The Arboretum at Lockerly includes 50 acres of gardens, walking trails, and a pond. Our plantings feature flowering shrubs such as camellias and azaleas, as well as hollies, perennials, annuals, and a variety of trees including oaks and magnolias. We also have an extensive collection of conifers in our pinetum. E.J. Grassmann envisioned a diverse collection of plants and trees in the Arboretum and our plantings are made with that vision in mind.
In addition to staff, we are fortunate to have a group of volunteers, Dirt Diggers, who lend their skills, energy, and expertise to our gardens. Some Dirt Diggers are Master Gardeners, others are interested in learning about plants, and some of our volunteers simply want a way to contribute to our community.
In the spring of 2015 we began an intensive plant collection documentation project. Currently we have four Plant Collection Teams working to locate and identify our plants and trees. This work will be ongoing with new signage added throughout the process. In the future we will add collection information to our web site.
We are always glad to have individuals or groups help in the Arboretum. If you would like to know more, please email email@example.com or call 478.452.2112.
October Garden Tips
The words “Fall” and “Autumn” usually conjure up images of falling leaves and harvesting crops. For most of us, our summer gardens have come and gone except for those more ambitious gardeners who have planted crops for fall and winter harvest.
It might seem a bit too early to be thinking about seeds for next year’s garden but seed savers are planning ahead. If you want to save seed for next spring, there are some things you need to know. Don’t save seeds from vegetables or flowers labeled “hybrid”. Seeds from hybrid varieties produce a mixture of plant types that are not true to the parent.
Seeds from tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can be harvested from fully ripe fruit and placed on a paper towel at room temperature to dry. The seed pods of peas and beans should be left on the vine until they rattle. Make sure the pods are completely dry before removing the seed. Lettuce seeds are a little more difficult. Select a few plants that can be left alone and allow them to flower. Gather the seeds when the blooms have formed a seed head similar to those of a dandelion. It usually doesn’t pay to save the seeds of cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins. Cross pollination will result in something other than what you expected. Carrots, beets, onions and cabbage are biennials. The roots from this year will need to be carried over and replanted next spring. Flowers and seeds are produced during the second season but may cross pollinate with wild, native carrots and crucifers. Keep onion bulbs cool and dry during the winter and plant them in the spring. When the heads are dry and the seeds are plump, gather the seeds and dry them at room temperature.
Store seeds in a labeled envelope in a cool, dry place away from insects. Corn, onion, parsley, parsnip and pepper seeds are short-lived, lasting only 1 or 2 years. Asparagus, bean, broccoli, carrot, celery, peas and spinach may last for 3 or 4 years. Long-lived seeds such as beet, chard, cabbage, turnip, radish, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, melon, pumpkin, squash and tomatoes can last up to 5 years. For long term storage, keeping seeds in the refrigerator can improve longevity.
If you want to know if your seeds are too old, test the seeds for germination before planting. Moisten some paper towels and place a few seeds on top. Roll the towels loosely and place them in a plastic bag. Keep the towels in a warm place and check the seeds at 2-day intervals. Some seeds will germinate in a few days while others may take 2 weeks.
The sound of a buzzing bee can put fear into the hearts of those who are allergic to their sting, but that same sound is like music to the ears of a gardener. Plant lovers near and far know that bees are vitally important for food and seed production. Honey bees aren’t just great for making honey, they are one of our most important pollinators and the sole source of pollination for some of our commercial food crops. To fully appreciate these amazing creatures, we need to know more about them. It takes about 21 days for an egg to develop into a worker bee. Each worker bee lives for about 40 days. Half of a bee’s life is spent in the hive working, the other half is spent outside the hive foraging.
The first two days of a worker bee’s life is spent cleaning cells. Then she takes on the role of a nurse bee where she feeds developing larvae for the next 9 days. After feeding duty she spends 6 days capping cells with wax that she produces. Her final four days working in the hive are spent guarding the front entrance. After working in the hive for about 3 weeks she transitions to the role of forager and goes out to collect food for the colony until she reaches the end of her life span. Some worker bees that are produced in the fall live longer than 9 weeks because they spend the winter in the hive and have early foraging duties in the spring.
To learn more about honey bees, come out to Lockerly Arboretum and check out the Bee Exhibit in our Woods Museum. There will be diagrams, photos, a beekeeper suit and beekeeping equipment.
September Garden Tips
I recently had an opportunity to make a site visit to a home that had a seemingly healthy oak tree die rapidly. I saw no evidence of leaf spots, beetles or any other pest problems but upon further inspection, I did find mushrooms growing just below the soil surface encircling the tree. Mushrooms can be an indicator of root or wood rot.
It is not uncommon to see trees and shrubs that appear healthy die suddenly during the heat of summer. When we see a plant turn totally brown in a short period of time it usually means that the root system or vascular system has been compromised and the plant was unable to take up the water it needed to survive. Some of the main causes for this are root rots, vascular wilts and wood boring beetles. The infestation or damage probably occurred over a long period of time but the tree was able to cope until the heat of summer increased the plant’s need for water causing the tree to die rapidly.
Another scenario we often see are healthy looking trees that fall over unexpectedly. Many trees that topple look perfectly healthy before they fall. Trees have large roots for support and smaller roots for the uptake of water and nutrients. If a tree is suffering from root rot, it might produce a network of new, nonstructural feeder roots that are fine for survival but don’t offer any support. Over time more and more of the larger roots are lost but the tree remains “healthy”. Eventually the tree falls because there aren’t enough structural roots left to hold it up.
For those of you who have irrigation systems for your lawn, you may experience some frustrations with tree and shrub loss from over watering. Turf has very shallow roots and requires frequent watering to keep a lush green lawn. Trees and shrubs have root systems that are larger and deeper. They prefer a good soaking less often and the soil be allowed to dry between watering. If the soil stays too wet from daily watering of turf, you run the risk of drowning your shrubs and promoting the perfect conditions for root rot.
In late summer we often see infestations of fall webworm. Fall webworms primarily cause cosmetic damage to shade trees because of the large webs they form around the foliage at the end of tree branches. Because they are most abundant in mid to late summer, after the tree has had some time to store food, the tree’s health is rarely in danger. Fall webworms can be easily destroyed or disrupted by pulling down the webs using a stick or pole, if the webs are within easy reach. This will expose caterpillars to birds and wasps for a natural form of control. If spraying is warranted, only spray the foliage closest to the web mass. Spraying the web itself does not give good contact with the caterpillars and spraying the entire tree is not necessary.
Treating very large trees for most any type of pest is not practical for homeowners and usually not necessary. On smaller trees and shrubs, if many caterpillars are present, you may need to spray to prevent serious damage. Two organic insecticides commonly used to control caterpillars are B.t. and Spinosad. Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) is a type of bacteria that only effects caterpillars. It is the active ingredient found in Dipel and Thuricide. Spinosad is another type of bacteria used to control caterpillars and some other pests. Spinosad is the active ingredient in Conserve.
August Garden Tips
Have you ever wondered why ants climb trees? Most ants don’t live in trees so they don’t have any reason to be up there. So why do ants climb trees?
Aphids and soft scale insects produce an abundance of honeydew as they feed on trees. Honeydew is a sweet, sticky liquid produced by insects that ingest large quantities of plant sap. Scale insects can cause considerable damage to trees. High scale populations can remove more food than the tree produces forcing the plant to survive on reserved energy that is gradually depleted. Over time this can weaken the tree causing limbs to die and potentially kill the tree. Honeydew can also lead to sooty mold that covers the leaves interfering with photosynthesis which further weakens the tree.
Ants love to feed on honeydew. To protect their food source, ants will “farm” aphids and scale insects in trees. Ants will protect scales and aphids from natural predators and move pests to better food sources or more favorable microclimates to maximize honeydew production. Predators such as lacewing larvae, ladybug larvae and parasitic wasps are natural enemies of aphid and scale insects. Aphids and scales are often well controlled by beneficial predators and parasites, except when these natural enemies are disrupted by ants. Controlling the ants, may be enough to bring about gradual control of aphids and scales as natural enemies become more abundant.
Ants can be controlled by using Tanglefoot (a sticky substance that creates a physical barrier). Do not apply Tanglefoot directly to the tree trunk as it may damage the plant. Apply it to a strip of fabric or duct tape (sticky side out) wrapped around the trunk. If the ants persist, you can use baits or apply pesticides to the base of the plant. These strategies target the ants while limiting exposure to natural enemies.
Another plant pest that is often controlled by natural enemies are hornworms. Tomato hornworms feed on tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato. The larvae are pale green with 8 V shaped white and black markings and are 3.5 to 4 inches long when fully mature. A black projection or “horn” on the last abdominal segment gives the caterpillar the name “hornworm.” The larvae are defoliators, usually consuming the entire leaf rather than chewing holes in them. Their color makes them hard to find, as they blend in with the stems and foliage.
Hornworms overwinter in the soil about 4 to 6 inches deep as pupae. The reddish-brown pupae are 1.75 – 2.5 inches long with a pronounced loop at one end. Moths of this overwintering generation begin to emerge in early June. The adult moth, sometimes referred to as a “sphinx” or “hummingbird” moth, is large, gray-brown in color with yellow spots on the sides of the abdomen. The adult wing span is usually 3 to 5 inches.
At night, eggs are deposited on the underside of leaves. Heavy egg deposition is common in August and early September. Horn-worms emerge from the eggs about 5 days later. Hornworms strip leaves from tomato vines and may also feed on developing fruit. Hornworm damage usually begins to occur in midsummer and continues throughout the remainder of the growing season. After feeding for 3 weeks, hornworms burrow into the soil to pupate.
In small gardens, hornworms can be controlled simply by picking larvae off the plants. Hornworms are also controlled by a parasitic wasp. Parasitized hornworms are easily recognized by the small white oblong cocoons attached to their back. Emerging wasps kill the worm and should be left in the garden so they can parasitize other hornworms. If hand picking and natural predators are not providing adequate control, try using an organic insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) bacteria. Tilling the soil at the end of the growing season will also destroy many of the burrowing larvae attempting to pupate in the soil over the winter.
As the Horticulture Director at Lockerly Arboretum, I am often asked by homeowners how to locate a certified arborist when they need help solving tree problems at home. Arborists are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (www.isa-arbor.com). The ISA website has a feature called Find an Arborists that will allow homeowners to search for certified arborists by zip code. Another resource available to homeowners can be found in the yellow pages under Tree Services. Many of these companies are licensed but not ISA certified. The local UGA Extension office may also have an Agriculture Agent who can provide information on tree care and offer diagnostic services.
Add unique color and shape to your yard or garden
This article originally appeared in the Milledgeville Scene. The publisher made some errors in correctly identifying inches and feet on the blooms and plants. The correct version is below.
There are many beautiful but under-utilized shrubs available to us as gardeners. If you are looking for something different and unique to spice up your landscape consider adding Weigela.
Weigela florida is prized primarily for its funnel-shaped flowers that engulf the plant from mid to late April into June. Many of the newer cultivars have the added benefit of re-blooming during the summer and early fall. With over 180 cultivars to choose from you will find a wide variety of sizes, flower color and leaf color. Typically Weigela florida grows 6’ to 9’ tall and 9’ to 12’ wide. The plants form a dense, rounded shrub with branches that arch to the ground. Many of the newer cultivars have been breed for compact form so smaller sizes are now available.
Weigela is a deciduous shrub hardy from USDA zones 5 to 9, our area, and it has no serious pest problems. It’s easy to propagate and easy to grow. Weigela typically requires full sun to produce an abundance of flowers, but here in the south will need partial shade in the afternoons to prevent leaf scorch. It’s quite adaptable to many soil types but does prefer a well-drained location.
Hummingbirds adore the brightly colored tube shaped flowers, particularly those that are red or pink. The flowers are 1 to 2” long and form on last year’s growth, but sporadic flowering will occur on the current season’s growth throughout the summer. While Weigela has no significant fall or winter attributes, it more than makes up for it with a breathtaking display of flowers in the spring. They are every bit as beautiful as any azalea but without lace bug and gall problems.
The flowers come in every combination imaginable with some cultivars having different colored flowers on the same shrub. Deep rose, pure white, salmon pink, ruby red, soft pink, cream, lilac purple, and pink or red with a yellow throat are just a few of the many wonderful colors available.
In addition to flowers, there are numerous cultivars that have attractive colorful foliage. This foliage provides season-long interest after the blooms have faded. Selections have been made for leaf colors such as bright yellow, copper, burgundy, coffee brown, near black, and variegated forms.
Weigela ‘Red Prince’ is an excellent choice if you are looking for red flowers. This is a tough, hardy plant that grows 5 to 6’ tall with blood red flowers. ‘Red Prince’ has excellent re-blooming qualities and the flowers hold up well without fading.
‘White Knight’ is another excellent re-bloomer with pure white flowers. The white flowers stand out nicely against the dark green leaves. It grows 5 to 6’ tall and wide and performed well in the Georgia trials.
‘Polka’ is a compact, 3-5′ plant with thick dark green foliage. Its flowers are a rich velvety two-toned pink with a yellow throat. If you need an even smaller shrub try ‘Minuet’ which grows 30” tall.
Weigela ‘Carnaval’ puts on a remarkable floral display of red, white and pink blooms on the same plant. The trumpet-like corolla is shallow and the lobes are turned out giving the flowers an azalea-like appearance. It is long blooming and grows 3 to 4’ high.
Weigela WINE & ROSES® (‘Alexandra’) is perhaps the easiest cultivar to find in retail stores. It has glossy, dark burgundy-purple leaves and rose pink flowers. Its popularity is driven by its smaller size and purple foliage. The best leaf color comes from full sun and cooler nights. Don’t be disappointed if you only see their famous purple leaf color in the fall of the year when it cools off. While this cultivar may be the most well-known, ‘Shining Sensation’ and ‘Fine Wine’ are some newer cultivars with similar attributes that may perform better.
‘Rainbow Sensation’ is another cultivar that did well at the North Georgia Trial Garden. The soft-pink blooms set against a backdrop of pale and deep green leaves makes a striking presentation.
A yellow leafed cultivar named ‘Rubidor’ has bright yellow leaves and dark red flowers. It grows 5 to 7’ tall. It will lighten up a shady site and provide season long color. In full sun the leaves will scorch particularly here in the south.
Weigela ‘Variegata’ has a wide creamy-yellow leaf margin. It has rose pink and nearly white flowers at the same time and is the most commonly grown variegated selection. This selection grows 4 to 6’ tall.
The leaves of Weigela FRENCH LACE™ ‘Brigela’ are an attractive combination of dark green with a lime green margin. It has large, deep scarlet red flowers and the overall effect is quite attractive.
Weigela ‘My Monet’ is a breakthrough plant with cream, pink and green variegation on a dwarf (10-16″ tall) plant with attractive pink flowers.
Originating from Japan, China and Korea, the improvements in this plant over the last twenty years have been phenomenal. Changes have been made in foliage color, plant habit, flowering and hardiness. This shrub may not be a US native but it’s easy to grow, reliable and has no pest problems. I think it’s worth considering if you are looking for something new and different.
July Garden Tips
Are your vines loaded with flowers, but not a lot of fruit? Squash, melons, and cucumbers belong to the same family, known as “cucurbits”. They bear male and female flowers on the same plant. In order for fruit set to occur, pollen from the male flower must be transferred to the female flower. The pollen is sticky; therefore, wind-blown pollination does not occur. Honeybees are the principal means by which pollen is transferred.
When bees are absent, fruit set in the curcurbit family is very poor and often nonexistent but the dedicated gardener can substitute for the bees by hand pollination. You can use a small soft artist’s paintbrush or a Q-tip to transfer pollen. Pollination is best done in the morning. The female flower in curcurbits can be recognized by the presence of a miniature fruit at the base of the flower. The male squash flower is borne on a very long slender stem. In melons and cucumbers, male flowers have very short stems and are borne in clusters of 3 to 5, while the females are borne singly.
Another plant that will sometimes have poor fruit set is the tomato. Tomato flowers produce an abundance of pollen and are wind pollinated. Optimum fruit set occurs when night temperatures are between 60–70°. When night temperatures rise above 75°, interference with the growth of pollen tubes prevents normal fertilization. The pollen may even become sterile, causing blooms to drop. High daytime temperatures, rain, or prolonged periods of high humidity also hamper good fruit set. If the humidity is too low, the pollen will be too dry and will not adhere to the stigma. If the humidity is too high, the pollen will not shed from the stamens.
Hydrangeas are loaded with blooms at this time of year. These plants do not require annual pruning yet many people do. Hydrangeas can become large plants over time. Planting young plants in small spaces can force the gardener to move it or prune it later down the road. Though hydrangeas don’t need to be pruned, they can be pruned quite successfully if you understand how they flower.
A plant that flowers on new wood will form flower buds for that year on the new growth that it produces in the spring. Smooth hydrangeas (ex. H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ or ‘Incrediball’) and Peegee hydrangeas (ex. H. paniculate ‘Limelight’ or ‘Pinky Winky’) both flower on new wood. Plants that flower on new wood can be pruned in early spring and still produce flowers that summer. The best time to prune this type is in early March. Overgrown shrubs can be severely pruned leaving 6-12” of stem.
A plant that flowers on old wood will produce flower buds on a stem that has been growing for a year or longer. Bigleaf hydrangeas (ex. H. macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ ) and Oakleaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia) both flower on old wood. Plants that flower on old wood cannot be pruned without sacrificing some of the flowers.
Any time you remove a stem from this type of hydrangea, the new growth that takes its place will have to live for a year before it is mature enough to produce a flower bud. It is best to avoid pruning these plants altogether by choosing an appropriately sized plant and placing it so it can reach its full size. If you must prune a Bigleaf or Oakleaf hydrangea do it in July (but not after August 1). On a mature bush (5-6 years old) remove 1/3 of the oldest woody stems each year by cutting to the ground. Encourage more new growth by deadheading faded flowers.
A question I am often asked is how to make Bigleaf Hydrangeas change color. The color of Bigleaf Hydrangeas is influenced by the availability of aluminum in the soil. In acid soils more aluminum is available resulting in blue color; in alkaline soils the flowers are pink. A quick way to influence soil pH for an individual plant is to apply a liquid soil drench in March, April and May. To make flowers blue, dissolve 1 tablespoon of aluminum sulfate in a gallon of water and drench the soil around the plant. To make flowers pink, dissolve 1 tablespoon of hydrated lime in a gallon of water and drench the soil.
June Garden Tips
Timing is critical when pruning trees and shrubs that are grown for their flowers or fruit. If you prune at the wrong time, you might be removing all or most of next year’s flowers. Gardenia, Loropetalum, Forsythia and Azalea are just a few of the shrubs who are often robbed of their color and beauty when pruned at the wrong time of year. Before you prune, I would highly recommend consulting a pruning calendar such as the one published by Walter Reeves, The Georgia Gardener.
I am often asked if it is normal for evergreen shrubs to turn yellow or brown in the interior. While it can be alarming to see your shrubs doing this, it is quite normal. As new foliage is produced in the spring, the shrub’s interior becomes more shaded and the older foliage is purged. This may also happen in the fall of the year but don’t be alarmed. As long as each branch has green foliage at the ends and the dead foliage is confined to the interior there is no cause for alarm. If the majority of the shrub turns brown or if the dead foliage extends beyond the interior out to the tips these are indications of a more serious problem.
Azalea lace bugs are one of the most damaging pests of evergreen azaleas. They overwinter as eggs in azalea leaves and begin hatching in spring. Control is best targeted early in the season when lace bugs are young for two reasons. First, young lace bugs are easier to kill than adults and if you kill them before they mature and lay eggs you have a better chance of clearing up the infestation. Second, the longer azalea lace bugs are on your plant the more damage they do. On evergreen azaleas this damage sticks around for a very long time so plants may be permanently damaged.
Repeated applications of some insecticides such as acephate (ex. Orthene), horticulture oil, or imidacloprid may be needed to control lace bugs effectively. Make the first application as soon as young lace bugs appear in the spring. Follow with a second application 7 to 10 days later and repeat as needed at monthly intervals. Thorough coverage is essential when applying sprays if good control is expected. Make sure the undersides of the leaves are covered with insecticide. It is best to apply imidacloprid after flowering has finished and blooms have faded to protect pollinators.
The ideal time to plant warm season grasses is April thru mid-August. Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede and St. Augustine lawns can be seeded, sprigged, plugged or sodded. Cool season grasses should not be planted in the spring. Cool season grasses are best seeded from mid-September to late November. Warm season grasses should be fertilized 3 weeks after green up. For some of us in Milledgeville, green up may have been delayed by the lack of rain we experienced the last week in April and the first 2 weeks in May. Now that the rain has come, warm season lawns will benefit from a good feeding. Fertilizer applications should be timed to coincide with the plant’s growth cycle.
Turf grasses will not grow in very heavy shade or under dense leaf cover. If an area gets less than 50 percent open sunlight or less than 4 hours of sunlight per day, it is much too shady for turf grass to grow well. Using shade-tolerant cultivars is important when growing turf grass in partial shade. St. Augustine is the most shade-tolerant of the warm-season grasses, followed closely by Zoysia grass. Centipede grass performs well under light pine-tree shade but is not as shade tolerant as St. Augustine and Zoysia. Bermuda grass is the least shade tolerant of the turf grasses and should not be considered for use in shady areas.
May Garden Tips
By now your garden should already be planted with beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, field peas, peppers, squash, tomatoes and watermelon. A repeat planting of snap beans, corn, squash and lima beans can be done every 2 to 3 weeks for a continuous supply of produce all season long. When planting tomato transplants, keep the blooms pinched off until the plants are big enough to bear fruit. Plants perform better when they are given a chance to grow into a healthy size before putting energy into producing tomatoes.
Early in the season, you may notice blooms on your squash plants that do not produce fruit.When squash plants are young the first flowers to open are usually male. Several male flowers may open before the first female flowers form. Only the female flowers produce fruit so be patient and eventually the male and female flowers will be open at the same time and your squash will start to develop.
Squash Vine Borers over winter as larvae in the soil and emerge in May as adults. During May and June the adults lay eggs on squash stems near the base of the plant. The eggs hatch in 7 – 9 days and bore into the stems where they will feed for 4 to 6 weeks causing the squash plants to quickly wilt and die. The larvae will then leave the plant and return to the soil and emerge again as an adult in August.
Once the borer enters the squash stem, treating with insecticides is a waste of time. Insecticides must be applied just before the eggs hatch from mid May to late June. Only the stems close to the ground need to be treated. Spraying the leaves will not provide protection. Stems will need to be treated at regular intervals according to the product label. Insecticides containing Neem oil, spinosad, pyrethrin, permethrin, bifenthrin or carbaryl can be used.
Inspect your plant stems for holes and frass which looks like wet sawdust. If they are present, the larvae have already entered the stem. If you catch it early, the borers can be removed by hand and the damaged area should be covered with moist soil. If you are looking for a non-pesticide solution, try wrapping the stems with aluminum foil or fabric.
Fertilizer should have been applied when the vegetable garden was first planted. To keep vegetables growing rapidly and continuously, extra fertilizer should be applied to the soil in the form of a side dressing. Side dressing can be applied on both sides of the row about 4 to 6 inches from the plant. Vegetable plants should be side dressed about midway through their maturity cycle. Some recommended times for side dressing are as follows. Side dress peas and beans just before flowering. Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be side dressed about 4 weeks after transplanting. Eggplant, peppers, squash and tomatoes will need to be side dressed when they start to bloom and again when they start to set fruit. Side dress cucumbers, cantaloupe and watermelons when the vines start to run.
Blossom end rot on squash, peppers and tomatoes is not a disease, but a disorder. It is the result of a calcium deficiency in the developing tomato fruit. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a lack of calcium in the soil, but that the calcium is unavailable. This can be minimized by consistent even watering. Water is required for the uptake of calcium by plant roots. Plants that get water stressed, such as drying out completely and wilting between watering, are more prone to have Blossom End Rot. Keeping soils evenly moist will keep calcium available for developing fruit. If good water management practices doesn’t do the trick, try using a calcium foliar spray such as Bonide Rot Stop. Another way to prevent Blossom End Rot is to check the pH of the soil and adjust the pH accordingly using lime. Soil sampling boxes and instructions can be obtained from your local County Extension office.
April Garden Tips
Bird Feeders are a Year Round Treat
Bird feeders are a great way to supplement the natural foods growing in your backyard and stage bird activity for easy viewing. In winter, when natural food sources are scarce, backyard feeders are most appreciated. Migratory birds use feeders to refuel during the spring and fall. Birds nesting and raising young in the summer use feeders for a quick and easy food source. Backyard bird feeders are used by a wide variety of birds and bring year round enjoyment for gardeners and bird watchers.
Researching the favorite foods of the species you want to attract and the feeder styles they like best will improve the nutritional content of the food being provided. Black oil sunflower, safflower, white millet, and thistle seeds are all preferred types of birdseed. It’s best to buy each seed type separately and in bulk. Seed mixes often contain empty seed hulls and undesirable seed types. Tube feeders are good for black oil sunflower seeds, mixed seed and safflower seeds. The ports of a tube feeder are suited for smaller birds like wrens, chickadees, grosbeaks and titmice. Hooper or platform feeders are used for cracked corn, safflower and sunflower seeds. They attract all the same species that visit tube feeders, plus larger birds like cardinals and blue jays. Thistle seeds can be used in tube feeders or in mesh bags. Thistle feeders make seed available only to small-beaked finches, redpolls and pine siskins. All above ground feeders should be hung 5 feet off the ground and 3 feet from a window.
Ground feeders look like wooden frames with a screen bottom and feet that keep the feeder several inches off the ground. Some may even have a roof to keep the seed dry. These feeders should be placed at least 10 feet from trees and shrubs so birds can escape predators. Ground feeders use a mix of cracked corn, milo, millet, wheat, oats and other seeds to attract mourning doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees and wrens.
Bird seed mixtures targeted to feed a wide range of species are the cheapest, but also the most wasteful. These mixtures have a high percentage of fillers like milo that most birds won’t eat, resulting in a mess on the ground under the feeder. Rake up soggy seed from under feeders to prevent the growth of bird-toxic mold. Keep areas under the bird feeders clean to reduce the exposure of ground-feeding birds to unsanitary conditions. Store your bird seed in a cool, dry place to prevent mold and discard any old unused seed.
Birds tend to congregate in large numbers around feeders. This creates a large pool of communicable diseases which can spread from one species to another. As more birds feed, the chances of spreading parasites and disease will increase. Spacing feeders far apart could distribute the birds over a greater area so that there is less contact between them. Buying specific seeds for specific feeders will decrease interactions between the species that eat the different seeds. Feeders should be cleaned monthly to prevent disease transmission among birds. Completely scrub out feeders with a 10 percent non-chlorinated bleach solution several times a year, and certainly between seasons.
Suet, whether store-bought or homemade, is enjoyed by an incredible variety of birds, including bluebirds, cardinals, nuthatches, orioles, warblers, woodpeckers, and wrens. To make suet at home, mix raisins, chopped apples, birdseed, oatmeal, chopped peanuts, cracked corned, or peanut butter with melted animal fat, vegetable shortening, or lard. Straight peanut butter is not recommended because birds may have trouble swallowing it.
Hummingbird feeders are good artificial sources of nectar and should be filled with a boiled solution of four parts water and one part white sugar. Honey and red food coloring are not recommended for hummingbirds. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are neo-tropical migrants that will migrate even if feeders are left up late in the season. Most ruby-throats leave southern states by mid-October and don’t return until late March. Be sure to purchase a feeder that can be cleaned thoroughly with a toothbrush and mild detergent each week to prevent the spread of bacteria or disease. The sugary nature of hummingbird food will cause the mixture to ferment over time and cause mold to grow on the feeder. Check your feeder often for mold and if the water turns cloudy it has most likely gone bad.
Whenever humans interact with nature, care must be taken to ensure that we are not changing wild animal behavior and diet enough to give parasites and viruses the upper hand. Offering the right foods in the right way and bird feeder hygiene can go a long way towards maintaining the mutually beneficial relationship we so enjoy.