GARDENING TIPS

On this page, our members share information, tips, and tidbits about gardening, native plants, and wildlife. Enjoy!

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Photo by: Ian Edwards

Humming Along

 

The hummingbirds we see winter over in South America or Mexico and make their way north across the Gulf of Mexico with no stops. Before departure they put on as much fat as their tiny 3-inch bodies allow. They arrive in the South just as flowers are blooming and make their way north as Spring unfolds with males arriving first on the territory. Males are usually very solitary and remain so after mating except for protecting the nesting territory.

 

Females make a tiny one- inch nest on a small limb of the same size, often over water. The nests are artfully constructed and designed to be camouflaged to appear as a knot on a limb. The nest is constructed of leaf buds bound to the limb by spider silk and lined with milkweed fluff, thistle down, and fern down. The entire outside is lined with bark, bound into place with more spider silk and webs of tent caterpillars. She lays two bean-sized white eggs and incubates the eggs by herself for two weeks.  She also feeds the babies by herself and may have up to 3 broods in one summer. 

It is thought that originally hummingbirds were mainly insect eaters and that by gathering insects and spiders from blossoms, the birds gradually became nectar eaters. Now hummingbirds are mainly nectar eaters although the protein from spiders is a necessary part of their diet. When hummers began to drink mainly nectar, they became dependent on a high metabolism that keeps them on the search for food all day.  Humans would need to eat 285 pounds of hamburger a day to keep up with hummer metabolism! Their resting pulse is 250 beats a minute which rises to 1000 beats a minute when flying. To protect their bodies at night with lower temperatures and the need for rest, hummingbirds go into a state of torpor, dropping their heads on their chests and their heat rates to just 50 beats per minute.

 

When baby hummingbirds hatch, they resemble two lifeless caterpillars, stretched out in the nests with bluish skin and a little yellow down. The mother feeds them nectar by thrusting her over an inch long tongue down their throats, Later, she will thrust her beak into their beaks with a mixture of nectar and insects from her crop. Within a month, the young have filled the nest and flattened it out, ready to fly off on their own.

 

Our gardens are vital to the health of hummingbirds. They enjoy bee balm, bleeding heart, columbine, jewelweed, and honeysuckle, and many annuals. Mine seem to love lantana. While hummers cannot detect fragrance, they are highly attracted to bright colors. Most feeders will have some red for attractants, but please don't use red dye in your sugar water.  As the hummingbirds drink, their beaks and heads become covered with pollen grains from the male flower's cells. This pollen is then transferred to the female sex organs to pollinate the next flowers they seek. With their long tongues, they lap nectar up from deep tubes of flowers such as the trumpet vine flower with a rate of 13 licks per second.

Prep Your Gardening Tools before the Season Begins

 

  1. Brush off caked-on dirt from shovels.

  2. Disinfect with 2 parts bleach and 5 parts water and rinse.

  3. Mix a non-petroleum oil, such as boiled linseed oil or mineral oil, with sand in a bucket.

  4. Dip shovel into sand mixture, shake or wipe off.  It is ready for the garden.  This keeps the rust away.

  5. Use cotton dipped in alcohol to clean loppers, pruners, scissors.  Sharpen with a diamond file.  Follow the bevel of the cutting edge, stroking in one direction only, and wipe with a clean cloth when finished.  Sap can be removed from cutting tools with mineral spirits or turpentine.

  6. Sharpen edges of garden forks, shovels, spaces, and hoes with a diamond file.  Follow the bevel of the shovel edge, stroking away in one direction only.  A Fiskhar file works well. Or take your tools to the hardware store to sharpen.

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Dividing Perennials

 

Starting mid-April, you can divide most hardy perennials that are 3 years or older, before plants get too large.  Use a sharp spade, knife, or small garden forks to divide your plant.  Dig a new hole first, putting potting soil or your good garden soil in the bottom half of the hole or pot.  Water the soil until moist.  Dig up the entire perennial plant.  Divide it in half or thirds.  Place the newly divided plant into the hole or pot, making it the same depth as the original plant.  Fill with soil and press firmly.  Water, leaving a small 1" elevated ridge of soil (like a little wall) a few inches beyond the plant, in order to hold the water.  Place the perennial back into its original hole, fill, and water as described above.  Then enjoy watching everything grow!  

A Robin's Life Cycle

Once a male and female are paired, and a nest site selected, the female builds the nest (the male may help by bringing nesting material to her). The nest begins with a foundation of stouter twigs, then grasses cemented together with mud, ending with fine grass for the lining. Nest construction can take four to seven days.

Three to four days after the nest is completed, the female lays the first egg. Each egg amounts to about 8 percent of her body weight., but she will lay one a day until the clutch is complete at three to six eggs. The eggs of the American Robin are a beautiful greenish blue.

Incubation begins (and embryos begin to develop) after the second or third egg is laid. Only the female incubates. To help transfer heat to the eggs, a patch of bare skin on her belly, called a brood patch, develops extra blood vessels at this time. She spends 75% of the day and all night on the eggs, and flies away to forage, drink, and preen for about 15 minutes.

After 12 to 14 days of incubation, the eggs hatch within a few hours. The female carries the shells away and drops them far from the nest or sometimes eats them for the calcium. Newly hatched young are mostly naked, blind and unable to use their legs, but they instinctively lift their heads and beg for food when stimulated by the shaking of the nest or the calls of the adults. The female spends a lot of time in these early days sheltering the young and keeping them warm. At this stage, the male does most of the work of bringing food to the young.

Once the young are about 7 days old, they have a full coat of feathers and can maintain their body temperature for longer periods of time, allowing the female to join the male in search for food. At this stage, the nestlings are growing very quickly and one can consume its body weight in food each day which means the adults have to bring food to the nest every five to ten minutes. The adults tend to perch on the same side of the nest each time they bring food, and the young compete for the best positions close to that spot.

About 12 to 14 days after hatching, the young have well-developed wing feathers and strong legs. They are ready to leave the nest and take their first flight. They will continue to depend on the parents for food for 12 to 14 days.

Many Robin pairs will raise a second brood beginning about seven days after their first brood fledges. The female will build a new nest, and the male continues to tend the grown young from the earlier brood.

Only about one-third of all American Robin nests succeed in fledgling one or more young, and only one-quarter of those fledged young will survive to November 1.