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.
- 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.
- 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,