Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Gardening Tips for Wildlife

Make your garden a haven for wildlife this winter and the future with 4 easy steps:

1. Provide food for wildlife with native plants that offer acorns, berries and seeds.
2. Clean and fill your birdbath on a regular basis. If you live in an area where water freezes, invest in a birdbath heater.
3. When you finish with your Christmas tree anchor it in a secluded part of your yard and wildlife will use it as shelter from winter weather and storms.
4. You can provide additional cover for wildlife by starting a compost pile or brush pile with pine needle, pinecones and wreaths from your holiday decorations.

Remember your backyard wildlife during the winter and year round. They will appreciate it!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Water for the birds!

In winter I turn my attention more to the wildlife that comes to my yard than the plants. The birds that visit my yard are colorful and are like flowers with wings!I put out seed and suet out for birds. But more importantly I provide a regular supply of clean water. Birds need water for drinking and bathing and is particularly important during the WINTER when natural supplies may be frozen.

Water to bathe in is equally important, especially in winter. It is essential that birds keep their feathers in good condition, and bathing is an important part of feather maintenance. Dampening the feathers loosens the dirt and makes the feathers easier to preen. When preening, the bird carefully rearranges the feathers and spreads oil from the preen gland so they remain waterproof and trap an insulating layer of air underneath.

There are many ways of providing water in the garden. The simplest way is a birdbath. This is essentially a dish of water that needs to be functional - the aesthetic aspects are there to please us, not the birds. The location of your garden and the type of vegetation immediately around it will determine what birds will visit your bird bath, and in what numbers. Sitting of the bath is very important - birds will only use it if they feel safe. Birds get excited and pre-occupied about bathing, and tend to be more vulnerable than at other times. Birds will need to have clear visibility as they bathe, nearby bushes or trees to provide cover if alarmed, and perches to use when preening.

I have a standing birdbath that I heat in winter to keep a constant source of water. I also use large shallow plant saucers on the ground in several locations that are very popular with some birds lie the Brown Thrasher. My pond and waterfall provide a steady source water for birds year-round.

It is important that Birdbaths be cleaned regularly as they soon build up a layer of algae, dead leaves or bird droppings. Give the bath a thorough clean every week or so. Scrub the sides and bottom to remove algae and other dirt. Use only cleaning products that are safe for birds or you can use dilute household disinfectants, but make sure that you rinse the bath out thoroughly to remove any traces of chemicals.

Provide an unfrozen source of water in your yard and see how many colorful birds you can attract.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas cactus

Technically my cactus are not part of my yard but they do live outdoors from about May until November. My Christmas cactus continues to grow even though I have divided them over and over. It was not always this way. When I moved them outdoors one spring they thrived and were full of buds. Keeping them indoors all year did not produce this result. From then on I have moved the cactus outdoors when the temperatures warm in the spring and bring my Christmas cactus in from the patio when we have our first nights that go below 50 degrees. Normally the dark pink one blooms at Thanksgiving and the orange ones between Christmas and Thanksgiving and the white usually waits until Christmas. Not this year! The pink one bloomed before Thanksgiving and the others during Thanksgiving. I guess I won’t have one blooming @ Christmas this year. The white cactus is from a cutting given to my mother-in-law by my husband’s grandfather back in the early 1980’s. I was given a cutting and over the years it has been divided and cutting have been given to friends and family. When it blooms It’s a nice reminder of both people who are no longer with us.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Patio greenhouse

November 20, 2010

My yard has already experienced a very light frost a little over a week ago. It did not touch the cool season vegetables or herbs but some of the perennials and annuals did die. I pulled them out and have been adding bulbs and more Giant Red mustard; colorful Kale, snapdragons and pansies. The night the weather forecast was for possible frost I set up my little patio greenhouse for my tender plants. This greenhouse I purchased at Lowe’s several years ago does a pretty good job of protecting some of my cutting and tender houseplants. I add a light bulb for heat when it is forecast to get below freezing. The trick is not to open during the day and let the heat build up and I only use the light at night. A few tropical plants won’t survive this so I do bring them indoors for the really cold nights.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall and winter colors for the garden

I’ve been busy the last few weeks taking out dying summer annuals and cutting back perennials in my yard to make way for some cool season flowers and foliage plants. Today I finished planting tulips and daffodils in the front yard. I change up the plants from year to year but Giant Red mustard; colorful cabbages and Kales are always favorites. I usually add some snapdragons and either pansies or violas to round out the plants that will survive winter and come on strong through late May or early June. Many don’t realize how attractive some vegetables and herbs can be in a flower garden. I’ve used red lettuce and rosemary in flower gardens as well over the years. Rosemary not only has a great fragrance when touched but adds year-round green to your garden. (Photos from Spring 2009; planted fall 2008)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cool Season Weeds

Now that high temperatures are hitting the mid 70’s in my area it is time to start thinking about preventing cool season weeds. Before tackling a weed control program it is important to know that complete suppression of any weed from your yard is not practical. It is only possible to manage (not eliminate) the weeds by reducing the invasion to an acceptable level. The best method for preventing a weed problem is maintaining the health and density of your lawn. Accurate mowing height, irrigation and fertilization of the grass are the best defense against weeds. With that done; pre-emergence herbicides should be applied to well-established lawns in late summer or early fall. In this area sometime around Halloween seems to be a good time.
Keep in mind that you'll never get rid of all the weeds in your lawn. The wind will blow weed seeds from nearby lawns into your lawn, birds will deposit them and kids running from one lawn to the next will transport weed seeds on their shoes. So do what you feel you must to battle the weeds in your lawn, but do it wisely.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall Garden

Today I used some radishes from my fall garden in my salad. Lettuce is also ready to pick and spinach is nearly ready. My granddaughter picked a pepper from my kitchen garden while she was here visiting 2 weeks ago. A nice surprise since most of my summer peppers had sunscald. Leaving the pepper plants in the ground worked out as now I have at least 6 more peppers nearly ready to pick. Our extended growing season is a nice bonus for living in the lowcountry. I also planted some lettuce and parsley seeds in some of my large flower pots. Some of the cool season vegetables can also make attractive landscape plants this time of year and they can stand up to cold weather. I like to use colorful cabbages and kale's, and giant red mustard in with my fall pansies, snapdragons, and dianthus.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

camellia sasanquas in bloom!

Two of my three camellia sasanquas have started to bloom. I’m not sure of the names because I bought them as an experiment to see if I could grow them in my yard. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough shade but knew sasanquas tolerated sun a little better. Since planting the first two my trees have grown enough to provide more dappled shade. The pink one is 5 years old and was moved once and the white one is 3 years old and also was relocated once. The third one was just planted this year and I’m anxiously waiting to see the blooms. It is supposed to bloom a little later.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tea olives for a fragrant garden

Tea olives are some of the most sweetly fragrant plants in Southern gardens. The word Osmanthus is derived from Greek osma, meaning "fragrant", and anthos, meaning, "flower". That description is very accurate of the Osmanthus fragrans I planted in my yard! This may be their most fragrant year since I planted them. Tea olives grow as dense, evergreen shrubs or small trees and are long-lived and virtually pest free. Occasional disease and insect problems can develop, mainly under stressful conditions. I transplanted 3 shrubs this spring that had been in the ground for 5 years and they are blooming right along with the ones that have been in the same spot for 5 years.
I would never have guessed such tiny flowers could fill my yard with such a wonderful scent often being compared to the scent of peaches, orange blossoms or jasmine. I started out with 4 Fragrant Tea Olive (O. fragrans) when my local county extension agent mentioned the wonderful shrub/tree in a Master Gardener class in 2004. I was given two more from a neighbor who said his wife was allergic. My daughter-in-law was visiting from Colorado and immediately on stepping outside asked about the wonderful scent. I showed her the tiny flowers producing the wonderful smell and like me she was surprised. I love this almost carefree plant it blooms heavily in the fall (about 2 month) and also has scattered blooming through winter and into the spring. My flowers are creamy yellow. Some produce white flowers. There are several cultivars, mostly chosen for flower color (including orange). While some are still uncommon, they are well worth the search.

CultureWild olive is an adaptable, slow growing little tree that thrives in almost any soil and needs no attention once established.
Light: Partial shade to full sun. Wild olive does very well in light, dappled shade, and even in almost full shade.
Moisture: Once established, wild olive is drought tolerant. It also can tolerate moist soils, and even an occasional flooding.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Although its native range is restricted to USDA zones 8 and 9, wild olive is known to be hardy in zone 5. This is the most cold hardy of the cultivated Osmanthus species.
Propagation: Seeds should be cleaned and planted outside as soon as ripe; they usually take two years to germinate. Tip cuttings from half ripe wood taken in summer can be rooted under glass.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Raised Garden

When I first laid out my plans for our yard in 2004 I planned a small space near the back door for a herb garden. I thought I'd grow the herbs I used the most in cooking. The rest of the yard was landscaped first to mask the buffer area & road running at back of our property line and then to give us something nice to look at in the backyard while enjoying the nice weather of extended spring and fall in the lowcountry. But gradually I decided I wanted to grow a few tomatoes, then some pepper,leaf lettuce, radishes, and even a little spinach. Now all these things won't fit in the space of the herb garden so what to do? There just really wasn't enough room to add a bed and I didn't really want to clear out a planting bed to put in vegetables. Then I noticed that the area where our willow tree once stood was fairly sunny. So I asked Jim to build me a small 4' X 4' raised bed. This fall I'm going to experiment raising few cool season vegetables like red, and green leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, and more dill and parsley in this spot. I'm also starting a few flowers like hollyhocks and foxglove in the raised bed. If it isn't a sucess the raised bed can be moved in the spring to a new spot.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Garden Pond

I haven’t forgotten about writing but have been very distracted taking care of a new puppy. This got me to wondering if this new lab puppy will be as fascinated by our pond as our older lab was when we first built our pond. I had wanted a pond for many years and my husband finally got on board and we put in a pond and waterfall using a pre-formed shell in April 2005. Here is some of the things we learned building our pond. First build a pond about twice the size you think you want! As soon as we were finished we wished we had made ours bigger. Second a waterfall will help mask traffic noise but only if you put it close enough to your sitting area. We put our pond near the back of our yard so we could see it better but this makes it harder to hear the cascade. Third I’d reconsidered the waterfall because we have made the waterfall over several times for different reasons. We had tree roots grow into the waterfall and suck water from the pool, the “Hill” created for the waterfall weir sunk over time twice. I think I’d skip the waterfall if we built another in this yard. Our yard is so flat it was a challenge to make it “blend” into the landscape. Fourth A small pond needs more maintenance than a larger one so invest in a UV filter to help control algae. Our first year we battled algae growth constantly and bought the UV filter the second year and wow what a difference!

Over the years this waterfall has been home to Comet fish; a hardy Goldfish type that is suitable for cold-water aquariums and garden ponds, assorted frogs, and the flagstones with crevices are homes to many cold-blooded wildlife like skinks and lizards. But best of all the sound attracts birds to the yard that are looking for water. Then they discover food from feeders and plants and places to nest. We also get the occasional opossum drinking from the pond and fish eating birds have found a meal of Comet fish once or twice. Our older Lab Lucy used to try and swim in the pond until plants took over some of the space. Overall we enjoy the pond and would build it again.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Not everything has gone as planned in my yard. Some plants struggled and had to be replace while others took off and out grew the spot they were planted and were moved or removed from my garden. One thing I would have done differently if I could go back would be how we went about putting in our kidney shaped planting bed. We killed the grass then used a tiller to turn the soil…BIG mistake. This allowed weed seeds to germinate and Nut Grass went crazy, first in the new bed then spread to the rest of the yard! To this day I am fighting Nut Grass.

I wish I had worked the large bed the way I did the beds that are along the fence. I did my own version of Lasagna Gardening before I knew it had a name. I used 6 layers of newspapers to cover the grass, then added compost and garden soil and covered with mulch. I waited for 6-8 months then planted my shrubs. A true lasagna garden would have used more organic materials in alternate layers of “browns” like fall leaves and “greens” like grass clippings and ended up about 2 feet tall. This material shrinks down quickly in just a few weeks.

If you are wondering what a Lasagna gardening is: it is a no-dig, no-till organic gardening method that results in rich, fluffy soil with very little work from the gardener. The name "lasagna gardening" has nothing to do with what you'll be growing in this garden. It refers to the method of building the garden, which is, essentially, adding layers of organic materials that will “cook down” over time, resulting in rich, fluffy soil that will help your plants thrive. Also known as “sheet composting,” lasagna gardening is great for the environment, because you're using your yard and kitchen waste and essentially composting it in place to make a new garden. Want more on this great new gardening method? Check out the link.

Monday, August 16, 2010

December 2005

December is a time for resting for most gardeners even in the south. But planning is a big part of gardening so time not spent deadheading and weeding the garden can be spent refining and adjusting previous plans. But there are still things going on in a winter garden. Osmanthus and Camellia still bloom!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

September, October & November

I was able to dig, divide and replant some of my perennials in September. Daylilies, Shasta Daisies and Coreopsis and Coneflower were just a few. In October I was busy planting spring flowering bulbs, tulips, daffodils, crocuses and grape hyacinths. November I started to see a little sign of fall with the changing colors of my maple trees, berries on my Beautyberries and my first ever Camellia bloom. I thinned and transplanted seedlings into pots to plant next spring and took cuttings of coleus, begonia and geranium.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

June, July & August 2005

Our first summer in our house and our yard was already becoming a habitat not only for birds, butterflies, lizards but also a nice place to hang out. I was busy planting perennials in June, deadheading in July and keeping everything watered in August.

Friday, July 30, 2010

May 2005

Flowers and shrubs took off in my yard during May. Hydrangeas bloomed and for the first time so did my Little Gem Magnolia. It was nice to see flowers filling in my new beds. I still did not have much afternoon shade in the backyard at this time so I could only plant shade loving plants along the back of the house where shade was provided by the second story around 2 pm. My hydrangeas didn’t seem to mind this or did my elephant ears or impatiens. We mulched the new front flowerbed and planted a small Maple tree. I decorated the porch forMemorial Day and put out a flag for our son who was serving on the USS Carr in the Persian Gulf.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

April 2005

One thing about living in the Coastal South is that it has a wonderfully long growing season and my landscape was already beginning to fill in with the warming of the weather. Imagine my surprise one day while I was watering plants on my screen porch and a Hummingbird came right up to the screen and hummed at me. I had not planned to put out a hummingbird feeder until much later in the year. But I ran inside and found my feeder, made some food from sugar and water and hung it right outside the patio. I was already reaping results from making my yard into a habitat! I had much enjoyment watching my Bluebirds raise 3 broods of chicks and the Hummingbirds protect his territory from others from spring through the end of summer!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

March 2005

I joined the National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program and started to landscape my yard to provide Food, Water, places for birds to nest and cover for them to raise young. Since I didn’t have trees for nesting I installed a Bluebird house and it was immediately occupied. This pleasantly surprised me because I thought my yard was so unwelcoming to wildlife! I continued to plant, adding Caroline Jessamine in front of the garden shed. I also started planting hydrangeas hoping to someday have some as gorgeous as my grandmother’s. While shopping at Home Depot one weekend in March my husband said, “Let’s build a pond!” I didn’t argue because I had wanted one for each of the last two yards. I’d heard the sound of water would attract more birds so was happy to add this to the yard. Actually it was in my original plan for the backyard that was submitted to the homeowners association before we even moved in but didn’t know then it would ever get built.

Friday, July 23, 2010

December 2004 - February 2005

I began working on this new yard in December! I knew this was a good time to plant my trees. Maple trees were added to the two lone pines and one tiny oak the developer left at the edge of the backyard. That first winter I also planted four Osmanthus fragrans, a lovely evergreen with deliciously fragrant flowers that was highly recommended by our Tri-County Extension agent. With my husband’s help I relocated the one tree in the front yard, a crepe myrtle off to the side of the front porch and planted a “Little Gem” Magnolia in a newly created mulched planting bed in the front yard. Some curving flowerbeds were also to the front yard in January. The Osmanthus and Magnolia would provide some green color that this Florida transplant would need in the winter!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heartbreak In South Carolina

Intro part 3
It was hard to imagine that I would ever like our new backyard with no landscaping and no character. I had to start from scratch again. I started to modify what the developer had done by planting trees, shrubs and flowers brought from my Georgia yard. I joined a new group of Master Gardeners and with their encouragement I began to build a backyard habitat for birds and other wildlife. This blog is the story of my Carolina yard, which is constantly changing.

On the move

Intro part2
I had 5 years of enjoyment landscaping our new build home in Florida when a job transfer moved us to the state of Georgia near Atlanta. Our Georgia home was 2 years old but had great older trees left by the developer. It was a wonderful habitat for birds and other wildlife. I discover the Master Gardeners again and this time I would be able to attend the classes. But it took 3 tries to be accepted into the program. I barely had time to get in my intern hours before we moved again.

Love of Gardening

Intro Part 1
Even as a child I loved gardening! I discovered it when I spent summers with my maternal grandparents. They lived in the city but had a long narrow lot. One part of the yard had my grandmother’s roses and gorgeous hydrangeas. Another area had peach, pear and apple trees and finally the very back of the yard held an extensive vegetable garden.

During the summer I helped tend the garden eating my fair share of strawberries, blackberries, and tomatoes right out of the garden. I loved wandering through rows of corn and picking beans or lettuce for that night’s dinner. I also loved playing in the flower garden with the huge flowers heads of the hydrangeas and discovering the tiny bell like flowers of Lily of the Valley.
I moved out of state away from my grandparents and my love for gardening went dormant until after 21 years of marriage and 17 years in our first house we moved into a new construction home and I got a blank slate to landscape. I read books and magazines all about gardening and first heard about the Master Gardeners. But since classes were held during my work hours I had to forget about that for a while