Some Sources of Native Plants in 2024

Most of May, Wild Columbine fills our sunny perennial garden (seen here), the woods, and all edges of our yard . . . all from a few plants gifted to me in 1992 by a fellow wildlife gardener. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are drawn to it as well as other pollinators like this American Bumble Bee (May 9, 2024).

Hi Gang,

This spring my garden took so much of my time (everything takes longer when you are in your 70s) that I created an update of “Some Sources of Native Plants” that I hope will not be so labor intensive for me in the future.  But what that means, is that YOU will have to follow the website links I’ve shared to learn of nursery opening dates and hours, pop-up sale dates, and non-profit native plant sale dates & details yourself.   My list includes THE BEST sources of native plants that I feel comfortable recommending.  So, check it out and visit websites and facebook pages to learn of each of their hours and 2024 offerings!  Consider yourselves very, very fortunate that there are so many sources of native plants.   That was NOT the case when I began planting natives in the late 1970s and 1980s, or even in the 1990s or early 2000s!

You will find my 6-page “Some Sources of Native Plants in 2024” at the end of this post.

To help people find the top ranked plants in their county Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, is working with National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder (a work in progress).

A number of websites have searchable Native Plant Databases with filters to help you generate lists of plants suited for various sites on your property.  Some of my favorites follow:  Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Jersey-Friendly Yards Website  which has filters for “native plants only” (@ 317), wildlife value, region, ecoregion (barrier island/coastal, Pinelands), deer resistant, drought tolerance, salt tolerance, and many more filters.  Have at it and see what may work in your yard!

PLEASE NOTE: many native plant nurseries are not like the nursery down the road. Often they are owned, maintained, and run by a caring native plant grower who is surviving by also working a 2nd job or sometimes even a 2nd full-time job that covers their health insurance and most of their income. This being the case, they are not available 24-7 to answer all your questions. But when they are open or hosting a pop-up sale, they eagerly and gladly share their knowledge and will guide you towards the best native plants for your site. These same growers collect their own local native seeds or cuttings (they do not dig up from the wild), and they do not use systemic Neonicotinoid Insecticides that would cancel out future generations of butterflies and moths (more on Neonics below). So, don’t panic when their milkweeds have aphids; but instead realize that if there are no aphids, it means the grower has spent hours hand picking them off. Know too that growing from seed can be a lengthy process. The Turk’s-Cap Lily, Lilium superbum, that I purchased from Clemenson Farms Native Nursery in 2014 (now a patch of 44 stalks a/o May 2024) took the Clemensons 8 years to grow out from seed to plant that could be sold. Understand too, that some natives are slow to break ground in spring so are not going to be available during early-season sales: milkweeds, Partridge Pea, and Joe-pye-weed to name a few.

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!

That said, some straight natives might be ill behaved and total thugs, overwhelming other plants in your garden and leading to hours and hours spent thinning them every single year.  This is the case with Cutleaf Coneflower.  In 2009, a friend shared a cultivar of this plant with me (Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacinata “Herbstsonne,”) that is a Chocolate Cake, always full of pollinators, and not a thug at all because it is sterile.  I’ve raved about my Cutleaf Coneflower for years, many have planted the straight native, and been frazzled by its rambunctious wanderings.

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, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators.

Speak up when you purchase plants.  Ask if the nursery uses Neonicotinoid Insecticides. If they don’t know what you are talking about, it sounds like a nursery to avoid. If they proudly share that they do not use Neonicotinoid Insecticides (verbally and/or on their website), they are a nursery “in the know” and a nursery to support. The Xerces Society’s publication, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” addresses asking nurseries these important questions and is available HERE.  There is a complimentary Xerces Society publication for nurseries, “Offering Bee-Safe Plants: A Guide for Nurseries,” available HERE.  Let nurseries you frequent know about it.  If you find that any of the nurseries on my list are “in the dark” and still using Neonicotinoids, please alert me ! ! ! 

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.  And in January 2022, New Jersey became the 6th state to pass a similar bill to save pollinators by classifying bee-killing neonicotinoids (also known as neonics) as restricted use pesticides.

Educate yourself about Neonics by reading the following:

  1. Xerces Society’s “Protecting Bees From Neonicotinoids in Your Garden, 2nd version (includes list of products with 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) .

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
  3. The Insect Crisis, The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World, by Oliver Milman. 2022. A devastating examination of how collapsing insect populations worldwide threaten everything from wild birds to the food on our plate.

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).  If you live in the East,  the “Eastern Temperate Forests – Ecoregion 8″ plant list should be the backbone of your plantings!  If you live elsewhere, chose your Ecoregion HERE for your list of Keystone Species.

2. Ask nurseries you frequent if their native plants have been treated with Neonicotinoids (see Xerces Society’s document, “Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides: Buying Bee-Safe Plants,” for tips and how to ask these important questions) . 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. Listen to Doug Tallamy’s talk about his latest book, The Nature of Oaks (search youtube Doug Tallamy Nature of Oaks), and learn that oak leaves are the BEST fallen leaves to LEAVE on the ground because it takes them so long to break down (3 years or more). All that time (3+ years) they are providing for an abundance of LIFE that needs fallen leaves to survive. Heather Holm calls these leaves “Soft Landings” for the many caterpillars feeding on the tree above to land in and then nestle down into as they metamorphose into the next life stage before emerging as an adult butterfly or moth the following year.   To truly preserve the life in leaf litter do not mow it / mulch it (that would chop up all that life using it).

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, fallen leaves, and much more. Watch Doug Tallamy’s presentations and what you learn may change your life and/or the way you view life. Share video links with neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers.

10. Read and give Heather Holm’s books about beneficial pollinators (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. You’ll learn key practices like leaving stem stubble during spring garden clean up and standing dead trees (these stems and dead trees provide pollinator nesting sites), utilize fallen branches and tree trunks to line garden or woodland paths (ditto: potential nest sites), leave fallen leaves, and avoid too much hardscaping, mulching, and turf so that ground-nesting pollinators have safe places to nest.

Some Sources of NATIVE PLANTS: 2024
by Patricia Sutton
click here for the 6-page printable pdf

2024 Edition (5-18-24)

 

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 migrating north! There was a real HIT of them yesterday, Monday, April 15, 2024, when many reported seeing the first ones in their Cape May County, NJ, yards.  I was away and got home late in the day.  You can bet that one of my first tasks this morning was to make hummingbird solution, fill a few feeders, and place them where they could easily be seen from inside the house.

You can monitor Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration north (AND enter your own sightings) on the 2024 Hummingbird Central  map and on the  Journey North  map.  When you go to each of these sites,  be sure to set the date for these migration maps to 2024.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been surging north from their wintering grounds (northern Panama and Costa Rica, north to southern Mexico) since mid-February and March.  They will steadily move north with each good migration weather day, the opening of important nectar plants, and warm enough days with insect life.

Native nectar sources that I planted for hummingbirds and other pollinators are about to bloom: Coral Honeysuckle, Wild Columbine, and Red Buckeye to name a few.

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?

In spring I hang 6-8 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. And I hang one at 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).  When activity picks up I add two more, one outside my office window and one outside our screened porch.

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 (when temperatures heat up, I clean the feeders every 3 days).  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 and that doesn’t happen until 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 2023

A number of native plant sales and reputable nurseries are gearing up for 2024.   Be sure to support them.  Here is my post:  Some Sources of Native Plants: 2023.

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 (nature centers sell them, as does Amazon)
  • 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

Happy Wildlife Gardening,  Pat

Pat Sutton’s Wildlife Garden

Hi Gang,

I’ve had fun updating the page about “Our Wildlife Garden,” which is a history of how our  garden came about, changes over time as I learned more and more, and recent additions with each new native plant nursery that is born in our area (and that I want to support).  You can find this page in the top “ABOUT” header, which also includes a page about me, another about Clay, and another about media covering us.

Click HERE to read About “Our Wildlife Garden”

Enjoy,
Pat

Pat Sutton’s Gardening Gang – Join via this Website

Hi Gang,

An amazing friend helped me move my website to Go Daddy on March 7, 2024.  After a wonderful week in South Carolina, I had a chance today, March 19th, to speak to Constant Contact (the fee-based service I subscribe to for my Garden Gang alerts) and they reassure me that both “Join Pat’s Gardening Gang” buttons / links on my website are working.  YEA!

So, if you are not already a member (already getting my e-mailed alerts) and would like to learn of programs and workshops I am giving hither & yon, wildlife garden tours I am leading, wildlife garden tips, nature notes (like when to expect returning hummingbirds), reminders of native plant sales, excellent learning opportunities, etc. sign up today!

Happy SPRING!

Pat

Learn How to “Garden for LIFE” with Doug Tallamy, Atlantic City, NJ, on Mon., March 11 (7 pm)

Hi Gang,

All too often gardening is one-dimensional and focused simply on creating a tidy, pretty space.  Learn how important it is to garden and landscape with native plants (they are beautiful too) so that butterflies, moths, birds, and all the creatures that bring us joy can survive and flourish.

Just about everyone knows that Monarchs need to lay their eggs on Milkweeds.  That is true of so many of our butterflies and moths; they need a specific native plant to lay their eggs on to create the next generation.  Otherwise they will “wink out.”  Landscapes of Crape Myrtle (native to China and Korea), Bradford Pear (native to China and Vietnam), Forsythia (native to China), Hastas (native to China, Japan, and Korea),  Burning Bush (native to northeast Asia), Norway Maple (native to Europe and western Asia), etc. might as well be plastic to our native butterflies and moths, a dead end for their future.

Learn how simple it is to change the course of dwindling bird, butterfly, and moth numbers by gardening for LIFE with native plants.  Learn from the guru who has taught so many so much, Doug Tallamy: Entomologist, professor at the University of Delaware, and author of three  highly educational, eye-opening, and award-winning books.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Doug Tallamy speak.  Too, please spread the word.  Let’s grow our numbers!   He is coming to Atlantic County (Atlantic City, NJ) the evening of March 11th to share his program, “Nature’s Best Hope.”  DO NOT MISS IT!!!  Bring your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and your landscaper (so you can speak the same language)!  Details follow:

Monday, March 11, 2024
7:00 – 8:30 pm

Doug Tallamy to present “Nature’s Best Hope”

WHERE: Stockton University Atlantic City Campus
Fannie Lou Hamer Event Hall
3711 Atlantic Avenue
Atlantic City, NJ   08401

Admission is FREE; but REGISTRATION is required by clicking HERE

Hosted by the Absecon Island Green Team, Ventnor Green Team, Sustainable Margate, Atlantic City Green Team, Sustainable Downbeach

Copies of Doug Tallamy’s books will be available
for purchase & signing (cash & checks will be accepted)

Plan to attend this exciting event featuring Doug Tallamy, a renowned expert in conservation and ecology. Discover how you can make a positive impact on nature right in your own backyard.  Doug is the inspiration behind reintroducing native trees and plants to repopulate the dwindling bird and pollinator populations. Doug is a dynamic speaker and explains the functionality of native landscaping as opposed to non functional conventional landscapes. The presentation ifs free thanks to the many sponsors who have generously contributed to this event.  Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the best in the field and become a champion for the environment. Mark your calendars and get ready to be inspired!

BIO:  Doug Tallamy is the T. A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 111 research publications and has taught insect-related courses for 41 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His books include Bringing Nature Home, The Living Landscape, co-authored with Rick Darke, Nature’s Best Hope, a New York Times Best Seller and The Nature of Oaks, which won the American Horticultural Society’s 2022 award. In 2021 he cofounded Homegrown National Park with Michelle Alfandari. His awards include recognition from The Garden Writer’s Association, Audubon, The National Wildlife Federation, Allegheny College, Ecoforesters, The Garden Club of America and The American Horticultural Association.

Doug Tallamy’s book, Nature’s Best Hope, planted the idea of Homegrown National Park.  I’ve entered my half acre wildlife habitat to the HNP map.  Have you?  Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Doug Tallamy speak in person and have your questions answered!

Pat

Water in the Winter Wildlife Garden

Heated bird baths are life savers during wicked winter weather, and that has finally come our way.  Have you set up one or two or three to provide birds with drinking and bathing water through snow storms and stretches where all natural water sources are frozen solid?  If not, read on!

Mourning Dove and Brown Thrasher at our heated bird bath

 Wildlife needs are pretty basic: food, cover, and water.

FOOD needs can be met by planting (or preserving) native nectar plants and native berry-producing and seed-producing plants.

Two of our brush piles near feeding station to provide important winter cover

COVER is crucial so that birds and other wildlife can avoid becoming a predator’s next meal.  Cover also provides safe places to nest, roost through the night, or get out of bad weather.  Native evergreens like Red Cedar, American Holly, and Waxmyrtle offer excellent cover for wildlife.  If your yard is wide open and without adequate cover, gather fallen branches and make a winter brush pile.  You’ll be amazed by all the action it attracts as birds dash for the safety it offers when a hungry hawk flies through the yard.  Or collect discarded Christmas trees and place them near bird feeding stations and bird baths, so that birds are not too vulnerable when they come to feed or drink or bathe.  And next spring seriously consider planting a Red Cedar (or American Holly or Waxmyrtle) or two or three!

Providing WATER is just as important as providing food and cover

Songbirds lose water through respiration and in their droppings. To replace lost water, most songbirds need to drink at least twice a day. In order to stay fit and healthy birds also need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition. Bathing loosens dirt and makes their feathers easier to preen. Preening is a daily ritual where birds carefully clean, rearrange, and oil their feathers (one-by-one) with their bill — spreading oil along each feather from the preen gland. This daily preening successfully waterproofs their feathers and traps an insulating layer of air underneath to keep them warm. Keeping their feathers in perfect condition through daily preening is a matter of life and death. Well maintained feathers enable birds to fly at a moment’s notice and regulate their body temperature.

E. Bluebirds were drawn to our heated bird bath on January 5, 2016, when the temperature was 11 degrees F.

Birds face difficult times when water is scarce or nonexistent during deep freezes like have experienced this week and will undoubtedly face again this winter or during drought periods.

Heated Bird Bath

Providing water in the wildlife garden is something many accomplish easily spring through fall, yet fail to do once freezing winter temperatures settle in. There are solutions even in the dead of winter.  A heated bird bath coupled with an outdoor socket is the key. We use an outdoor power cord to connect the two.

We’ve had our Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath (photo above) for over 25  years.  The pole with its additional leg for support, when driven into the ground, makes this birdbath very sturdy so it remains standing no matter what!  In the summer months I use the same stand to hold a large plastic dish/tray (like you’d put under a large flower pot) full of gooey fruit for butterflies.  So even though expensive, this heated birdbath has served me (and wildlife) very, very well.  Beware that most of today’s standing heated bird bath designs are tipsy by comparison (bird baths balanced on inadequate tripod legs), looking like they’d topple over every time a frisky squirrel leaps up.

As of January 20, 2024,  the Pole Mounted ERVA Heated Birdbath is available at 1st State Seed Garden Supply (best price, $15 less than other sites) and at  Nature HouseBest NestAmazon,  Freeport Wild Bird Supply,  Feed the Birds, Walmart, and probably elsewhere.

Some heated bird baths rest on the ground and come with additional hardware so they can be attached to a railing like this one (photo above).  If far from cover, place some cut evergreen branches nearby, as we have.

Wildlife gardening friend Jean Riling uses a Bird Bath De-icer unit to keep her bird bath water from freezing (photo below).  Ecosystem Gardener Carole Brown uses a heated dog bowl.

Garden Gang member Steve Mattan shared that he uses a special plug to control when his heated bird bath turns on and off (the plug / thermostatically controlled outlet powers ON at 32-Degrees and OFF at 50-Degrees ).  How cool is that?  Clay & I unplug our extension cord when it’s warm and plug it back in when temperatures drop, but this special plug can save the day if you’re not paying attention.

Shy away from “artistic” bird baths that may look pretty but are not as serviceable to birds: too deep, too fragile and likely to break if they topple over, or (most important of all) are too hard to keep clean. The heated bird baths we’ve used are made of a hard black plastic material that is very easy to clean with a  good scrub brush and a little muscle.

If You Have a Wildlife Pond

If you have a wildlife pond and are thinking of putting a de-icer into it to make that your winter water source for birds, this could lead to some serious problems.  If indeed large flocks of birds descend on your pond to drink, their droppings will accumulate in your pond and you could face an algae problem during the warm month fueled by all these bird droppings.

Remember, birds need cover to avoid hungry predators. Place your heated bird bath near a safe retreat like an evergreen tree or shrub or near a brush pile or, as we have, place some cut evergreen branches around it.

Stay away from chemicals!

Some folks, who don’t know better, add chemicals to keep their bird bath water from freezing (like glycerine, anti-freeze, or salt). This is a death sentence for the birds. These chemicals can destroy the waterproofing capability of birds’ feathers, or poison the birds.

Hermit Thrush at our heated bird bath

During lengthy periods of frozen conditions water is in such demand that heated bird baths become heavily soiled. To avoid the spread of disease, maintain your heated bird bath with care by scrubbing it out with a soft bristle brush, rinse it with fresh water to wash out any residual bird droppings, and refill it with fresh water at least once (and often twice) a day. With heavy use heated bird baths may be emptied by flocks of birds twice a day or more. We keep a jug of water handy by the backdoor to easily facilitate this task.

Gray Catbird at our heated bird bath

Beyond helping birds survive brutal winter weather, our heated bird baths give us great pleasure. We’ve had excellent looks (and photo opportunities) at some real skulkers like Hermit Thrush, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and other secretive birds not normally seen in our yard in winter.

Winter can be a stressful time for birds. Lengthy stretches of sub-zero weather can freeze solid every last bit of available water. Natural foods can be buried by snow. Heavy snow or freezing rain can creep into the deepest cover where birds are roosting.

Let’s do what we can to help birds survive a tough winter. Add a heated bird bath or two to your wildlife habitat in winter.

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 the ground freezes hard.  I normally dig mine up  sometime in November or December for the winter.  This year I just tackled the task on January 6th.  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 / early winter.   If you do dig up Canna tubers and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have viable tubers to plant the following spring plus many extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Canna tubers multiply!   The other day when I dug up 7 Canna tubers I’d planted spring of 2023, my wheelbarrow filled with 50-60 tubers.  Yes, while tapping them on my wheelbarrow to get all the embedded dirt off, many broke into pieces, but that’s OK!.  Each will produce Cannas in spring when planted.

Tubers dug up from only 7 plants

HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS

I dig my Canna tubers up in late November or December, 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

Between 2018 and 2021, there were quite a few Brazilian Skippers sightings in southern NJ, well north of their normal range (but zero sightings in 2022 and 2023).  Brazilian Skippers lay their eggs on Canna leaves to create the next generation.  Many of us with Cannas 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.

If and when we have another good Brazilian Skipper year, 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

Leave the Leaves

It is common sense to LEAVE THE LEAVES.  After all, no one rakes them up in the wild.  When we walk a nature trail through a natural area, we do not need to fight our way though mountains of leaves, do we ? !  “Let Nature be the Guide,” Larry Weaner‘s mantra, is spot on when it comes to leaving the leaves.

If you like birds, leaf litter is your friend.  Our leaf litter strewn property is a mecca for birds year round, including winter.  We’ve hosted several American Woodcock each winter.  No matter how severe the winter is, they’ve been able to probe down through our abundant leaf litter into the thawed ground under this thermal blanket of leaves and find one earthworm after the next.   Frozen hard raked bare properties are devoid of feeding opportunities for American Woodcock or American Robins. Too, many normally secretive birds like Hermit Thrush settle in to our yard and are regulars in garden corners with abundant leaf litter.  It is great fun to watch them kick and toss leaves aside to find snack after snack.

I had great fun working on and researching this topic for a program that I’ve given a number of times now.  It has triggered so many “Ah HA!” moments from  audiences and I pray resulted in many more leaves left to do their job.

In this post I have shared the excellent resources that helped me and can help anyone and everyone understand the value of fallen leaves.  Read them, study up, digest the information, value and cherish fallen leaves as much as I do, and join those of us working to educate others.

First you’ll want to read Doug Tallamy’s book, The Nature of Oaks.  This book richly covers the benefits of oaks and all their leaf litter.  If you’ve never heard Doug Tallamy speak about this topic, attend a presentation or google “Doug Tallamy Youtube Nature of Oaks” and watch one of his presentations that occurred in your region.  Be sure to listen until the Q&A session when attendees ask the very questions on your mind, like “But, what am I to do with all my Oak leaves?”  “Won’t they kill my grass?”  etc.

My own woods have very few large oaks.  But since we cleared out the invasives (Multiflora Rose and Japanese Honeysuckle) in 2009, many many Southern Red Oaks and 5 Willow Oaks have been planted there by Blue Jays.  Some of these oaks are taller than me now.  I look forward to mountains of oak leaves as these oaks mature.   The deciduous trees and shrubs of my woods (Common Persimmon, Black Cherry, Black Locust, Black Walnut, Sweet Gum, Red Maple, Dwarf Hackberry, Winged Sumac, Arrowwood Viburnum) all produce leaves that break down quickly.  Doug Tallamy shares that oak leaves take longer than other leaves to break down (3 years) and that is why oak leaves are so beneficial and support so much life!

So, each fall around late October and early November I carve out time to visit cul-de-sacs near me looking for mountains of oak leaves that have been raked to the curb to be carted away like trash.  I take empty trash cans, a rake, and garden gloves.  I can fit 3 trash cans into my car.  So far this fall (2023), I’ve collected 9 trash cans of oak leaves (3 runs).  I use them to bury my woodland spring ephemeral areas with oak leaves.  Since I’ve been doing this I haven’t had to weed my woods in the spring.  My spring ephemerals easily bust through the leaves, while weeds can not.  It is a win win.  I have to hurry though, the township leaf collecting vehicles are due any day.  If you like this idea, be cautious and selective; i.e. collect leaves from yards with large oaks and do not collect leaves from yards with problematic invasives that you could be bringing in to your own yard via seed heads.

While you’re at it, read all 3 of his books.  They will change your life.

Since Doug Tallamy’s first book, Bringing Nature Home, he has shared the top native plants used by butterflies and moths as host plants to create the next generation. Tallamy refers to these plants as the “Keystone Native Plants.”  He is partnering with other organizations, like National Wildlife Federation, to share Keystone Native Plant information across the country.

For an annotated list of the Keystone Native Plants for your area, go to the National Wildlife Federation Garden for Wildlife website.  Here you’ll find ten different “Keystone Native Plants” Ecoregion handouts (as of November 2023), with others undoubtedly planned. This plant list should be the backbone of your plantings. If you live in southern New Jersey like me, scroll down to “Eastern Temperate Forests – Ecoregion 8″ (which covers nearly all of the East).

Oaks are the top Keystone Native Plant! Then Black Cherry and Beach Plum. Then Willows. Then Birch. And so on. These are the trees that are supporting many, many hundreds of butterfly and moth species. Value these trees and their fallen leaves. You will have made your trees “Ecological Traps” if you instead rake up the leaves, bag them, and send them away (along with all the life they hold and support).

Heather Holm’s 3 books on pollinators of our native plants are beautifully illustrated and packed with natural history information, including where and how our pollinators survive the winter . . . many do so in leaf litter!

Visit Heather Holm’s website and click on the link “Plant Lists & Posters” for beautifully presented and illustrated Native Plant Lists, pollinator fact sheets, and posters, many of which are free to download.  These materials will further help you understand life cycles of our pollinators and teach others!

Also on Heather Holm’s website, click on one of her latest project “Soft Landings.”  Soft Landings is all about leaving the leaves and planting layers of diverse native plants under Keystone trees and shrubs rather than maintaining lawn that needs to be mowed.  This simple switch to gardening under your keystone trees with shade-loving perennials and understory shrubs provides safe sites where the hundreds of species of butterflies and moths using these Keystone trees and shrubs might complete their life cycle and survive when their caterpillars drop to the forest floor to pupate down in the warmth and safety of the leaves.  The downloadable free poster, “Soft Landings” tells the story beautifully. It should convert kids of all ages (yes, I’m talking about big kids too . . . adults) to leave the leaves where they fall.

The Xerces Society’s post, “Leave the Leaves,” is an excellent read addressing those fallen leaves as “free mulch” and  helping to answer questions people have, like whether or not to shred their leaves.  The Xerces Society also sells a very attractive Leave the Leaves SIGN, that might help trigger conversations with neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family, conversations that might help them “get it!” and finally understand.

One more excellent resource to better understand why you want to leave the leaves is the booklet “Life in the Leaf Litter,” by Johnson and Catley, published by the American Museum of Natural History and available on their website as a free download.

Shade Gardening in Your Leaf Litter

Once you’ve read all these terrific resources about just how important leaf litter is, begin shade gardening in leafy spaces on your property . . . in under your trees and shrubs (rather than continue to mow these areas) or along a path through your woods.

Shade-loving perennials will color your leafy spaces in the early, early spring when spring ephemerals bloom and in the fall when the many shade-loving, fall-blooming perennials bloom.  Through the summer months the fall bloomers will add a lovely layer of green to your leafy areas.

To help you along your way with SHADE GARDENING, go to my resources on this topic and learn what has survived and thrived in my shady spaces.  Remember to use as many Keystone Native Plants as possible!

Now with all the time you have available because you are NOT raking your leaves  (nor bagging them up and sending them away), dive in to all this reading and help convert others to LEAVE THE LEAVES!

I thank you and wildlife (fireflies, bumble bees, so many butterflies & moths, etc.) thanks you!!!

As I mentioned, I have an information-rich program on this topic that is illustrated with beautiful photos of so much wildlife that benefits from abundant leaf litter.  If you’d like me to share it with your group via ZOOM, contact me by replying to one of my Garden Gang alerts.

Tour of Private Backyard Habitats in Avalon, NJ, on Wed., August 9, 2023

Hi Gang,

As part of the Avalon Environmental Commission’s “Pollinator Garden Series(click on underlined text to see other programs I will be doing in Avalon in August and September) I will be leading a tour of two private backyard habitats in Avalon, NJ, next Wednesday, August 9, 2023, from 9:30 – 11:30 am.  The Avalon Environmental Commission is hosting this tour.  Donna Rothman, Chair of the Avalon Environmental Commission, will be sharing her garden on this tour.

One garden has been transitioning to native plantings for wildlife for some time.  In this garden participants will get to see some sizable native trees and shrubs that are hugely beneficial to migrant and breeding birds, as well as butterflies and moths for egg laying.  Native perennials have been added as well, including milkweed, to  beds of ornamentals.

Lisa McNichol enjoying her flourishing pollinator garden

The second garden is brand spanking new as of last May (planted May 23, 2022).  By August 2022, when only three months old, this 12′ x 25′ native plant pollinator garden was already drawing in butterflies, egg-laying Monarchs and Black Swallowtails, native bees, flies, and wasps (all beneficial pollinators), and birds.  It has been a haven and teaching garden ever since for the owners’ two grandsons as they studied the life cycles of Monarchs and Black Swallowtails.

Join me if you can.  We’ll meet at the Avalon Pollinator Garden (71st Street and Ocean Drive, Avalon, NJ) in Armacost Park, orient participants, and soon after drive (in our respective cars) to the 1st garden, then on to the 2nd garden.  Please arrive promptly (shortly before 9:30 a.m.) to be oriented for the tour and so that we can leave shortly after to have as much time as possible in the two gardens.

Tour Two Private Backyard Habitats in Avalon, NJ
with Pat Sutton and the Garden Owners
Wed., August 9, 2023 (Rain Date: August 10)
9:30 am – 11:30 am
All are welcome. FREE. No preregistration necessary.

Meet at Avalon Pollinator Garden on 71st Street and Ocean Drive in Avalon, NJ, for orientation, then participants find their way to the two private yards in Avalon.

TOO, if you haven’t marked your calendar yet, DO NOT MISS Doug Tallamy’s upcoming presentation in Avalon, NJ, on Mon., August 28, at 7:00 pm, “Homegrown National Park,” where you will learn the importance of landscaping with native plants to life itself!  Details HERE and HERE).

Learn all about our MOTTO, “Plant it, a NATIVE PLANT GARDEN, and they will come!”
Pat

Tours of CU Maurice River Gardens on Sat., July 15, 2023

Hi Gang,

In recent years CU Maurice River has been hard at work (along with terrific gardening volunteers and growing volunteers) designing and creating rain gardens and pollinator gardens with native plants.

WheatonArts Pollinator Garden

I can’t wait to lead a tour showcasing and sharing three of these native plant wildlife gardens that CU Maurice River has created (and maintains) at public sites in Millville, NJ: (1) First United Methodist Church Serenity Garden, (2) Downtown Millville’s Neighborhood Wildlife Garden, and (3) Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center’s Circle Oasis.  In addition, the July 15th tour will include two private home gardens set in a suburban community.

Saturday, July 15, 2023
Tour of CU Maurice River Gardens, led by Pat Sutton
in Millville, NJ (Cumberland County)
( Rain date Sunday, July 16)
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (Morning Tour)
1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Afternoon Tour)

Millville Neighborhood Wildlife Garden

Join CU Maurice River and Pat Sutton to experience the benefits provided by these revitalized areas that together function as a network of urban green spaces supporting ecological and community health. Every garden is unique and has a story to be told.  Karla Rossini, CU Maurice River’s Executive Director, will share each garden’s story with the group.

At the end of each tour, stay on to socialize and enjoy light refreshments in the last garden.

In the past, Pat Sutton’s Garden Tours with CU Maurice River have filled up quickly.  Please RSVP as soon as possible to be guaranteed a spot.

Registration required:
Cost: $30 for CU Maurice River members / $40 for non-members.
Morning Tour (sign up HERE)*
Afternoon Tour (sign up HERE)*
*the same gardens will be visited on each tour
Call CU Maurice River at (856) 300-5331 for more information

Pat Sutton lives near Cape May, New Jersey. She has been a working naturalist since 1977, first for the Cape May Point State Park and then for 21 years with New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where she was the Naturalist and Program Director (1986 to 2007). Pat has a Masters Degree from Rowan University in Environmental Education and an undergraduate degree in Literature from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Today, Pat is a free-lance writer, photographer, naturalist, educator, lecturer, tour leader, and wildlife habitat/conservation gardening educator.

Pat is a passionate wildlife habitat gardener and advocate for butterflies, moths, bees (all pollinators), birds, dragonflies, frogs, toads, and other critters. Pat has taught about wildlife-friendly and native plant gardening for over 40 years. Her own wildlife area is a “teaching garden” featured in many programs, workshops,  garden tours, and some books.