Gardening: Add some eye candy to your garden this fall

Photo credit: Longfield Gardens Dutch Master daffodils, Involve tulips and Muscari provide several layers of color in the garden.

Photo credit: Longfield Gardens
Dutch Master daffodils, Involve tulips and Muscari provide several layers of color in the garden.

By Melinda Myers
Shorten the winter season with the help of spring flowering bulbs that you plant in fall. These beauties often provide the first bit of color, fragrance and winter relief each year.

Look for new and unique ways to incorporate bulbs into your landscape. Create a seasonal water feature with a river of blue scillas and grape hyacinths meandering through the garden. Welcome visitors with a front door or walkway garden that blooms from early spring through early summer and is loaded with crocus, tulips, daffodils and allium.

Don’t overlook those shady spots. Many of these locations provide enough early season sun, before the trees leaf out, for bulbs to grow and flower. Use more shade tolerant spring bloomers like snowdrops, grape hyacinths, scillas, anemones, daffodils, fritillarias and Camassias in shady areas among hostas, ferns and other shade tolerant perennials.

Whether you’re new or experienced, growing bulbs is an easy endeavor. Just follow these simple steps to a beautiful spring garden.

Selection

Purchase bulbs that are dense and firm, and free of bruises or mold. Shop early for the best selection. Mail order sources will ship your bulbs at the proper planting time. If you buy locally, store the bulbs in a dry, well-ventilated and cool 60-degree location until it’s time to plant.

Don’t let deer, rabbits and chipmunks dissuade you from planting. Include hyacinths, grape hyacinths, scillas, glory-of-the-snow, fritillarias, alliums and Camassias that the animals tend to overlook.

Design Ideas

Include a variety of bulbs for added color throughout spring. Early bloomers like Glory of the Snow, crocus, early tulips and daffodils, and grape hyacinths (Muscari) are followed by mid-season daffodils and tulips along with fritillarias. Late spring blooming tulips and alliums finish off the spring display.

Combine several bulbs that bloom at the same time to double the floral impact or at different times to extend the color throughout the spring. You can create your own combinations or look for prepackaged combinations prepared by experts like those at Longfield Gardens (www.Longfield-Gardens.com). Low growing White Splendor anemone along with Ocean Magic grape hyacinth make a striking combination for under shrubs. The yellow blossoms of Dutch Master daffodils, pink Involve tulips and purplish blue grape hyacinths will give you several layers of color in the garden.
Or add a bit of eye-catching red to the garden throughout the spring with the Really Red collection of tulips. Red Emperor starts things out in early spring, followed by Oxford and ends with double-flowering Red Princess and Sky High Scarlet.

Location

Plant bulbs in well-drained soil for best results. Avoid areas such as next to the dryer vent or against the south side foundation of your home that tend to warm up early in spring or experience a winter thaw. These bulbs often sprout too early and subsequent cold temperatures can limit or eliminate their bloom.

Reduce maintenance and boost your garden’s beauty by mixing bulbs with perennials. Once the bulbs are done blooming, the neighboring perennials mask the fading bulb foliage.
When and How to Plant
Increase growing success in poor soils by incorporating several inches of compost, peat moss or other organic matter into the top 12” of soil. This improves drainage in clay soil and the water-holding ability of sandy and rocky soils. Then be sure to incorporate a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer.

Wait to plant your bulbs until the soil cools. This is any time after the night temperatures are consistently 40 to 50 degrees, but several weeks before the ground freezes.

Plant spring blooming bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is tall. Water thoroughly to remove air pockets and encourage fall root growth. Add a layer of mulch to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and reduce the risk of early sprouting.
So break out your trowel and garden gloves and get busy planting. You’ll be glad you did when spring arrives and your yard and garden are filled with a rainbow of beautiful flowers.

Melinda Myers has over 30 years of gardening experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Longfield Gardens for her expertise to write this article.

Latest For the Birds column: Hawkwatching primer

Photo by Chris Bosak An Osprey soars over the Norwalk River on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An Osprey soars over the Norwalk River on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.), The Keene (NH) Sentinel and several Connecticut weekly newspapers.

A September would not be complete without a bird column on the fall hawk migration. For many, the hawk migration is the highlight of the fall season, despite there being many other birding options this time of year.
It’s hard to blame those people who feel that way. You can’t complain about spending a sunny, crisp fall day on the top of a mountain or other open area looking for hawks coming down from the north. Pick the right day and you may see hundreds of hawks making their way to their winter grounds.
The trick for many people, including myself, is figuring out which hawk is which from such a distance in the sky. I have gotten better over the years but certainly not to the level of the experts at the popular hawkwatching sites throughout New England. The experts, who are trained in this sort of thing, know the identification of the bird long before I can even see it out in the horizon.

The other trick to hawkwatching is picking the right day. Weather plays a big role in the fall hawk migration. Pick a day with a steady southerly wind and you’ll likely see very few hawks. Which hawk wants to battle a stiff headwind to start a thousand-mile (or more) journey.

But, pick a sunny day following a cold front with a northerly (or northeast or northwest) wind and you could be in for a banner hawkwatching day. In mid-September, upwards of a thousand Broad-winged Hawks may be seen in a single day.

Speaking of Broad-winged Hawks, they are one of the most prominent and early hawks seen in New England with their number peaking around the middle of September. Osprey are also prominent in September, but several “fish hawks” remain with us well into October.

American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Peregrine Falcons are seen frequently in late September into early October. By the time the middle of October rolls around, birds such as Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures and Merlins are the more commonly seen hawks. Bald Eagles are seen usually in late October and into November. As you’ve figured out by now “hawkwatch” doesn’t mean only hawks. It also includes falcons, eagles, vultures and Ospreys.

The above information, of course, is merely a generalization. Individuals of each of the species can fly over New England earlier or later than the rest of their kin. The important thing to know is that anytime between early September and the middle of November can yield a good hawk movement. In general, mid-September to mid-October is the best time to go – again, keeping in mind the weather conditions.

There are good hawkwatching spots throughout New England. Pack Monadnock at Miller State Park in Peterborough is an excellent place to go on a hawkwatch. Pack Monadnock will likely have an expert on hand. The experts are there to identify, count and record the hawks they see, but they also serve as ambassadors for birding and are more than willing to answer questions anyone may have.

A few quick identification tips as you venture out to a hawkwatch. Firstly, the hawks are flying overhead. They aren’t perched in branches or wires giving you good, long looks. So you need to be able to identify them by shape and movement. You generally aren’t going to get a good look at its back and head plumage. Wing beat pattern often doesn’t come into play as the hawks prefer to ride thermals instead of using energy to flap their wings.

Take an Osprey for example when identifying the hawks by shape. They are relatively large and have crooked wings. Wing shape is important when identifying hawks in flight.

The edges of the wings feature “fingers,” which are also used for identification purposes. Some birds have long fingers and some birds have short fingers. Vultures and eagles typically have longer fingers and the accipiters (sharp-shinned and Cooper’s) have shorter fingers. The Peregrine Falcon often flies in such a way that the fingers aren’t shown.

There’s a lot to learn about hawkwatching, but it’s a fascinating part of birding. My advice is to visit a hawkwatching site on a sunny day (preferably with northerly winds) and sit as close as to the on-site expert and soak in the knowledge.

Fifth photo in hummingbird series

Photo by Chris Bosak A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a thorny branch in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird perches on a thorny branch in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2014.

Here’s the fifth photo in the hummingbird series. Here’s another one I got when I was watching the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the thorn bushes at the Dolce Center in Norwalk, Conn. I like the tongue sticking out.

Birds at the Birdbath finale: Tufted Titmouse with bonus old photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A Tufutaced Titmouse perches on the edge of a birdbath in New England, fall 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Tufutaced Titmouse perches on the edge of a birdbath in New England, fall 2015.

Here are the final photos in the series Birds at the Birdbath. It’s not the most exciting photo so I’ve included in this post a few older birdbath photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Photo by Chris Bosak Gray Catbird at birdbath.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Gray Catbird at birdbath.

Photo by Chris Bosak Young Blue Jay at birdbath

Photo by Chris Bosak
Young Blue Jay at birdbath

Photo by Chris Bosak Robins invade a birdbath.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Robins invade a birdbath.

Bonus Green Heron photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A Green Heron runs across the grass at a park in Darien, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Green Heron runs across the grass at a park in Darien, Conn., spring 2016.

Just realized I never posted these extra Green Heron photos. Here are some bonus photos from a previous posting about Green Herons.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Green Heron hunts from a rock in Darien, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Green Heron hunts from a rock in Darien, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Green Heron hunts from a rock in Darien, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Green Heron stands on a rock in Darien, Conn., spring 2016.

Another shot or three of the Blue-winged Warbler

Photo by Chris Bosak A Blue-winged Warbler seen at Fairchild Wildflower Sanctuary in Greenwich, Conn., May 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Blue-winged Warbler seen at Fairchild Wildflower Sanctuary in Greenwich, Conn., May 2016.

Here’s a few more of the Blue-winged Warbler. See the post below for more information about the photos.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Blue-winged Warbler seen at Fairchild Wildflower Sanctuary in Greenwich, Conn., May 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Blue-winged Warbler seen at Fairchild Wildflower Sanctuary in Greenwich, Conn., May 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Blue-winged Warbler seen at Fairchild Wildflower Sanctuary in Greenwich, Conn., May 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Blue-winged Warbler seen at Fairchild Wildflower Sanctuary in Greenwich, Conn., May 2016.

One more of the Palm Warbler

Photo by Chris Bosak A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck's Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Palm Warbler perches among pussy willows at Selleck’s Woods in Darien, Conn., April 2016.

Here’s one more photo of the Palm Warbler, which was the subject of my longer post yesterday.

He strikes an interesting pose here. Any help with the caption?

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