As you get your garden plans ready for the coming spring and summer, and as you get those seeds started, keep wildlife in mind. The Monarch butterfly now teeters dangerously on the edge of extinction, and honeybee numbers continue to decline. But there are some simple things you can do to help!
1. Plant native! Bees, birds, and butterflies rely on plants that are indigenous to your area for food and shelter. More and more garden centers and nurseries have special sections for natives or mark certain plants as being native. But if not, you can use this website to find your nearest source of native plants. The National Wildlife Federation also has some great tips on native plants to use to attract wildlife. The various species of Milkweed (Aesculus spp.) in particular are helpful for Monarchs, who exclusively feed on and lay their eggs on Milkweed.
2. Avoid invasive, non-native plants. These foreigners (which include Butterfly Bush, Burning Bush, Japanese honeysuckle, Barberry, and Russian olive) do not provide wildlife with the food and shelter they require, and spread a little too easily by seed, sprouting up in woods and choking out native plants. Yes, there are new cultivars of Butterfly bush that are supposedly sterile and won’t produce seed. But even so, studies have shown wildlife to be far more attracted to native plants like Milkweed, Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Elderberry, coneflower, and others. Most states have a invasive plants list (usually found on the state’s department of agriculture or forestry website) that, while not binding, should be a helpful in knowing what to avoid planting in your area.
3. Be messy! Leave an area of your garden undisturbed, and let some shrubs grow out a little. Birds or bees may build a nest under a pile of sticks and leaves and branches and afford them some shelter, and in turn let them reproduce.
This came out really well, I have room for several more lights and another large seed starting tray. Which means…more seeds!
I’m ready for spring, aren’t you?
I’m getting a lot more garden planning done than usual, partly because this is how it has looked outside frequently this winter:
We’ve seen near record low temperatures, in the single digits at times with negative wind chills!
On one of the warmer days, I ran out to Home Depot and bought two of these clamping work lights, for use on a PVC pipe grow light system which I will be putting together soon. Inside each of the lamps, I installed a 120 watt CFL. It looks like these will do the job, though with the large number of seeds I’ll be starting, I might need a third lamp.
In mid-March, I’ll get these guys going, this time in individual 4″ peat pots instead of the cell packs, so I don’t have to worry about separating the seedlings out of the medium.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually made some progress this week in trying to decide what to grow this coming spring and summer! I’ll be moving to my fiance’s house, where I’ll have plenty of space. But along with that space comes a LOT of garden chores to be done, mostly weeding, and creating new, fresh garden beds. So, my ambitions will probably be tempered a bit, at least for this first year there. The following is what I plan on growing, likely in large fabric containers:
Blue Jade corn (heirloom; dwarf, good for containers and small spaces)
- Bull Nose Bell (heirloom grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello)
- Cavili zucchini (self-fertile; sets fruit without pollination)
- Patio Star summer squash (compact, open habit; good for containers)
- SuperPik yellow squash (high yields)
- Winter luxury pumpkin (superior flavor and texture, good for pies/canning)
- Blue Lake
- Kentucky Wonder
Black Beauty Eggplant
- Black Seeded Simpson
- Parris Island Romaine
- Basil ‘Bam’ (does not bolt, continues to put out new leaves until frost)
I’m crazy about conifers! Is there any other group of plants that can provide year-round interest and display such a diversity of shapes, colors, sizes and textures?
But beyond being cool to look at, they are an important sanctuary for our feathered friends. Birds love to build nests in the thick cover, plus most conifers offer berries and seeds for food during the cold months. I found a great article that discusses how you can use dwarf conifers to accomodate birds in your garden, even if you don’t have room for a full size spruce or cypress!
I’d love to know how other gardeners narrow down their list of seeds to grow for the year. I’m sitting here surrounded by seed catalogs, each one full to the brim of colorful pictures of tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and more…all seemingly calling my name and enticing me to try them. Do I play it safe and grow F1 hybrids with disease resistance? Or discover more old-timey heirlooms? A mix of both? And then, which varieties? I counted at least 15 pages…JUST TOMATOES…in one of my catalogs.
How do YOU decide what to grow? Post a comment with your answer!
A) Interesting shape/color
B) Disease resistance
C) Dwarf or compact plant habit