For The Answer
Weekly Express-News Article
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
“Do Not Forget the Birds”
The hot dry summer continues to be tough on gardeners and landscapes. The extreme weather is also tough on the birds that many gardeners feel are essential parts of the gardening experience.
Here are some ideas to help some of our favorite birds be successful and visible in our gardens.
Sunflowers love the sun and heat and many species of birds love sunflower seeds. Consider planting some to provide summer color and seeds for the birds.
Not that it is hard to grow sunflowers. Anyone with a bird feeder knows that the seeds germinate readily if any escape the feeding cardinals and chicadees. The germination rate is almost 100% if the seeds are covered with a quarter to one-half inch of soil and the soil is wetted with a wand at planting and every three days for two weeks.
Fertilizer is not necessary, but full sun is. Plant sunflowers where they get 8 – 12 hours of sun for best results.
All sunflowers are easy to grow, but if you want a native sunflower that naturalizes on any sunny vacant lot, consider Maximilian sunflowers. They have flowers that are three inches across on a shrubby plant that grows six or seven feet tall and three feet wide.
Maximilian sunflower is not a disciplined plant for manicured landscapes. It quite often is described as “weedy.” Maximilian does, however, produce lots of blooms that in turn produce many seeds that the birds love. In a vacant lot in my neighborhood, a small thicket of the prolific sunflowers attract a flock of lesser goldfinches every evening and house finches, inca doves, and cardinals on a regular basis. Occasionally, painted and indigo buntings will visit the plants.
A planting of sunflowers will attract birds to your garden or vacant lot during a hot dry summer. Equally effective as a bird attractant is to provide a source of water. Bird baths can be works of art, but they do not need to be to accomplish the job of providing water to thirsty birds.
The usual bird bath constructed of cement or plaster does the job admirably. The birds perch on the edge of the reservoir for a drink and they can cool off or clean themselves by stepping into the bowl and splashing in the shallow water. The bird bath can be even more attractive to birds if there is running water. The wild bird supply stores and nurseries offer re-circulating pumps that do a good job.
Here are several guidelines to consider when you select and place your bird bath.
· With our high evaporation rates and with bird use the baths will dry out every day. Place the bird bath where it can be rinsed and refilled easily every day.
· Wet birds are especially vulnerable to predators. Have the bird bath close enough to a shrub or small tree so the bathing birds can flee to cover from hawks. But not so close that cats can launch an attack from the base of the cover. Six feet away seems ideal.
· For best acceptance from the birds, provide a shallow bird bath. They will drink from a deep reservoir, but swimming is not their thing. Baths of two inch or shallower seem to attract the most birds.
The purple martins have left their houses for the season and are assembling for their trek south. It is a good time to pull the martin houses down and clean them out. If your house is constructed in such a manner that allows it, leave the house down to reduce nesting and sheltering by English sparrows and starlings. They may nest several times after the martins leave and their success will provide more competition for the martins next year.
The hummingbird young of the season are visiting area blooms and sugar water feeders now. Soon, waves of migrating hummingbirds will be moving through. Keep your feeders clean and full to take advantage of the action. To enhance the attractiveness of your patio to the interesting little dynamos, provide a few firebush (sun) and pentas (sun or shade) in containers for extra nectar. Move your sugar water feeders around if fire ants become a problem. You can use bee guards to discourage the bees, but it is probably best to let them have a share of the sugar water. Bee populations are under siege from diseases and mites and need all the help they can get.