2020

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 June

Trumpet Creeper, a native vine that hummingbirds find Irresistible
Our sturdy Trumpet Creeper arbor

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.  

Happy gardening and happy hummers,
Pat

Spring Cleanup in the Wildlife Garden

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

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

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

Spring Cleanup in the Perennial Garden,
Don’t Overdo It, PART ONE
by Pat Sutton
Originally published on the website Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens (sadly a website that no longer exists, but many of the articles contributors wrote have been stored at one of the original team member’s sites).

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, but many of the articles contributors wrote have been stored at one of the original team member’s sites).

What’s Bugging Your Jersey-Friendly Yard? (2021 Webinar Series)

Hi Gang,

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?

Happy Wildlife Gardening,

Pat