Friday, January 18, 2019

Berries for the birds

Sorry for the quality of this photo but I had to take it through the living room picture window. What you are seeing is a flock of robins feasting on the orange berries of my 'Winterking' hawthorn tree. Huzzah!

As you may know, not all robins migrate south for the winter. If there is food and shelter, some hang around in wooded areas. Check out this explanation at All about Birds.

The winter has been mild so far, but bitter temps are on their way. We have some snow cover; more is coming. My neighbor across the street (his house in in the pic above) has a snow blower and keeps my driveway clear, for which I am eternally grateful.

Monday, December 31, 2018

George Washington and me

I cannot tell a lie: I cut down a cherry tree. Or three, to be exact (one died on it's own). And four apple trees. I contemplated keeping one of the sweet cherries for the birds, but its location - too close to the back fence - would have meant continual upkeep in the form of pruning.

As part of my garden downsizing, I decided to stop growing food. Once upon a time, in order to eat organically grown produce, one had to grow one's own. No more, as it is available at most major grocery stores. Fort Wayne also has a year-round farmers market, and during the summer there is one almost every day of the week somewhere. Also, growing one's own food means preserving it in some shape or form. I am the only one here, so all that effort seems unnecessary.

While the trees are gone (except for the main trunks - I will ask my chainsaw-owning neighbor to help with those), the raised beds with their cement blocks are still there. That corner also hosts a raised bed for the madder plant, which I will probably dig up at the end of next year, and a large bed that has been taken over by common milkweed. The eventual goal is to turn it all back to lawn. I know - SAD! But I will add a shade tree of some sort.

BTW, I saved the fruit trees in lawn bags, as the bark can be used to dye fiber.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Da burds

The birds finally discovered the feeders in the front yard. Besides the usual sparrows and finches, there are jays and a red-breasted woodpecker and black-capped chickadees. There is also a squirrel. It tried repeatedly to find its way past the baffle, which was comical to watch until it finally made it to the big platform-style feeder. It hasn't cleaned the feeder out nor has it invited its friends (yet), but I will have to do something to discourage it. Shortening the hanger so that the feeder is a bit higher should do the trick.

I set up the heated bird bath in front of the picture window. About the time I gave up hope that the birds would decide it was okay, the sparrows and then some blue birds found it. I would not be surprised to see the squirrel there too someday.

The weather has been unbearably (to me) temperate. The ground just won't freeze and stay frozen, which causes one major problem with muddy dog paws. I spread straw over the worst places in the yard and invested in a Paw Plunger and limit the number of times the dogs can go out during the day, but the routine of cleaning them up whenever they want back in is getting OLD.

On the other hand, on nice enough days, I am out in the yard, piddling around. In today's rare sunshine, I cut back the catmint and blue false indigo. Earlier I cleaned out the garden shed. Bit by bit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The lazy blogger

I can't believe it has been more than a month since I last posted. Part of the reason is the season - not much is happening in the yard and garden these days besides a little fall clean up. I don't make the beds all neat and tidy, but any time it is reasonably nice out, I putter a bit.

The barberry shrubs are getting hacked up quite a bit. They are supposedly invasive, but my primary concern is they crowd the big Gold Mop. Ditto for the burning bush, but it keeps trying to keep on. Some plants just don't want to say die even when the gardener wishes they would, like the yucca.

I stopped feeding the birds for a while, as the sparrows had driven everyone else away plus they were ruining the lower branches of the thin skinned tulip tree by stripping off bark for their nests. The dogs have the run of the backyard - and they like to chase away the sparrows (good dogs!) - so this fall I set up the bird feeders in the front yard, away from the tulip tree, where the old fashioned lilac once stood. The stump of that shrub refuses to decompose, so now it is surrounded with mulch and topped with the feeders. It is not a very popular spot yet, although the blue jays have been helping themselves to the unshelled peanuts. I'm still contemplating a spot for the bird bath.

Seed catalogs started arriving just before Thanksgiving, but they go right in the recycle bin. I am reducing my gardening footprint because it is becoming just too much for me to keep up. Instead of new plants, I plan to rearrange the ones I have. If there are holes to fill, I may use annuals for the time being.

In case it is another month before I post again, happy holidays!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The lazy gardener

This summer I was beginning to think that the yard was becoming more than I could handle. Then a neighbor gifted me with a used compost bin (my old one was dying a rather ungraceful death), which forced me to dig out the compost, which took three hours on a lovely sweatshirt kind of day. That's when I realized it is not the yard work that is too much, but the HEAT. The temps this past summer were too high for too long, leading to abbreviated dog walks and no desire to leave the air conditioned comfort of my home. The trick going forward will be to figure out how to yarden despite the heat. All the wood chips we mulched with this past spring is a good start, as that labor has paid off in reduced weeding.

I planted some goutweed (a.k.a. bishop's weed) under the 'Limelight' hydrangea a few years ago. It has spread around the front of the shrub, just as I planned, but the area behind is still rather barren. When the goutweed blossomed, Jason at gardeninacity suggested I cut off the blossoms before they went to seed. I did this, but tossed them behind the hydrangea, in hopes of filling in that area without any real work.

While we were in Columbus IN this past summer, we stumbled across an alleyway with a long bed of Northern Sea Oats (or River Oats). I love River Oats, especially in fall when the seed heads turn copper-colored, but those seeds spread. The "prairie sampler" I planted on the south side of the house was an epic FAIL, so I plan to transplant those plants elsewhere, where they will get more sun and rain, and fill that bed in with River Oats from the front yard. Toward that end, this fall I cut the seed heads off and threw them in the back of the prairie sampler bed. Hopefully, some of them will sprout and take root.

What kind of labor-saving gardening methods do you have?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Another way to feed the birds

As I have mentioned before, I stopped filling bird feeders because of the sparrows. My backyard is too sparrow-friendly, to the point they were the only birds I saw. Also, they were stripping bark from the limbs of my tulip tree, to the point the limbs were dying. Bad birds! So I put away the feeders, at least for the time being.

That does not mean there is nothing for the birds to eat in my yard. During the summer, there are seed heads of course - sunflowers, coneflowers, etc. - but there are also berries, starting in the spring with the serviceberry crop. That tree is stripped clean in no time at all, by robins. As other shrubs and trees produce fruit, some is eaten right away, some in a more leisurely fashion, and some remains into and over winter.

Aronia melanocarpa, a.k.a. Chokeberry

The size of the crop can vary greatly from year to year as well. I have never had more than a few berries on the 'Blue Muffin' viburnum, but its cousin 'Chicago Lustre' went all out this summer. The 'Wentworth' highbush cranberry and blackhaw viburnum bloomed well but neither produced much fruit even though I don't think we had a late frost. It's a puzzlement.

Viburnum Dentatum 'Chicago Lustre', a.k.a. arrowwood viburnum

I'm really impressed with the crop on the hawthorn. This tree is not that old, but it is loaded with orange fruit. It's a delight to view through the picture window.

Crataegus viridis 'Winter King', a.k.a. hawthorn

The 'Perfect Purple' flowering crab is young, too, but trying to do its part. My dad had a flowering crab that held its fruit all winter along, to be descended upon by a flock of robins in early spring when there is not much of anything else to eat.

Malus 'Perfect Purple' , a.k.a. flowering crab

I do miss feeding the birds from bird feeders, though, and am trying to figure out a place in the front yard where I (and the cats) can watch from the window. My indoor/outdoor cat is also a problem, but the older he gets, the more indoor he becomes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018


My daughter sent me this pic of what I assume is a swallowtail caterpillar on her dill plants. She says there are four, chomping away. I offered up my butterfly habitat, but she declined. It's one thing if Mother Nature ends their lives, quite another if they die from neglect.

My dill is long dead, so now I am thinking I should plant it successively, to increase the likelihood that I will attract some egg-laying swallowtail butterflies.