Saturday, May 27, 2023

Tale of two trees

I'm worried about my tulip tree. It is not leafing out like it should by now. It's location is near where the pagoda dogwood died, but it's root structure is supposed to be similar in size and shape as its above ground growth. It's been here since 2009, so one would think it would be permanently established by now. I've had other trees with bad years that later recovered, but I am beginning to lose hope on this one. Maybe a tree expert can help?

Redbud branches on the left, tulip tree branches on the right

Meanwhile, the little hickory tree looks GREAT, very leafy. It has a tap root that hopefully can penetrate my awful clay soil, so I'm hoping it lives a long time. But then, I hope that for all my trees. And shrubs. And perennials.

The leaves look droopy, but it's fine

Most of the spring flowers are gone, but the early summer ones are taking their place. I whacked the honeysuckle vine several months ago, but it blooms on undaunted. It attracts hummingbirds and will bloom most of the season. The two new ones are still getting established.

Close up of honeysuckle vine blossoms

Even the zinnia transplants are getting into the game.

First zinnia bloom of the season

And, of course, there are bugs, although not too many yet. This week is starting out cool, but hot days are promised later on. And dry. I think we are having a (hopefully) mini drought.

It looks like a flying ant

I cut down the rest of the ragwort, so now I can address the weeds that are trying to get a foothold in those beds. The grass seed I planted on the north side of the yard (some of which got flooded, some of which got ignored for a while) is taking root. I've been hardening off the sweet potato vines and tomato plants, so will transplant them today.

Watson, a.k.a. Houdini, almost managed to crawl under the shed, presumably in pursuit of a rabbit. If he had gotten under there, I doubt he could have gotten out by himself, nor could I have been able to rescue him. Who does one call in such a situation? Animal Control? The fire department? I stacked some broken pavers at his access point, so hopefully I won't have to figure that problem out. Then I caught him eating potting soil from one of the zinnia pots. WTH?

My hummingbird feeder broke, so I purchased a simple one from Wild Birds Unlimited. Even though I saw one hummingbird several weeks ago, none have been by since. Ditto the oriole feeder and bluebird box. Plenty of starlings, though. :-(

I tried out the Ego trimmer. It does a fine job, and is very balanced, but it's a bit heavy; my left bicep cramped up after a while. At least, I don't have to wrestle with a long extension cord anymore.

And now I think I'll get to those tomato plants.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Birds and butterflies

The New York Times (I'm a subscriber) is sponsoring a bird watching thing with the Cornell Lab of Orthinology. I signed up (and am having trouble logging into their eBird app) so I can report what I see in my backyard. Most of the birds I see are common for this area, with the exception of migrants passing through. But I do observe interesting behaviors once in a while.

While no one has moved into the bluebird box, I did see three male bluebirds duking it out on the roof of the garden shed. Two of them really got into it, slid off the roof and onto the ground without breaking apart. Two male cardinals were also challenging each other. In other activity, I witnessed the male wren chase off a sparrow that got too close to the wren house, pecking him on the head. Nesting time must bring out the aggression in all these guys.

Other observations: robins will chase away starlings, bluebirds will cede the mealworm feeder to sparrows, the bluejays are more interested in peanut splits these days than whole peanuts. I'm sure my observations are not unique, but it is a fun hobby.

Female cardinal

Despite the chilly weather, a few hardy butterflies have flown through the yard: a swallowtail, a cabbage white, something I can't identify, and this red admiral.

Red admiral

The coneflower plants and rudbeckia goldsturm are in the ground now. I put the coneflower in the last raised bed, which is L-shaped; the rudbeckia went into the L's inner corner. Both are behind the fencing around the birdfeeders, so no dogs can trample them. All that is left are container plants... except for the perennials on the south side of the house that I may move to the birdfeeder area, depending on how much digging I want to do.

While the redbud didn't bloom very profusely this year, the flowering crab and now the hawthorn have made up for their under performance.


And one of the catmint varieties is trying to add more color to the front yard.

Cat's Pajamas

The Ego trimmer is assembled and charged, but I have yet to use it. More of the ragwort has been cut back, primarily so the flowers behind it - wild geranium, blue star, and columbine - are more visible.

I bought top soil to help shore up the berm around the rain garden, just have to get to it. The rhubarb that I put in a container isn't very happy, so I'm contemplating planting it along the edge of the rain garden. About 0.75" of rain fell last night, so that clay soil should be more amenable to being disturbed.

And that is the week that was.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Yarden every darn day

That's been my motto lately, as I hustle to get all the plants I purchased installed in the yard. I'm not done yet, but getting there.

Sunday: planted bleeding heart and porch plants (coleus and black-eyed susan vine); cut back most of the daffodils; installed bluebird box; put zinnias on deck to harden off; set up latest addition to my flamingo collection.

Old-fashioned bleeding heart

Thunbergia 'Sunny Susy Amber Stripe' aka black-eyed Susan vine

Unknown coleus

Unknown coleus, leaf detail

Bluebird box installed (before baffle added)

It's a planter!

Monday: spotted the first catbird of the season; making clay toad houses and designing Beau-proof vases; purchased a cage for the "nesting" cylinder bird feeder to keep the starlings out (unfortunately, keeps the blue jays out as well); purchased a baffle for the bluebird nesting box.

Tuesday: lots of activity at the bluebird house (after I installed the baffle), but no takers so far; bird fight between two male bluebirds; cowbird at the birdbath; added the cage to the feeder with the "nesting" cylinder; after another inch of rain, the rain garden overflowed, which left standing water on the lawn and where I planted grass seed - it needs a berm at the north and northwest ends; mowed and trimmed.

Wednesday: planted the honeysuckle; hung the planters for the sweet potato vine (which involved a 2x4, hand tools and cable ties); sprayed for weeds; found an excuse to buy an Ego trimmer: the area behind the fence (where there is a lot of garlic mustard); I think a raccoon got into the robin nest behind the Japanese maple (found empty egg shell); replanted a brome sedge; positioned the metal heron and two flamingos by the "pond".

Thursday: saw a grackle at the feeders; SO helped me shore up the low end of the rain garden (I think I should have purchased top soil instead of garden soil); mowed because we are expecting days of rain; purchased an Ego trimmer.

Friday: planted catmint around trees in front yard and added some mulch (my aching back!); not much rain, until later - 0.5".

Saturday: finished planting catmint (in a pot); planted zinnias (in pots) - 'Cut and Come Again Mixed Colors'; top dressed containers with Black Kow; I think more of the rain garden needs a berm; pruned butterfly bushes.

Roots on zinnia seedlings

Zinnias, all in a row

I've been cutting back the flower stalks on the golden ragwort, as it is starting to go to seed. Lazy me just threw the stalks behind the blue star where they can decompose. Today, I noticed that all those flower heads turned to seed heads despite being removed from their mother plants. I hope that is not going to be a problem. I like the ragwort, but not *everywhere*.

Blue Star "hedge"

One aim of planting natives is to attract pollinators and their relatives, like this ladybug. Most insects won't stay still long enough for a decent photo, but this bug was very obliging.

Every time I plant a perennial, I think to myself, Hopefully, I won't have to do this again. My shoulders work great, but my back - not so much. I dream of the time when spring means adding a few annuals to the landscape, then enjoying the view from the deck, iced tea in hand.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Rain garden or vernal pond?

We received another inch of rain last night, so now the rain garden is full. Again. When the last rainfall finally drained away, I had to reseat several plants; I think one of the dogs got in there, so I also reinforced the fencing around it as well. Now I'm hoping they all survive a second dunking. More rain is forecast this week. I'm wondering if my rain garden is going to be more of a vernal pond.

Despite the rainy, cold weather earlier this week, I visited two local nurseries. I purchased two bleeding heart plants from Arbor Farms on Monday. Tuesday I hit up Stuckeys for sweet potato vine, black eyed Susan vine, a couple of tomato plants, some basil, coleus, and rudbekia. Yesteday two honeysuckle vines arrived from Brushwood Nursery. Last summer I purchased just a handful of plants because of the redo of the landscaping, and late, so there wasn't much to choose from. I didn't want that to happen this year. I should be all set.

The weather has improved now, so I planted grass seed in the area north of the house where nothing but plantain has grown for years. With the arborvitae gone, sunshine will reach that area, at least part of the day. All this rainy weather means I won't have to water it so often.

Sparrows have been sneaking into the mealworm feeder, so I purchased a cylinder of "nesting" food to lure them away. That disappeared in a matter of days, thanks to the starlings. If I buy another cylinder, I am going to also purchase a starling-proof cage to put around that feeder.

A bluebird was trying to get into the wren house. After mentioning that to my son, he gifted me with a bluebird box (early Mother's Day gift). He selected one that is supposed to be sparrow-resistant. Today's chore will be to install it in the backyard. I hope it is not too late. (A wren is now building a nest in its house, and singing up a storm.)

In the middle of the afternoon this past week, I saw a raccoon climbing the corner of a neighbor's shed. I tried to get a photo, but the rascal slipped inside the shed through a hole under the eaves. I take the mealworm feeder in most nights because of raccoons, but I think this one has been cleaning out the feeder I have for the squirrels.

Do you think I need signs everywhere in my yard? THIS food is for bluebirds, THIS feeder is for the squirrels, THIS box is for the wrens, DON'T knock over the bird bath, etc.

Now for some eye candy.

'Prairie Fire' crabapple

Volunteer violets

Wild geranium blossom

Blue star blossoms

Blue star

Chokeberry blossoms

I am loving the golden ragwort in the front of the house. It is not even one year old yet, but going to town. It blooms about the same time as daffodils, but lasts so much longer. Next year, those beds will be absolutely packed.

When the bloom is done, I'll prune back the flower stems.

I think our last frost date is past, so it's time to transplant some of those plants I mentioned above, except for the tomatoes and sweet potato vine. I knew to keep the tomatoes inside for a while, but unthinkingly left the sweet potato vines on the deck. They were not happy, but they perked up after a few hours under a grow light. I'll hold back on transplanting them for another week or so.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Sometimes things go according to plan (mostly)

The rain garden install did start on Monday as scheduled. Sean took a photo last year of where the utilities were marked in the yard, and he felt confident that their digging would be safe. And he was right.

He was not so right about the "Dingo" being able to scoop up the earth. My clay soil is so hard and compacted that the crew had to break it up by hand before the Dingo could scoop anything. It was useful for moving the dirt (and tearing up the lawn a bit).

So instead of being completely done in one day, only the digging was finished by the end of Monday. Sean calculated the size by estimating the runoff from the roof over the den.

Tuesday it rained off and on all day, so no work was accomplished. The moisture did make it easier to install the plants - Carex bromides, a.k.a. brome sedge - as did a mechanical hand auger. They didn't use all the plants ordered, so that reduced my bill some.

Originally, they were going to mulch with river rock, but Sean mentioned using mulch instead. I liked the *idea* of river rock, but he said that by next year, the river rock would not be visible. So we went with mulch, another money saver.

And then it rained, an inch over the past two days. The rain garden appears to be doing its job, as not only is there standing water inside it, there is NO standing water outside of it. Whoo-hoo!

Besides the rain garden, the crew installed three ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius 'Jefam', a.k.a. Amber Jubilee. These shrubs should grow to be 4' wide and 6' tall, a better fit for that space than the arborvitae. Also, more sun for the 'Limelight' hydrangea. I'm eager to see how that pans out.

Sadly, I was right about the pagoda dogwood meeting its demise from the soggy lawn. The crew went to cut it down, but it basically pulled right out of the ground as there were no roots to speak of. I thought about replacing it, but my yard and soil and moisture conditions are not really right for it. Why torture an innocent plant?

New plants that should thrive in my yard have been arriving. On the left in this photo are a dozen coneflower, destined for the last remainng raised bed where they should be protected from the perennial thugs. On the right are a bunch of catmint plants, ten Calamintha Nepeta Nepeta (I don't know why "nepeta" is repeated) and four Nepeta 'Cat's Pajamas'. Most of them are destined for the beds around the trees in the front yard, but the extras will go into a container for the deck.

Here is this year's messy robin's nest.

Last Monday, an oriole landed on the feeder, complained bitterly about all the commotion in the backyard, flew off, and has not returned. Yet. Some house finches have been sampling the grape jelly in the orioles' absence. And lately I have heard wrens, although no nest building has occurred yet. A bluebird tried to squeeze into one of the wren houses, which I mentioned to my son. I think I will be getting a bluebird box for Mother's Day. He's looking for one that is sparrow-resistant.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

No Mow Maybe Not

I don't know who started the No-Mow May meme, but in general, it is not a good idea. My lawn is treated, mostly organically, so if I didn't mow, I would have foot-tall grass by now, as I have mowed four times already this season. And the non-grass spring plants that grew there before were mostly dandelions, which as you can read below, are not a good thing. (These quotes came to me via the Riverview Native Nursery newsletter that I receive by email.)

Rewilding Magazine: "’s what the little research done to date on dandelions tells us. Dandelion has allelopathic pollen, a scientific term that basically means the pollen of dandelions can reduce reproductive success in native wildflowers, disrupting the native plant communities it invades. Another study showed that queen bumblebees (some of the early emerging wild bees that pro-dandelion campaigns say dandelions help) resorted to eating their own eggs when fed a diet of protein-deficient dandelion pollen."
Benjamin Vogt of Monarch Gardens: "What you WILL get are a host of plants with marginal to little benefit to wildlife, and several that will be terribly aggressive: crabgrass, creeping charlie, barnyard grass. And of course invasive species placed on most city’s noxious weed list, like musk thistle or garlic mustard."
The Garden Professors: " Even better yet, you can reduce the amount of space in your landscape that is dedicated to a traditional turfgrass lawn and incorporate a flowering groundcover and/or a pollinator garden that hosts an abundant array of diverse floral resources that provide food for bees all season long!"
Iowa State: "Consider eliminating the lawn altogether and replacing it with plants or garden spaces that don’t require frequent maintenance and support native insects and wildlife. Replacing turf with perennials, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees can reduce water consumption, pesticides, and fertilizers while increasing soil organic matter, building soil quality, and helping to retain and infiltrate stormwater"

While I have a nice bit of lawn front and back, I also try to provide natives for the pollinators. The only problem is I don't see very many pollinators these days, which I presume is due to neighbors treating their lawns with insecticide. I'm hoping my yard becomes a pollinator oasis.

My yard does seem to be an avian oasis. A pair of robins has built a nest in the same spot as last year: under the eave on top of a bend in the downspout behind the Japanese maple by the dining room window. I'm tempted to place a ladder there and take a weekly photograph.

And here is a photo of the mallards that stopped by last week. I'm surprised they don't pop in when the standing water is at its worst. It's hard to see, but the female is behind the fence in the photo below. They took off shortly after this pic was taken.

The 'Perfect Purple' flowering crab seems particularly laden with blossoms this year. The low branch on the right will have to be pruned, as it threatens my eyesight every time I mow.

Up close and personal.

The redbud trees seem to be underperforming this year, but it is early. They hit their peak in early May. And despite my wishing, it is not yet May. (The chair is an experiment, to see if I like sitting there, for a different view of the yard.)

Up close.

I've seen exhortations here and there that it is time to set up hummingbird feeders. Not so around here, as I rarely see them before June. The oriole feeder has not been visited yet, but from last year's blog, I see they did not show up until May.

Meanwhile, I've attended to a few spring chores, like cleaning the deck, some of the siding (until I ran out of cleaning solution), and renewing the stone mulch. What I love about this photo is the lack of crapola. There used to be a stack of cedar planks on the deck, plus some stray ones on the table. Things look a lot tidier now.

The installation of the rain garden is supposed to happen tomorrow, BUT one underground utility has yet to be marked: Frontier and their fiber optic cable. Ordinarily, I would not be too worried about this, BUT the cable is just a few inches below the surface and easy to damage. Will they show up today, a Sunday? Somehow, I doubt it.

Sunday, April 16, 2023


The spring weather continues to come and go. I actually ran the AC for a couple of days this past week, but today the furnace is on again, plus April showers. At least I mowed before the rains came.

Insects seem to come and go as well. Last week I saw a red admiral on the creeping Charlie, yesterday a fat bumble bee in the serviceberry. (I was not quick enough to capture either with my macro lens.) Other than the ants that have invaded my kitchen, not much else six-legged activity.

Creeping Charlie sans red admiral

Serviceberry sans bumble bee

Something new I am trying this year is dripping water from milk jugs. I hung one over the birdbath, but I think it spooked the birds. There is another one over a tray of dirt and stones, to keep it moist for bugs like butterflies and mason bees. We'll see how that works out.

I'm enjoying the serviceberry which has really popped the past few days. A hard freeze at the wrong time can interrupt fruit production, but I'm hopeful there will be a bumper crop for the robins.

The flower stems of the ragwort have a weedy look to them, but the blossoms are lovely. (Can you tell I'm enjoying the macro lens on my camera phone?) Once they are done blooming, I'll cut back the stems to tidy things up a bit.

While I am enjoying all the newbies in the yard, let's not forget the stand-bys. The new leaves emerging on the elm tree show why it is such a great shade tree.

The Crimson King maple produces flowers of a sort, but it seems to be sterile, unlike its cousin the silver maple.

I put out the oriole feeder, but so far, no visitors. An acquaintance who lives in the country has seen an oriole, plus wild turkeys. I doubt I will ever have the latter in my backyard, but today there was a pair of mallards. (I *told* you it was wet out there.)

While all this beauty comes to life with no help from me, other parts of the yards require my attention. I gathered up most the cedar planks from the disassembled raised beds and put them at the end of the driveway (free!), but no takers. My neighbor across the street has been tearing out his deck, so he took the planks (and more) to the landfill for me. I would have like to see them reused, but they weren't in very good condition, plus sometimes you just have to let go.