Dove Season

Mourning Dove in Flower Basket

Mourning Dove in Flower Basket

Originally published a few years ago, but very pertinent now as well . . .

In light of the fact September 1st marks the beginning of Dove Season and I’ll be hearing shotgun fire all Labor Day Weekend, I wanted to write a little something that might offset the hunt. (I know, I know – in Texas, we can only hope . . .)

Well, most of you know by now that I feed the birds in my backyard. The blue jays squawk and peck at my gutters every morning when they see me go outside to feed my wire fox terrier, Buzz, on the patio. They know the birdseed is coming right after.

I also have a few cardinals and mockingbirds that hang out by the feeder every morning too. Most recently, my brown thrasher has shown up on a daily basis.

In addition, there are always plenty of Mourning Doves around. One or two of which are more like piglets – plopping down right in the center of the platform feeder and eating to their fill. They also love to nest in my hanging baskets as you’ll see from the pictures in this post.  You might say “Dove Season” is year ’round for me!

Speaking of Dove Season, about a year ago, I was home sick with pneumonia for a couple of weeks and thus, was able to view my birdfeeders for several consecutive days during work hours. One day I was admiring a couple of huge pale doves on my fence. Not paying too much attention at first, I thought they were just extra large Mourning Doves, but then I began to notice they were almost white in color and each had a black crescent on the back of their neck. I decided to look them up. Upon initial research, they appeared to be a pair of Turtle Doves. Turtle Doves aren’t typically seen in the wild, although there are a few feral flocks here and there in the southern US – escapees from breeders or pet keepers. Could be the two were indeed feral Turtle Doves, but then again, most likely they were Eurasian Collared Doves. Eurasian Collared Doves were introduced to the Caribbean in the 1970’s and have since migrated to the Gulf coastal states of the US. Apparently the differences are ever so slight between the two species, but the Eurasian Collard Doves tend to be plumper. As healthy as the ones were that I saw, my money is on the Eurasian Collared Dove. Although, to make things even more complicated with regard to bird identification, it is thought feral Turtle Doves and transplanted Eurasian Collared Doves interbreed in the wild. I indeed may have been visited by hybrid offspring! Regardless, they were an unusual, yet calmingly, beautiful pair.

The next morning I waited patiently for the Turtle Doves/Eurasian Collared Doves to arrive, but didn’t see them right away. As I was staring intently at the other doves around the feeder, I noticed there was one that looked, again, just a tad larger than the others. He wasn’t pale, but I noticed he had a white stripe fully outlining his wings and he also had a definite rose/purple tinge to the back of his head. What do you know, I had a 3rd variety of dove at my feeder – a White Winged Dove! You know, like the one in the Stevie Nicks song, Edge of Seventeen?

Of course, this led me to look up all species of doves inhabiting North America and I found there is also a Ground Dove (closely resembles the Mourning Dove and is the smallest of the group) and an Inca Dove (looks like it has scales and prefers the arid areas of Mexico and southwestern states) in the US.  Then, there are the pigeons that are close relatives of doves.

New Mourning Dove Chicks

New Mourning Dove Chicks

Parent and Chicks

Parent and Chicks

Teenaged Dove and Parent!

Teenaged Dove and Parent!

 

During my research, I discovered a few other interesting tidbits about doves:

  • Most will mate for life and at the very least, will be monogamous seasonally.
  • As sad as it may sound, their cooing isn’t about mourning or sadness, but is likely a mating call.
  • Both the male and female incubate and care for their young. I personally have witnessed male and female Mourning Doves trade shifts sitting on their eggs. I’ve also witnessed each of the pair take turns feeding their young “seed milk”.
  • Dove chicks typically do not chirp – not even when their parent returns with food. You’ll never know they are around unless you just happen to come across them by accident.
  • They are tropical/sub-tropical birds, thus in the US you’ll find more dove species inhabit the warmer southern states.
  • Species found in the rainforests of Oceania and Asia are as colorful as parrots! See
    http://www.avianweb.com/fruitdoves.html.

All in all, I am happy to have had the honor of three different species of North American doves visiting my backyard. I am also happy my daily birdfeeding routine assures a huge flock of them will remain protected during the other Dove Season –

Until next time-
Cindy
http://natureisnurture.net/

 

 

Posted in Birds, Interesting Facts/Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aiding our Feathered Friends During Drought

Moisture-Filled Succulent

Moisture-Filled Succulent

Originally published July 2011.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about annuals that bloom all summer – moss rose and purslane. Both of these annuals happen to be succulents. Succulents are notorious for holding water – think cactus or aloe vera. Ever watch an old-timey Western movie in which a desperate cowboy without any water in his canteen thankfully comes across a life-saving cactus in the desert?

Well, the reason I am writing this post tonight is because I lost two of my best succulents this week – a healthy moss rose in a small pot attached to my fence and a large impatiens planted in a hanging basket. No, they did not melt in the heat – they were growing wonderfully one day and then simply gone the next! What in the world happened to them? Usually if insects attack a plant, at least remnants of the plant remain. If a rabbit or squirrel has munched on a plant, at least the stems of the plant are usually apparent. Well, my plants appeared to have been pulled completely out of the soil.

I performed a little research before posting this information – just to confirm my suspicions.

The culprits are, no doubt, very thirsty birds!

The odd location of my former succulents tend to support this – a hanging basket and a fence-mounted pot – both situated very near my bird bath and feeder. I also have impatiens planted in a flower bed and moss rose planted in pots on the patio – none of which have been bothered. While a squirrel or possum no doubt can perform acrobatics to get to food, I can’t imagine why they’d chose the hanging plants versus the ones more easily accessible.

Oh well, while I am disappointed I lost a couple of plants, I am not at all unhappy about the circumstance. You see, hopefully the two moisture-filled plants helped a bird or nestling or two survive another 100+ degree day absent of rain.

If you’ve watched or read the news reports lately, you are well aware that not only are suburbanites having to abide by drought irrigation policies, but more seriously, farmers and ranchers are having their respective problems with the dog days of summer this year as well. Farmers are losing crops and ranchers are losing livestock due to lack of grazing vegetation to support them. The effects of the heat and drought are indeed widespread.

So, what small action or actions can you take to make this difficult time of year more comfortable for our feathered friends at the very least?

  • Don’t forget to fill your bird feeder(s) every day. Birds that eat insects (no longer around due to lack of vegetation and blooms) are resorting to eating seed at our feeders. This means more beaks to feed.
  • If you run out of seed for a day or two, don’t worry. You probably have plenty of acceptable items in your home to feed the birds until you get to the store. Stale bread, biscuits, pastries, and cereal are good seed substitutes. Popped microwave popcorn and peanuts are also alternatives. Even dry or semi-moist dog food will suffice temporarily.
  • Add fresh fruit and vegetables to your platform feeders. If you’d rather not buy fresh for the birds, simply place out that which you purchased for your family but which has over-ripened (but not moldy) versus throwing it away. During drought times, birds that typically do not eat fruit will be as appreciative of it as much as those that do. In my experience, red fruits and vegetables attract birds more quickly, such as apples, strawberries, cherries, grapes, and tomatoes. However during drought times, any fruit, even bananas, will be satisfying and may be life-saving to birds. Note: If fruit remains in the feeder for more than a day, you may find you will be attracting more than birds, such as flies or mice. In this case, greatly reduce or discontinue providing fruit and veggies altogether for a while.
  • If you typically set out dried fruit, or dried fruit is usually part of your seed, sort it out and soak it in water. The plumped up raisins, dates, prunes, cranberries or otherwise will surely provide the birds a much-needed, juicy treat.

birds bathing

  • Fill your bird bath every day and think about adding a few ice cubes now and then. This weekend I went out to my bird bath to adjust the solar fountain and found the water was far too hot to keep my hand comfortably immersed. An addition of ice cubes solved the issue for me and also for the birds seeking a cool drink.
  • Speaking of solar fountain, add a small fountain, agitator or drip device to your bird bath if it will support one. This may cause some evaporation, but if you fill your bath daily, it will not be an issue. A fountain, agitator, or drip device not only keeps the water from stagnating, it also attracts overhead birds that may not see the available water otherwise.
Impatiens - have fluid filled stems

Impatiens – have fluid filled stems

  • Lastly, if you have a succulent or two that isn’t doing so well in this extreme heat, go ahead and relocate it next to your bird feeder or bath. A mother bird in need may decide to partake of it. From one plant lover to another, I assure you the sacrifice will be well worth it.

Until next time,

Cindy
http://natureisnurture.net/

Posted in Birds, Interesting Facts/Thoughts, Plants, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Plants for Attracting Hummingbirds

hummingbird drawing

Originally published 2012.

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds? Not only are they one of the world’s tiniest wonders regarding their incredible flexibility in flight, they are absolutely beautiful. They are fun to watch, especially when there are two or more in the vicinity as they like to play and compete with one another. Some varieties “hum” loudly as they beat their wings at lightning speed and dart past you (hence their name) and some are a tad more quiet as they flitter about their business. One thing is for certain, they are attracted to red and reddish-orange flowering plants that have trumpet-shaped blooms. Of course, because hummers are tiny, the blooms of the plants they are attracted to are usually quite tiny as well. I often wonder how a hummer is able to garner enough nectar from some of the plants it visits, but then, there are usually tons of blooms per plant and the hummer will do its best to visit each and every one!

Hummingbirds will certainly visit flowering plants with blooms other than red, but as I mention above, red seems to be their preference. It is thought hummingbirds can only see in hues of red and green and since most parts of a plant are green, they are more able to pick out red blossoms at far distances. In my research for this post, I learned what I thought was an interesting aside – supposedly insects are not able to see the color red. (Ever wonder how someone can really KNOW this? It reminds me of a story my brother told me once when he was cleaning his bounty of freshly caught fish. I asked him not to cut their heads off in front of my little nephew because it seemed a bit too barbaric for a toddler to witness. My brother responded, “The fish can’t feel it, Cindy. They have no nerve endings in their head.” Tell me, just how does he KNOW this? I’m pretty sure he just wanted me to keep quiet and not make a fuss!)

Back to hummers . . . because insects apparently cannot see red, there is very little competition between the birds and the bees when it comes to getting nectar from red blooms. Another interesting tidbit about the difference in flower visits of birds and bees has to do with the shape of the blooms that hummers like to visit – i.e., trumpet. On one hand it is thought hummers predominately visit trumpet-shaped flowers because they have such long beaks and can easily suck up the juice. Actually, I learned hummers lap up nectar like would a dog, but at a rate about as lightning fast as they flap their wings. Apparently they don’t suck it up like a straw. On the other hand, there is further evidence of a lack of competition with insects in this area because insects know that if they crawl into a tubular-shaped, nectar-filled flower, they may never come out.  Should they fall in, they’d most likely drown. This actually would be providing the hummer with a little extra protein needed to fuel their tiny bodies. Incidentally, hummers do eat insects now and then for this very reason as nectar alone cannot provide them with the nutrition needed to travel at such fast paces and far distances.

While there is an abundance of hummingbirds it seems in the rural and open space areas of the US, there often isn’t as great a showing in the suburbs and cities. However, should you happen to live in a more populated area or feel you are on the outskirts of a hummingbird’s migratory path (http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/migration.php) you can still plant a few hummingbird-friendly ornamentals that will not only bring you a better chance of seeing a hummer, but which will also look stunning in your landscape regardless. The below listed plants are relatively easy to grow and maintain, and a bonus is they are re-seeding annuals or perennials thus, they will reward you with little flying gems year after year.

Cypress Vine or *Cardinal Climber
Yes, another vine to tout about! As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I am indeed a “vine person.” See my former posts about honeysuckle, clematis, and moonflower. Like the moonflower vine, cypress vine is a relative of the morning glory. While the blooms are similar in shape to moonflowers and morning glories, this is about where the similarities end. The blooms of the cypress vine are quite tiny and brilliantly red in color. (There is also a white variety I have seen recently.) Although the blooms of this vine are what we are focusing upon re the subject of hummingbirds, I must mention the foliage of this vine is extremely different from its relatives. The foliage of cypress vine is very dainty and fern-like in appearance. Another bonus to planting cypress vine is, in my opinion, that it is one of the fastest growing vines ever discovered. You can plant it now and in merely a couple of weeks it will be twining up your fence or trellis in bloom! It grows well in full sun but will tolerate part shade. It is just an overall beautiful, fast-growing, annual vine. With just about all things beautiful, there comes a caution. Cypress vine is a prolific re-seeder. If you don’t want the vine to sprout in the same area year after year, do not plant it – or at least be prepared to weed it out in years to come if you change your landscape plans.

*Cypress Vine and Cardinal Climber are almost identical in appearance and cultivation – the only difference I’ve been able to detect is the cypress vine has fern-like leaves straight from the stem (as pictured below.)  The cardinal climber vine appears to have more defined leaves where the fern-like appearance begins.  The important point to this article is hummingbirds love both the same!

Cypress Vine

On to the perennials –

Turk’s Cap
I came to know about Turk’s cap when visiting the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas several years ago – a delightful and inexpensive East Texas excursion if you love both plants and animals. ( http://caldwellzoo.org/)  Turk’s cap was planted in and around the displays and was magnificent. I had seen it before in small pots at nurseries but I had no idea the size and abundant amount of dotted red “Turk’s caps” it could produce! Turk’s cap is a woody, tender perennial that is native to Texas and Mexico (zones 7 – 11). In the southern areas of Texas and Florida, as well as further south into Mexico, it remains an evergreen shrub. However in North Texas, the plant will die back in the winter. If mulched well, it will most certainly return. Turk’s cap loves sun and lots of space. It will multiply every year so you can purchase a one gallon container now and in a couple of years it will fill a 6 X 6 space easily! I have read where Turk’s cap is best planted in a naturalized, informal garden and I must agree. It has far more green foliage than blooms – however the blooms are perfect for the appetite of hummers. In my personal experience, this plant is a sure way to attract hummingbirds. My boyfriend, Mike, wanted to attract them to his yard as he had never seen a hummer in his area before (and he has many beautiful flowers in his landscape.) We transplanted some of my Turk’s cap to his home, about 12 miles west and Ta Da – he had hummingbirds that very year visiting his newly transplanted shrubs!

Turks Cap

Autumn Sage or Salvia greggii
This is another plant that I have personally witnessed the wonder of its attraction of hummingbirds. It is a small (2 – 3 ft) mounding shrub, and like Turk’s cap, it is native to Texas and Mexico. Also like Turk’s cap, it remains evergreen in the southernmost areas of its growing zones. It flowers in the same way as other salvias, producing long spikes of multiple, small tubular blooms. Varieties of Autumn sage can be found from deep red to pink to white. In the summertime, this shrub is often covered in blooms, making it striking as a specimen plant or when planted en masse. Autumn sage loves sun but will tolerate late afternoon shade. It also tolerates very dry conditions. My parents, living 40 miles south of Dallas in a rather rural area, have Autumn sage shrubs lining their sidewalk. Although my mom puts out her annual hummingbird feeder, it serves no competition when her Autumn sage is blooming. The hummers literally flock to those plants. (Yes, I am envious!) A caution with Autumn sage is this – as resilient as it is with regard to sun and soil, its limbs are extremely delicate. Just brushing up against the shrub will break them off. Although my parents have lined them along their sidewalk, it is recommended you plant this shrub in low-traffic zones.

Autumn Sage

Firebush
Firebush is a tropical, woody perennial native to Florida. North to zone 8, it is a tender perennial if protected over the winter. Firebush needs full to mostly full sun. It is a wonderful plant to use in your landscape to attract hummingbirds as it produces an overabundance of long-lasting, bright red-orange tubular blooms. While not a vine, firebush actually reminds me of coral honeysuckle with regard to its blooms. I believe its foliage, having an orangish tint, is quite attractive as well. I have successfully grown firebush in both containers and in the soil. It looks amazing as a patio specimen. If you choose to grow it in a container, but sure to place it in a large pot – at least a 5 gallon. (Growing in a container will allow you to overwinter it in your garage or sunroom, offering a greater chance of its survival in zones north of 10.) If you find a permanent spot in the ground for firebush, just remember to mulch it heavily in the winter and most likely it will return in the spring.

Firebush

 

Well, this wraps up my post – a longer one than usual, but hopefully I have inspired you to plant one or more of the above to create the perfect dining habitat for our hummingbirds. The very good news about all the plants above is that you can plant them now (late summer) and enjoy their beauty until the first frost. They are fast growers and long bloomers and even with the annual cypress vine, you’ll most likely see them all again next year and thereafter!

Bonus pictures!  I caught a hummingbird on film this morning (August 31, 2015) at my Cypress Vine.  Also, notice the Turk’s Cap planted nearby.

hummingbird

Cypress and Turks Cap

Until next time,

Cindy

Posted in Birds, Interesting Facts/Thoughts, Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asparagus Fern Adds Lushness to Stark Landscapes

Asparagus Fern Filler with Gerbera Daisy

Asparagus Fern Filler with Gerbera Daisy

Originally published July 2011.

With no rain in sight and temps continuing to hover around 100 degrees in most of the U.S., there is no doubt your landscape is suffering right now. Hopefully, you have a few pops of ornamental color remaining such as that which is provided by heat resistant crape myrtles, vitex, lantana, and portulacas.
If your blooming plants located in your pots and baskets have become brown, dry and brittle or perhaps are gone entirely (as are most of mine), you may wish to add a little greenery to them to tide you over until early fall when you can safely add color again. If your existing plants are salvageable or you originally had a mixed pot where portulacas are all that remain, you may simply add greenery as a filler to make the container far more attractive. In fact, simple greenery alone can look incredibly soothing during these dog days of summer.

So what “greenery” can possibly survive the extreme type of weather we are having these days, let alone, can be potted at mid-summer?  Asparagus Fern!

Asparagus Fern, or Asparagus densiflorus, is a tropical, tender perennial that is native to South Africa and actually is not a fern. Instead, it derives from the Liliaceae family, or lily family. Thus, unlike true ferns, the Asparagus Fern can tolerate full sun, poor soil and dry conditions – think onions and asparagus.  Note: While plant classifications have changed recently with regard to the family Liliaceae, the Asparagus Fern is indeed a distant relative of sun-loving alliums and the vegetable, asparagus. Don’t get me wrong; Asparagus Fern will enjoy and appreciate a little shade, some enriched soil and a bit of moisture. In fact, it is a very good houseplant if placed near a bright, sunny window. However it is nice to know that it can survive outdoor summertime extremes when the situation calls for it!

In performing research for this post, I found gardeners touting its amazing ability to survive 110 degree days in the arid climates of Arizona, Southern California and Queensland, Australia. If you’ve ever potted a mature Asparagus Fern, you have witnessed the portion of the plant that helps it thrive and survive in these dessert-like conditions – its roots. The root system of the Asparagus Fern is comprised of multitudes of white tuberous structures that are very good at holding water. These bulbous structures look so foreign to this plant that the novice gardener may mistakenly toss it out for fear it has developed some odd disease!

Asparagus Fern Root System

Asparagus Fern Root System

Speaking of disease, Asparagus Fern is quite disease free and virtually pest resistant, although spider mites may become an issue. The tell tale signs of mites are crispy brown ends and eventual webbing on the plant. Application of horticultural oil is the best method to eradicate mites, but you must be very careful when using it in direct sunlight as you may literally cook your plants. The only other complaint I’ve heard regarding the Asparagus Fern is that sometimes portions of the plant may turn yellow. The cause may be too much light or some folks believe the cause may be too little light. As one who possesses an Asparagus Fern and brings it indoors during the wintertime (20 degrees Fahrenheit is its minimum tolerant temperature), I tend to believe the cause of yellowing is probably due to a sudden change in environment one way or the other. Mine always tends to yellow a bit at first when I bring it indoors, but once it adjusts to indirect light, it adapts and greens up. Same as when I re-introduce it back outdoors in the spring.

Although Asparagus Fern is not a true fern, it indeed looks like one – soft, feathery and frilly. Its dainty, fine appearance elegantly arches when planted in pots or hanging baskets. Last year, I planted Asparagus Fern in a large basket that hung from a high, sturdy limb of my 20 year old Live Oak tree. Cascading 5 feet down from the basket, the fern took on the ambience of Spanish Moss. It was absolutely mesmerizing!

As far as blooms go – tiny white flowers generally appear on mature Asparagus Fern in the summertime. The blooms develop into green, and, ultimately, bright red berries. The red berries are quite striking against the Asparagus Fern’s feathery foliage, especially as the season moves into fall. These berries typically hold 3 seeds each – should you wish to try your hand at growing seedlings, although the birds may beat you to the harvest!

Asparagus Fern Berries

Asparagus Fern Berries

However, if you prefer to create new plants the quick and easy way, you may successfully divide an Asparagus Fern as you would similar plants belonging to the lily family. Simply split the plant, including the root ball, via a small saw or shovel, and transplant.

In conclusion, one very early morning or late afternoon when the outside temps are bearable, you may wish to venture out and add a little greenery to your bare or thinning pots and baskets. Asparagus Fern would be the ideal candidate this time of year. Depending on the light exposure your new plants were accustomed to in the store or nursery, you may need to incrementally introduce them into the full, 100 degree sun. Or, you may simply wish to keep the greenery in a partly sunny location for now. Either way, the addition of Asparagus Fern to containers, baskets or beds this time of year will bring forth an atmosphere of full, green lushness to your stark ,mid-summer patio or landscape.

Until next time,

Cindy
http://natureisnuture.net/

Posted in Interesting Facts/Thoughts, Landscape/Gardening Decor, Plants, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birdhouse Gourds

Birdhouse Gourd Painted Talavera Style

Birdhouse Gourd
Painted Talavera Style

Originally published August 2011.

I admit a few years ago I planted birdhouse gourd vines merely for the fun of it. The picture on the seed packet looked very interesting and I knew I would be happy if the vines produced just a couple of fruit. Well, the vines were prolific that year – I believe mainly because we had an unusually wet June here in North Texas. Quite accidentally I had also planted the vines in the perfect spot – in the same bed with my moonflower vines. Flowers of the birdhouse gourd vine are similar in color and shape of moonflowers, but only about 1/3 the size. Still, they are very pretty. You see, when the sphinx moths came to pollinate the night time moonflowers they probably hung around in the early morning and pollinated the smaller flowers of the gourd vine too!

At any rate, there were far more gourds produced that year than I would ever have had time to craft! I gave away dozens and loaded up the 50 or so remaining and took them down to my parents’ where we hung them in their arid tool shed to dry.

Recently, I had an occasion to go into that shed to look for a tool and I was reminded of my gourd bounty – as there they were still hanging from the rafters several years later! I decided I’d take a few home and show them off to my green-thumbed boyfriend, Mike. One of the gourds looked especially like a space alien because two molded spots had grown at the top of the gourd to form big, black, vacant eyes. I gave this particular gourd to my boyfriend’s young grandsons. They didn’t grasp exactly what it was, but they thought it was cool anyway. Mission accomplished!

Not long after, my boyfriend brought it back to me – along with another gourd I had given them. He had carved holes in the gourds, hoping I would paint and make them into true birdhouses – Mexican talavera tile style – like his backyard decor. Oh no! He demolished the alien! At first I was disappointed that my unique gourd had been cut into, but then I decided I’d give the painting job a whirl. It was a challenge and I was flattered he thought I was up to the task! Talavera style and all . . .

Well, I found there are a number of quality articles on the internet that speak of how to dry and form gourds into birdhouses. With regard to the gourd drying process, the most important thing to note is that it can take 6 – 9 months – so it isn’t a quick project by no means. Another thing to note is that while acrylic paint is vibrant and beautiful, it may scratch off quite easily if your gourd rubs up against a limb or another object – even if you spray a clear glaze on it. I learned through my research and through my own painting experience that stain or leather dye are probably the best permanent methods to add color to your craft. This, I will try next time.

Instead of focusing primarily on the birdhouse creation and decorating process, I’m providing you links at the end of this post to a few expert websites to visit and will reserve my speech here to growing the vine and producing the gourds. Once you have a successful harvest, you can revisit the sites below and have plenty of time to map out your creative plan, whether it be making birdhouses or merely producing a beautiful piece of natural art.

Gourds are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupe and squash. As mentioned in my earlier post about cantaloupe, cucurbits are rather easy to grow from seed. In addition, they need a lot of space to spread whether it is vertically or horizontally. The best time to sow cucurbit seed is in the spring, right after the last frost. However, depending upon your region, you may certainly attempt to produce a second season crop by planting seed in late summer. When sowing birdhouse gourds, either do so in raised mounds on the ground or plant the seed at the base of a trellis, again, allowing ample space at either site. As I mentioned earlier, I had great fortune interplanting mine with moonflower vine, which not only offered me a vine space with beautiful white blooms both day and night, it also provided for assured pollination of the gourds by the sphinx moths that typically visit moonflower. With regard to maintenance of the gourd vines, leaves of cucurbits are usually quite demonstrative when they need water – they droop! So, just be sure to water accordingly and in no time you will see tiny, bright green, bottle-shaped gourds peeking through the leaves.

Birdhouse Gourd Vine

Birdhouse Gourd Vine

When is the best time to harvest your gourds? When the vine attached directly to the gourd becomes dry and somewhat brittle. The gourd may still be green but when the stem has “hardened off” you can safely remove it from the vine and begin the drying process. If you decide to begin a fall planting this year, wait until the first frost to harvest your crop to allow the stems to harden naturally according to the weather. Your fruit may be a tad smaller, but most should be just fine for curing nonetheless.

Birdhouse gourd vines are a lot of fun to grow and produce quite the novelty crop. -And, if you are the patient and creative type, they’ll offer you much, much more than pure amazement while on the vine.

Best of luck when you try them!

Until next time,

Cindy
http://natureisnurture.net/

Web Sites for Gourd Birdhouses, Crafts and Supplies
http://www.amishgourds.com/
http://www.welburngourdfarm.com/
http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-Gourd-Bird-House-1/
http://gardening.about.com/od/craftsanddecor/ig/Making-Gourd-Bird-Houses/Gourd-Bird-Houses.htm

Birdhouse Gourd in Growing Stage

Birdhouse Gourd in Growing Stage

Dried Birdhouse Gourds

Dried Birdhouse Gourds

Gourds Primed with Kilz

Gourds Primed with Kilz

Finished Project!

Finished Project!

Posted in Birds, Landscape/Gardening Decor, Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Animal Idioms

Before I left on vacation,  I witnessed a dove at my bird feeder “ruffle up his feathers” toward a very aggressive blue jay. This brought to mind an idea I’ve had on the back-burner – to talk about some of the descriptive phrases we use in our language that relate to animal behavior; otherwise known as idioms.

An idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made.

Yes, I admit the above is a rather complicated definition and it would make my head hurt trying to figure it out if I didn’t already know what I was about to write. You, too, will get the gist of what idioms are after reading the following list. Below are just a few of the many animal related ones that exist – ones I am intimately knowledgeable about; ones I grew up with.

Ruffle a few feathers
Figurative Meaning – To get a person or persons upset, agitated or stirred.
Literal Meaning – Displaying ruffled feathers is a defense mechanism that enables a chick to look larger and more aggressive.

Happy as a clam (at high water)
Figurative – To be very happy.
Literal – Although the latter part of the phrase, at high water, is not used any longer – it is at high tide that clams are free from predators and thus, are considered happy.
ant

She has ants in her pants
Figurative – She can’t sit still.
Literal – The desperate act of killing or dusting off stinging ants once they’ve unnoticeably entered your clothing.

 

 

horse bit

Chomp at the bit
Figurative – To be impatient.
Literal – Horses chomp at the bit of their bridle when restless.

A fish out of water
F – To be confused; in an alien or new environment; out of your element.
L – A fish can’t swim on land.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
F – Don’t count on the future before you reach it; don’t assume.
L – Not all eggs laid are guaranteed to develop into chickens. Just because you have 6 eggs doesn’t mean you’ll eventually have 6 chickens to sell.

You look like a drowned rat
F – Soaking wet, especially after coming in from a heavy rain.
L – A limp, wet, dead rat.

Barney Dale

His bark is worse than his bite
Figurative – His words are worse than his actions.
Literal – All dogs with loud, aggressive barks aren’t necessarily ones that will give dangerous bites. Think of Shih Tzu’s, for example!

 

 

opossum

Play ‘possum
F- Faking something, as in pretending you are asleep.
L – Sometimes when opossums are in danger, they will curl up and appear to be dead. They do this so their predator will leave them alone.

As I said, there are plenty more of these idioms in which we use animal behavior to describe that of our own. I’d love for you to shoot me a quick note and tell me about some of your favorites!

Until next time-
Cindy

Although this post was originally published June 2011, I updated it with my current dog’s photo above.  I wasn’t sure I was going to convert this early post to my new site since it doesn’t really relate too much to gardening, but after my Shih Tzu, Barney, had an encounter with a opossum last night, I decided I’d import it after all as it became very appropriate.   Barney barked and barked and barked last night, but did no harm.  Consequently, though, the opossum played dead in my sunroom for hours.  By morning he was gone.  All was well in the end!

 

Posted in Animals, Birds, Fish, Humor, Insects, Interesting Facts/Thoughts, Pets | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Zingy Zinnias

 

Magellan Coral Zinnia

Magellan Coral Zinnia

I’ve always had a love for gardening, even as a young kid. Zinnias were the first flowers I planted from seed. I believe I’ve had some variety of zinnia in my yard every year since. The former statements should tell you just how easy zinnias are to grow. They are among the simplest of seeds to germinate and are very quick and reliable to bloom, taking about 6 weeks from germination to bud formation.

Right now, I have pinwheel zinnias in my back yard grown from seed and a pot of the beautiful Magellan Coral variety sitting on my patio that I found in a one gallon container on clearance at Wal-Mart this weekend. The pinwheel variety has blooms similar to daisies while the Magellan varieties produce huge, full-figured 5-inch blooms. There are many, many other varieties of zinnias to choose from, depending on the height and look you wish to accomplish.

Pinwheel Zinnias

Pinwheel Zinnias

Zinnias are summer annuals of the Asterceae family that prefer full sun. However, in the warmer climates of the U.S., Zone 6 and to the south, zinnias can benefit from a bit of shade in the late afternoon. As mentioned above, they are available in just about every size, shape and color except blue – and thus can enhance any landscape. You can purchase miniature varieties of less than 12 inches in height to giant varieties that grow up to 4 feet tall. There are those that produce tiny, warmed-hued pom-pom blooms and then there are those that produce giant pom-poms with pastel candy-striped petals.

Zinnias are relatively pest and disease free especially if planted with good air circulation in mind. Fungus may appear on leaves in crowded situations and when the plants are routinely watered from above where droplets are left on the leaves. Mealybugs and spider mites may also become problems late in the summer season. Garden Safe Fungicide3 or any other type of neem oil are natural products worth investing in at the first indication of any of these issues and ones which will surely extend the life of your ornamentals.

More Coral Zinnias

 

Not only are zinnias beautiful, but their bright, long-lasting blooms are beneficial in attracting other natural beauties to your garden – butterflies and bees. If you’d like to enjoy zinnias this year, it truly isn’t too late. As I did, you may find a few plants on clearance and chose to place them as fillers in your present landscape. Or, you may wish to sow a few late seeds in a sunny, open spot for blooms that will develop just in time for a nice, fall display.

Until next time,

Cindy
http://natureisnurture.net/

Posted in Plants, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anoles

Anole 1

First of all, thank you for bearing with me as I slowly transfer my previous blog posts onto my new WordPress site.  I will not get into the details here, but it takes more than simply cutting and pasting! At any rate I am excited to write a new article now, even though I am still in the midst of transferring content.

I have become fascinated by all the little green and brown lizards, properly known as anoles, which inhabit my new backyard.  The backyard is actually 25+ years old, but it is new to me since I recently married and moved here.  While I only moved 15 miles from where I previously lived in the North Texas area, I never saw any of these green and brown lizards at my former home.  I saw plenty of geckos, but not anoles. Perhaps it is the tropical foliage and the corresponding insects that the tropical foliage attracts that keeps these anoles very plentiful?

Interestingly, anoles are related to iguanas, but thankfully they do not get nearly as big or I certainly wouldn’t be as happy to have them around my backyard so abundantly!   Anoles are typically 3 – 7 inches in length and live in warm locations including the southern US, Mexico and the Caribbean.  In my area of North Texas, I don’t see them often during the winter months with the exception of when we have an unusually warm day.  Then, I may find they  venture out to sunbathe on the patio.  As such, unlike the mostly nocturnal geckos, anoles are diurnal – meaning they are active predominately in the daytime hours.

The only native species to the US is the green anole although, confusingly, the green anole can change to a brown hue if needed for camouflage purposes.  However, although some anoles can change colors they are not true chameleons.  And, let me confuse you more!  There exists strictly brown anoles that originate from places outside the US, such as Cuba, but which have recently migrated here. Bottom line is –  if you have both green and brown anoles in your landscape it could be difficult to know if you have just one or possibly two species inhabiting your yard.

Anole 3

The good news is green and brown anoles live compatibly although the strictly brown ones are primarily terrestrial (living on the ground and in ground cover) while the green ones will climb higher into small trees and shrubs.  All anoles are semi-arboreal – which means they all prefer to stay below tree canopies.   I would go out on a limb (pun intended) and say the reason they don’t venture out onto tree canopies is because the greatest predator of anoles are birds of prey.  It also makes sense that anoles stay low because their food choices (spiders and insects such as moths, small butterflies, crickets, roaches and grubs) also exist in the semi-arboreal areas of our landscapes.

Probably the most distinct feature of an anole is the pink “dewlap” of the males – a flap of skin below their necks.  They stretch and display this flash of pink (sometimes as vibrant as red) when they want to attract females and/or scare off other males that may be intruding into their territory.  Other features of anoles include very sticky feet and the fact their tails can disengage from their bodies when attempting to escape from predators.

For me personally, when I see anoles around the yard not only do I fantasize I’m in a tropical locale, I also possess a sense of comfort that my ornamentals are being cared for by these small, beautiful lizards.

Anole on Lime Tree

Anole on Lime Tree

I’m really not sure how you would entice a few lizards to enter your landscape if you have none  – perhaps plant more tropicals?  If you are fortunate enough to have a few around, whether they are geckos or anoles, I’d certainly give them a chance to take care of any pests you may have in the yard versus spraying insecticide.  Also, if you have a few lizards and you are able to abstain from using toxins, you will probably have an abundance of young ones next year to naturally take care of those insect pests.

-And just in case you are simply not a big fan of reptiles, I can attest I have not seen any anoles inside my residence*.  Anoles definitely prefer the warm, sunny outdoors!

Until next time,

Cindy

*A stray gecko or two may indeed come indoors – however, they, too, are not interested in being handled by humans and will steer clear of you!

Posted in Insects, Reptiles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Noble Vitex

Vitex Texassuperstar.com

Vitex
Texassuperstar.com

Originally Published June 2011

When I first moved into my home about 19 years ago, the yard had very little in the way of landscaping and trees. Today I have several varieties of oak trees scattered around the front and back yards plus I have a few ornamental trees and shrubs here and there. Included in the ornamental trees and shrubs I possess are various crape myrtles, wax myrtles, nandinas, spireas, Texas sage and one noble Vitex. I describe the Vitex as noble not because of its status or stature, but because of its reliable endurance through the tough, hot summers of the southern U.S. – all the while blooming in regal, purple adornment.

If you Google the Vitex or Chaste Tree, you’ll see that a lot of folks consider it comparable to crape myrtles, and I must agree. The Vitex is a good alternative as it, too, is a small, fast-growing, flowering tree. It also thrives in very similar conditions as crape myrtles, i.e., warm, sunny areas with average to low rainfall statistics. If you happen to reside in or travel through the southern part of the U.S., take time to observe the landscaping of some of the newer developments such as malls, hospitals and other large public centers. You’ll most likely see a few Vitex trees intermixed with the typical pink and white crape myrtles.

So why would you wish to plant a Vitex in your yard?

For a “cooler” variety of summer color – and for the butterflies and bees.

While there exists white and light pink blooming varieties – and I’ve seen both in the wild – the lilac hue of a Vitex is amazingly vibrant, yet soothing during the hot summer months. My 19-year old tree is “frosted” with 8 – 10 inch purple spires right now. However, the newer varieties available in nurseries these days have been developed to burst with even more blooms than those varieties, like mine, of the past. Not only are Vitex blooms beautiful, the leaves are also quite nice. Their palmate, silver-gray appearance also offers a soothing, cooling effect in the Texas heat when adjacent to the lilac flowers.

Speaking of the blooms, they must be absolutely intoxicating to butterflies and bees. My tree is buzzing with life right now. Butterflies of all varieties can’t resist stopping by the lilac blooms as they flutter over my fence. And the bees, well . . . I sometimes have to quickly dart out of their way because some of them can be quite territorial and vehemently guard their slice of the tree. And while I have not witnessed a hummingbird at my Vitex, I have been told by several of my mutual Vitex proponents that their tree lures in these little flying jewels as well.

Vitex is a deciduous (loses its leaves in winter) small tree/shrub that is hardy through Zone 6 and warmer. It is of the Verbenaceae family, which includes other fragrant blooming plants such as verbena and lantana. Vitex is drought tolerant, but remember that even drought tolerant plants need a little extra care when first planted. Thus, it is best to plant the Vitex in the fall as you would any other tree or large shrub. Once established, it will do well in hot, dry, and full to mostly full sun conditions. Although you can prune and shape a Vitex to just about any form you wish, it is wise to provide ample space where it can truly stretch out. In the natural, Vitex can grow up to 25 feet tall and become more than 15 feet wide.

Depending on the look you wish to achieve, you may wish to prune the Vitex into a small tree (again, think crape myrtle) or leave it to its natural bushy state. Most articles I read regarding Vitex care suggest that regardless of the form you prefer, the Vitex should be tidied up annually to keep it from getting lanky. Personally, I trim dead limbs from the bottom half of my Vitex in late fall/early winter and then I prune any new, errant shoots in late spring. In addition, some folks like to deadhead their Vitex after blooming. This is entirely up to you as deadheading or trimming during the growing season does not harm a Vitex and it indeed blooms on new growth. The practice is thought to promote additional blooming during the year. Since I can no longer easily reach the top of my tree (it is about 20 feet tall) mine goes without a mid-summer trim and seems to bloom and re-bloom just fine.

Now for the negative . . . surely you knew there would be at least one negative, right? I hate to sound like a broken record, but again, like the crape myrtle, the Vitex sheds. After blooming, the Vitex goes to seed and creates little round berry-like seed pods, similar to peppercorns. These pods and seeds will shed into your bird baths, ponds, fountains and yes – if you are lucky to have one – your swimming pool. Thus, I suggest planting your Vitex a reasonable distance away from any water features in your yard. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t shed any more so than a crape myrtle and the pods are not (usually) harmful to man or animal if touched or ingested. It is just simply best to plant a Vitex several feet away from waterways to avoid any seed pods ultimately clogging pumps and such.

Incidentally, on the subject of ingesting, the Vitex is also called Chaste Tree and Monk’s Pepper because monks of ancient times would make tea from the berries to drink in hopes the tincture would suppress their fleshly urges. In these same ancient times Vitex preparations were also used to calm gynecological ailments. While there is no evidence to date that Vitex acts as an anti-aphrodisiac, it is indeed still used today as an herbal remedy for minor gynecological symptoms such as PMS. (Here’s my usual legal disclaimer – I am not a doctor and this post does not suggest or promote that anyone should use Vitex for health purposes. Please consult your doctor or health practitioner if you decide to pursue Vitex or any other plant as a health remedy or supplement.)

Well, I’ve saved the best for last – the photos! I hope as you putter around your landscapes this summer that you can envision the perfect spot to plant a noble Vitex this fall. I assure you, you’ll be pleased next summer if you do.

Vitex Blooms

Vitex Blooms

Vitex Shrub

Vitex Shrub

Purple Vitex

Purple Vitex

Vitex

Vitex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time,

Cindy
http://natureisnurture.net/

Posted in Insects, Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Annuals that Bloom All Summer

moss rose

Originally published June 2011

If you are wondering about now if there is anything that will bloom during the dog days of summer, you are probably not alone. As I’ve mentioned before, the heat of the summer is often a time of mere survival for plants, especially when it comes to flowering annuals. However, Moss Rose and Purslane, also known as Portulacas, are reliable bloomers when it comes to the mid-summer season. In fact, the flowers of some varieties of Portulaca will not open until the intense heat of the sun reaches them.

Moss Rose, Portulaca grandiflora, and Purslane, Portulaca oleracea, are heat-loving, drought-tolerant, vibrant-blooming succulents. Both varieties can produce multicolored blooms from the same plant; in colors as varied as orange, pink, purple, fuchia, coral, lavender, yellow, and white – reminiscent to me of the bright, fiesta-style paper flowers seen among the river vendors of San Antonio and into Mexico (although much smaller!) Both plant varieties can also be found to produce flowers of one, uniform color. The single colored varieties are most dramatic in my opinion when planted en masse or along the entire border of a very sunny flowerbed or pathway. New colors, shapes and varieties are being developed all the time, but in general, Moss Rose blooms look like tiny roses and Purslane looks more like teacups. Another difference among the two plants is the shape of their leaves. Although they are not thorny, Moss Rose leaves are spiny-looking and cylindrical while Purslane leaves are typically fleshy, flat and paddle-like.

Back to their similarities: Both Moss Rose and Purslane are low-growing, somewhat trailing plants and thus, will look best if planted at the front of a flowerbed or along a pathway as I mentioned above. They also have a wonderful cascading effect that will provide a gorgeous pop of summer color in pots and hanging baskets. Sometimes I fill a pot with Moss Rose alone and other times I use it as a filler plant among existing drought-tolerant plantings. Just remember, Portulacas bloom best when in full sun, and again, some open only when sunlight touches them, so arrange your pots and baskets in your landscapes accordingly.

Moss Rose

Moss Rose

In performing research for this post, I learned Moss Rose is native to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Non-ornamental Purslane, on the other hand, is native to Persia and India. There is record of Purslane being used as a culinary and medicinal herb in that part of the world for over 2,000 years. Word spread of its benefits to Europe and when Europeans introduced it to the new world, various American Indian tribes also began utilizing its leaves for both food and medicine. Today, Purslane has indeed been identified as a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants, as well as vitamins A & C and some B’s. For more detail about Purslane’s taste and nutritional value, go to http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/purslane.html, where you’ll also be able to link to sites providing recipes should you have an interest.

Purslane Multi

Purslane Multi

With regard to negatives about these plants, I can’t find anything as they are virtually disease and pest free and grow with little care – unless you consider the fact that they are annuals a negative. They may re-seed, and do so quite prolifically actually, but oftentimes the new seedlings will not be true and you may find you will have new plants that never bloom. Thus, it is best to replant Portulacas each year. As for me, I am a “grow from seed if you can” kind of person, so I purchase packets every year and sprinkle the tiny, silvery-black seeds in starter pots. I set out the 4-inch pots in the sun, water every other day or so, and watch them reliably sprout. Then I transplant them where needed or wanted.

So if your flower beds, pots or baskets are looking a little bare right now, it is A-OK to plant Moss Rose and/or Purslane seedlings – even in the midst of summer. You may be fortunate enough to find Portulaca plantlets on clearance at some of the large home improvement and garden centers. And if you find seed, go ahead and spring for a packet or two. Just sprinkle the seeds in your sunny pots and sunny spots and watch them grow. There’s plenty of sunshine in store for them to enjoy.

Until next time –
Cindy
http://natureisnurture.net/

Posted in Plants, Seasons | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment