Dirt-y Secrets: Tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy backyard ecosystem this August

By Ranel Hanson
Reader Columnist

“Make hay while the sun shines.” — Proverb

No truer words were ever spoken. Now is the time to celebrate all growing things and to bask in the life-giving sunshine. And water. Lots of water. Celebrate our beautiful lake by jumping in it!

Speaking of water, I want to talk about watering lawns, especially. I have noticed many sprinklers running in the heat of the day, and in the wind. I want to point out that most of the water used at those times is lost to evaporation or blown away. We are so lucky to have our beautiful lake and abundant rivers and streams, and it is tempting to think that losing water is no big deal. But, for the planet’s sake, it just makes sense to conserve. Water in the early morning or in the evening. If you have automatic sprinklers, set them to come on at night. Your plants and lawn will thank you.

Photo by Ranel Hanson.

Recently, a reader wondered what mama hummingbirds eat while nesting. I don’t know for sure but, from what I have read and observed, they nest near nectar sources and make short forays to sip nectar. But, their main source of nourishment is bugs. They need the protein to maintain energy and raise those adorable chicks. Those babies are counting on mom to show them the ropes and it takes a while for them to distinguish the right flowers for feeding, and to find water. You can buy a small solar fountain for a birdbath and watch your hummingbirds play in the spray. Delightful! Recently, I saw a baby playing in my sprinkler water. Adorable. The babies are even smaller than their parents and have big heads — like human babies.

Now is the time to trim your leggy or dried out plants. Petunias need a haircut in order to stay vibrant into the fall. Most hanging baskets can benefit from a trimming and a dose of fertilizer right about now. This will take them into September in good shape. Also, choose a cool evening to fertilize (organically) your lawn. Then, turn on sprinklers to water it in. You’ll be rewarded in spring with a greener lawn. 

Spiders, spiders, everywhere! They are abundant this year and want to cover everything with their webs. It is tempting to get rid of them chemically, I know. But, remember: They are garden helpers. They eat pests like aphids and are themselves food for hungry birds (including hummingbirds). Sweep them away, squirt them away, curse them when you run into a web, but try not to eradicate them.

Now is prime time for oriental lilies and sunflowers. Deer love lilies and sunflowers, but a sprinkling of blood meal seems to help keep them at bay. As a reader says, though, another good deterrent is a solar sprinkler. Of course, the best deterrent is a tall fence. I planted loads of sunflowers this year as a private support for Ukraine, and I am rewarded with their beauty and their abundant food for the bees. 

On the bee front: If you want to help our essential bees to survive, I suggest planting mint and allowing it to flower. All the mints attract huge numbers of bees. And, no bees means little food for us humans, or for the animals as well. Butterflies and hummingbirds love mint, too. 

A note about protecting your pets during hot spells: First, be sure they have ample water on these hot days and give them shade outside or, better yet, a cool inside spot. Also, if you grow grapes, keep pets away from them. They are poisonous to dogs and cats and even a few can kill. Lilies are also extremely poisonous to cats.

In my neighborhood, we have a regular magnificent moose visitor. He is about six feet tall at the shoulder, has a huge set of antlers and a beautiful, glossy coat. He likes apples and apple trees. Mostly, he munches the apples and branches and then finds a comfortable spot to rest anywhere he wants. Your lawn, your bushes, your driveway, under your trees. I have noticed that the damage he does is mostly minimal and the chance to observe this beautiful animal is worth sacrificing a few tree limbs. But, remember, moose are wild and can be dangerous if provoked. Keep dogs away and do not try to get too close. They look slow and clumsy, but can move surprisingly fast. 

We can all soak in this beautiful season and store it up for later!

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