Dirt-y Secrets

The birds and bees (and flowers)

By Ranel Hansen
Reader Columnist

Let’s call this midsummer since it really only began in July. This year we must be careful and be responsible. Luckily, we can garden and now is when our gardens are at their peak. I call it therapy.

Last month we talked about slugs and weeds.There are fewer of each now but keeping up with your eggshell/salt regime is still important for the slugs and pulling weeds is still a thing. Go get ’em!

In August we water and deadhead.

A hummingbird in the garden, visiting a flower. Courtesy photo.

As a general rule, it is better to water less frequently but more deeply. Pots and hanging baskets are the exception and are especially thirsty now. Most do need daily water and fertilizer about once a week. I use Mary’s Alpaca Poop (maryspoop.com) dissolved in a watering can. But, Miracle Gro is fine. So is fish emulsion. Flower beds need deep watering. Every other day if it is hot, less if we get rain or cool weather. The same is true for trees and shrubs, but less often. Let your hose run very slowly for an hour or so once every week or two, depending on the weather.   

Deadheading is just getting rid of spent flowers in order to prolong blooming and prevent seed formation — later you can let them form seed pods if you want seeds for next year. As an example, roses need a good snipping when the flowers fade and you may even get a second bloom. The same goes for Oriental poppies. 

Most flowers won’t bloom completely again but will reward you with more blooms for a longer time. There are exceptions, of course, like hollyhocks, clematis, crocosmia, delphiniums, Shasta daisies, black eyed Susans, nasturtiums, gerbera daisies, sweet peas, cosmos and others, which bloom only once. All of these will need lots of trimming of spent flowers. When flowers start to droop and fade, snip them off a few inches down the stem. This tells the plant to “make more flowers.” 

Now is also a good time to fertilize in order to encourage robust bloom and foliage growth. 

With the housekeeping out of the way, let’s talk about the birds and the bees.

You have probably heard that bees of all kinds are struggling to survive; and, boy do we need bees. They pollinate most of our food crops as well as trees and flowers. In fact, were there no bees, we would starve. So, good to feed them, right? And by feeding them I mean giving them lots of buds to visit and pollen to collect. 

Not all bees make honey but they all rely on pollen to nurture their young. So, if a healthy food supply interests you, include lots of bee-friendly plants in your garden. I’ll name some of my favorites here, but the varieties are endless. My top five: nasturtiums (particularly the deep red variety), petunias, crocosmia, fruit trees, bee balm and all the mints. Mint is incredibly invasive so plant in pots. Peppermint, spearmint and catmint are bee magnets. Oh yes, sedums and lavender, too. Of course there are lots more. Go to town at one of our awesome nurseries next spring.

Birds are also here to help. Even crows and ravens, I’m told. Swallows eat mosquitoes (2,000 a day!) so attracting them is key. Luckily that’s easy. Put up lots of nest houses on trees, fence posts, etc. Be sure the hole to enter is the right size — about 1 1/4- inches. Put your houses up in early spring — around March — so that they are ready when swallow couples are looking at real estate. 

Sparrows often nest in these same houses and, I am sorry to say, so do yellow jackets. Usually the birds take care of yellow jacket extermination but, toward the end of the season when birds have vacated, they build nests inside. Beware. You can clean your bird houses in the fall, but I usually leave it to spring birds to eat the larva.

Now my favorite: Hummingbirds are delightful pollinators and endlessly entertaining to watch. They love the same flowers that bees do and you can put up a feeder for close up viewing. They appear suddenly in May if you have a feeder. Then, they generally disappear in the first part of July to take care of babies for a bit. Then, lucky you, they bring their babies back for eating and flying lessons.  

Truly: “A garden is a friend you can visit anytime.”

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