Gardening with Melinda: Plant easy-care daffodils now for added spring beaut

Photo by Longfield-Gardens.com Unique daffodil varieties like Lingerie offer double flowering.

Photo by Longfield-Gardens.com
Unique daffodil varieties like Lingerie offer double flowering.

By Melinda Myers

Daffodils have a cheery presence in the spring garden and are a surefire way to chase away the winter blues. These fall-planted bulbs are also reliable perennials that require no maintenance and are not bothered by deer or other pests. The National Garden Bureau has declared 2017 the Year of the Daffodil, and with the fall planting season right around the corner, now is the time to choose your favorites.

Yellow trumpet daffodils are classics, but there are many other flower styles and colors to choose from. Double-flowering types like white and yellow Lingerie and long lasting lemon-yellow Sherbourne feature multiple rows of petals and some varieties look more like peonies than daffodils.

Multi-flowering varieties like Beautiful Eyes, display several flowers on each stem. This variety’s white and orange blossoms have a gardenia-like fragrance. Miniature daffodil Baby Boomer has five to ten flowers per stem. After blooming, the grassy foliage quickly fades away, allowing nearby perennials to take center stage.

Split corona daffodils have an unexpected beauty and are lovely cut flowers. The cups on these daffodils are divided into segments that are pressed back against the petals. Narcissus Cassata has a ruffled yellow split cup and white petals. Lemon Beauty’s shorter split cup is adorned with a yellow star.

These are just a few of the many choices that are available for gardens, containers and spring bouquets. Most daffodils are hardy in growing zones 3 to 8. In warmer zones, look for heat tolerant varieties such as Thalia and Silver Smiles.

Mix daffodils into shady gardens filled with hostas, ferns and other shade-loving perennials. As the daffodil blooms fade, the perennials will grow, mask the foliage and provide beauty throughout the remainder of the season.

Plant daffodils on a hillside, woodland border, beside a pond or under trees and shrubs. Over time, the bulbs will grow and multiply with minimal care from you. Choose cultivars with different flower styles and bloom times, and plant in drifts to create an attractive display.

Can’t decide?  Consider one of the many pre-mixed packages such as Longfield Garden’s Fragrant, Double, Miniature or Multi-flowering daffodil collections (www.longfield-gardens.com). Or, create your own long-lasting display by combining early, mid and late blooming varieties.

Get your daffodils off to a great start with proper planting. Order the bulbs early for best selection, and plant them in mid to late fall, any time before the ground freezes. Dig a hole and position the bulbs 6” deep with the pointy side up. Cover with soil, apply a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer and water thoroughly. Once in the ground, the bulbs can remain in place for years to come.

Reserve a few daffodil bulbs for your containers and window boxes. Pot them up in the fall and make sure they get at least 15 weeks of chilling at 40-45°F. In mild climates, the containers can be left outdoors. In zones 6 and colder, they should be stored in an unheated garage where they will be cold, but won’t freeze.

Start now and enjoy a brighter beginning to next year’s garden season. The daffodils you plant this fall will delight you year after year as their carefree blooms announce winter’s end and spring’s return.
Melinda Myers has written numerous books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers was commissioned by Longfield Gardens for her expertise to write this article.  Myers’ website is www.melindamyers.com.

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For the Birds: Busy Kinglet is in constant motion

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-crowned Kinglet perches on a branch in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet perches on a branch in New England.

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

I thought it was going to be the easiest bird photo I’ve ever taken.

There was the kinglet, literally right at my feet. It was hopping along the beach a few weeks ago looking for small insects among the plants popping out of the sand. It was a male ruby-crowned kinglet and he was alone at this stage of his migration.

I grabbed the camera from the front seat and got out of the car for what I thought would be a quick strike. It wasn’t. The kinglet didn’t fly away and didn’t run away. It just wouldn’t sit still — not even for a second. Now I know how department store children’s photographers feel on their bad days.

First, let’s familiarize ourselves with the kinglet. There are two types of kinglet: ruby-crowned kinglet and golden-crowned kinglet. The ruby-crowned kinglet has an eye-ring that doesn’t quite make it all the way around its eye. The golden-crowned kinglet has no eye-ring, but rather an eye stripe.

To tell the species apart I like to think of a “ruby ring.” Hey, it works for me.

The male ruby-crowned kinglet has a small patch of red on the top of his head, while the female has no patch. With the golden-crowned kinglet, the male has an orangish patch outlined in yellow and the female has a yellow patch.

Keep in mind that the colorful patches are not always visible, especially on the ruby-crowned.

Usually the species stick together, but I’ll never forget the time I looked out a window of my house and saw a ruby-crowned kinglet and a golden-crowned kinglet cross paths on a hemlock branch. If I ever wanted a side-by-side comparison, that was my chance.

The kinglets are also among the smallest birds we see here in New England. The golden-crowned measures about 4 inches, while the ruby-crowned is a whopping 4 ½ inches. By comparison, the black-capped chickadee is about 5 inches (slightly larger than both kinglets) and the ruby-throated hummingbird is almost 4 inches (only slightly smaller than the kinglets).

Their tiny size makes it a challenge to photograph them. Even with a powerful lens, it’s tough to fill the frame.

But the real challenge is their energy. They don’t sit still. By the time the camera’s auto-focus feature nails the subject, the bird is gone. It’s not far away, perhaps only an inch or two, but far enough to throw off the focus.

Now back to my beach-combing ruby-crowned kinglet.

I performed the auto-focus dance for a while before switching to manual focus, which proved to be even more frustrating. Usually focusing required only a slight turn of the lens one way or the other, but I always picked the wrong way. By the time I corrected the error — you guessed it — the bird was elsewhere.

The bird never went very far and at one point was about a foot away from my shoes. I had already determined before that moment that my presence didn’t bother him. The last thing I’d want to do is deny a hungry migrating bird of a good food source, which it obviously had found at the beach.

I wasn’t disturbing him, but he certainly wasn’t cooperating with me either. He was very busy. No time for posing.

After several minutes of trying to catch the little guy, I remembered the last time I had tried to photograph kinglets. I was at a Connecticut park and there were kinglets all over the place in the bushes. In a way that experience was even more frustrating because I didn’t know which kinglet to target and, no matter which one I picked, it was constant motion. I never did get a great photo that day, despite there being dozens of little subjects flitting around the bushes.

But on this day there was only one subject on which to channel my efforts. The results were not much better. I got a couple of decent photos and a bunch of blurry images of a male ruby-crowned kinglet’s tail. A few photos showed nothing but landscape: sand and weeds, no bird. I missed the little guy by a split second, but it may as well have been an hour.

But I can laugh about it now. My therapist says that’s a good thing. He also suggests that I just look at kinglets from now on and not try to photograph them. What does he know? Next time I’ll do better.

For the Birds: Fall has it all

Photo by Chris Bosak A green Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly clings on to a vine wrapped around a stalk on a meadow property of the Darien Land Trust, summer 2013.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A green Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly clings on to a vine wrapped around a stalk on a meadow property of the Darien Land Trust.

Here is the latest For the Birds column that runs in several New England newspapers.

Early fall is an exciting time, not only for birdwatchers, but for watchers of nature in general.

Male white-tailed deer and moose have their antlers fully grown and ready for the rut, or breeding season. What were little nubs of antlers in early spring are impressive racks for fighting, intimidating other males and showing off in front of the females.

Some say that spring is the best time for watching nature, but only in the fall can we appreciate the beauty and majesty of fully grown antlers. 

Seeing a bull moose in July is a memorable experience. Seeing a bull moose in the fall is an unforgettable experience.

Early fall is also a time when a birdwatcher can really pile on the numbers for a species-seen list. Herons and egrets are still around. Shorebirds are still migrating. Songbirds are moving south as well. Waterfowl start migrating through New England. Early waterfowl migrants such as blue-winged teal, pintail and ruddy ducks share the waters with the fowl that have been with us all summer.

The ducks that have been with us undergo a transformation in early fall, as well. Male mallards and wood ducks, which went through their eclipse in the summer, during which they were as bland as the females, are back in their ornamental plumage.

Some birds molt their colorful feathers for the winter season. The American goldfinch and common loon are such birds. But in the early part of fall, these birds still wear their popular plumage.

Many of the songbirds that will pass through, however, have lost their breeding plumage and look completely different than they did when they visited in the spring. Male scarlet tanagers, which were a prize sighting in the spring, are rather ho-hum looking during the fall migration.

As I mentioned last week, the big birdwatching draw in the fall is the hawk migration. Many nature centers hold raptor weekends, and spots that are known to be good for hawk watching, such as Pack Monadnock, draw big crowds in the fall.

There is still time to see wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, turtles and frogs in early fall as well. Just about anything you could want to see is available to you.

Finally, I can’t overlook nature’s most redeeming and popular quality in the fall: the changing of the leaves. This spectacle of nature draws thousands upon thousands of tourists to the region. I remember when I lived in Bennington, Vt., many years ago. The quiet, non-crowded town turned into a metropolis for the peak foliage week in early October. You couldn’t turn around with bumping into a Winnebago.

But that’s what nature is all about. One spectacle after another to wow the crowd. In the fall, though, the spectacles are easier to come by.

Gardening with Melinda: Proper tree planting and care is critical to survival

The GreenWell water saver contains and concentrates the water where it is needed during a tree’s critical root establishment phase.

The GreenWell water saver contains and concentrates the water where it is needed during a tree’s critical root establishment phase.

By Melinda Myers

Whether planting a tree to add seasonal beauty, grow backyard fruit, provide a bit of shade, or reduce energy costs, it’s a big upfront investment.  Make the most of your money spent by giving your tree its best chance at survival with proper planting and care.

Now is a great time to plant trees. Cooler air temperatures make it less stressful on newly planted trees and the gardeners planting them.

Select a tree suited to the growing conditions. Make sure it tolerates the sunlight, soil and temperature extremes. Check the tag for the mature height and spread. You’ll have a better-looking plant that always fits the space with minimal pruning.

Plant it correctly to insure your tree thrives for many years to come. Dig a Continue reading

For the Birds: Hawkwatching season in New England

Photo by Chris Bosak A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Red-tailed hawk at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., January 2015.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

The seasons are changing, and there’s a lot going on in the birding world.

Warblers and other songbirds are migrating south. Shorebirds — many species of which have long migrated already — continue to move through New England. Other small winged creatures — monarch butterflies — are also seen more often now as they prepare for their generational migration.

On the ponds, the waterfowl migration hasn’t started with verve yet, but wood ducks, which spend much of the summer hiding out, are more often seen and heard in the fall. At the same time, herons and egrets are still with us in large numbers, and feeder birds continue to keep us company in our backyards. 

Yes, a lot is going on in early fall as we birdwatchers start to shift from a summer frame of mind to a winter one.

With all that’s going on, one type of bird still manages to take center stage in September and October: hawks.

Hawkwatches are the primary destination for birdwatchers this time of year as birds of prey by the thousands ride the wind south. Pick the right day with the ideal weather conditions, and a birdwatcher may see hundreds of hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures soaring overhead.

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Red-winged blackbird singing: Cleaning off the desktop to get ready for fall

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-winged blackbird sings from the top of a tree at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A red-winged blackbird sings from the top of a tree at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Conn., spring 2017.

I almost forgot about a series of red-winged blackbird photos I took on the same day I captured nice images of cedar waxwings and bobolinks. I’m glad I started this cleaning off the desktop project or this photo may never have seen the light of day.

Yellowthroat singing: Cleaning off the desktop to get ready for fall

Photo by Chris Bosak A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

I posted one shot of this common yellowthroat early this spring. Never had time to edit the other photos until now.

Photo by Chris Bosak A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common yellowthroat sings from a perch in Brookfield, Conn., during spring 2017.

Starting with towhees: Cleaning off the desktop to get ready for fall

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

The spring and summer went by so quickly I didn’t have time to post many of the photos I was able to capture. Typically I posted a few shots of an outing in a post, but filed the dozens of other photos in a “get to them later” folder.

Well, with fall migration starting already, I figured this would be a good time to get around to them. So, without much fanfare or description, these next few posts will be random shots I collected this past spring and summer.

This post features the eastern towhees I found during an early May walk at Bennett’s Pond State Park in Ridgefield, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An eastern towhee perches in thick brush in Ridgefield, Conn., spring 2017.

 

For the Birds: Goldfinches brighten the landscape

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Goldfinch rests on a sunflower in New England.

N othing cheers up a day like a goldfinch. Those little, bright bursts of yellow are always a welcome site at your feeder, bird bath or perched on a flower in your garden.

I especially appreciate goldfinches in the dead of summer. I remember taking a walk a few years ago on one of those classic hot, humid days in August. It was the middle of the afternoon and, not surprisingly, I was finding very little in terms of wildlife. Dragonflies were dancing all over the place, but even the butterflies seemed to be hiding from the heat.

Suddenly, I heard the cheerful song of a goldfinch in flight coming up from behind me. I turned just in time to see the bright yellow bird perch on the top of a thistle flower. The pink-and-purple flower rocked back and forth as it reacted to the weight of the tiny bird. When the flower settled, the goldfinch went about its business of picking at the flower.

I watched the scene briefly, and continued my walk. About five minutes later, I heard the bird again. I looked up to see it fly over my head and disappear into the distance. Despite its tiny size — about 5 inches — the goldfinch is an easy bird to identify in flight. It flies quickly in an undulating fashion — like a roller coaster with small rises and falls — usually uttering its potato-chip, potato-chip song as it bounces up and down.

I didn’t see any other birds on that walk, but the single goldfinch perched on the flower made it all worthwhile.

Goldfinches also score points with me as they are frequently seen in my garden. I’ve seen goldfinches perched atop coneflower and black-eyed Susan flowers, picking away at the seeds. I’ve also seen them on sunflowers.

Goldfinches, of course, are also reliable feeder birds, often occupying every perch of a tube feeder. I love to see all six perches of my blue tube feeder occupied by the bright yellow birds.

Goldfinches will eat sunflower seeds and will visit platform or tube feeders. A sure way to attract goldfinches is to offer Nyjer in a tube feeder specifically designed for the tiny seeds. Do not try to use thistle seeds in a regular feeder as the tiny seeds will spill through the holes.

“Sock” feeders stuffed with thistle seeds are a good alternative.

Goldfinches visit feeders at any time of the day. It’s interesting to note that goldfinches move on frequently so the birds you see at your feeder in the evening are not likely the same ones you saw in the morning.

Goldfinches are found throughout the country and many remain in New England through the winter months. They are not the flashy yellow birds we love so much in the summer, though. We still love them in the winter, of course, but they are much duller, often appearing olive or brownish.

It’s fun to see the splotchy male goldfinches in the early part of spring as they slowly regain their bright yellow plumage. Only the males are bright yellow. Females are a duller yellow.

They also have black caps and black wings with white stripes. My brother Ed and his wife, Debbie, are big Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so the goldfinch is a favorite in that household.

Of course, you don’t have to be a Steelers fan to appreciate the beauty of a goldfinch. The bright yellow speaks for itself. Throw in a purple or pink flower and you’ve got real proof that Mother Nature likes her colors.

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