Birds and Blooms Blog

Get the latest birding and gardening tips from our expert bloggers.

Hummingbirds are on the Move in the Eastern US!

Rob Ripma

With the warm temperatures outside it may not feel like fall is approaching, but many birds are already beginning their fall migration. In my last post, I wrote about how many species of warblers have already started to migrate, and today I’ll focus on the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that are frequenting many people’s hummingbird feeders now. I’ve heard from quite a few folks that have with hummingbird feeders that the number of hummingbirds around has increased substantially, and I’ve noticed at my house, too. Hummingbirds are right on schedule migration-wise, and late August is when we typically begin to see more and more hummingbirds in central Indiana. (Keep in mind that the timing will be different depending upon where you live.)

It's amazing to watch Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as they are feeding at flowers! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel/Sabrewing Nature Tours)

It’s amazing to watch Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as they are feeding at flowers! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel/Sabrewing Nature Tours)

It’s hard to imagine that this tiny hummingbird is already on its way to complete what I consider to be a pretty incredible migration. Most of these hummingbirds will migrate down to the Gulf Coast and then are faced with a choice –  fly over the Gulf of Mexico or go around it. In the spring when the birds are in a hurry to get north to their breeding grounds, a huge number of hummingbirds choose to fly over this enormous body of water, but during fall migration when they aren’t in such a hurry, some individuals choose to take the long way. It might take a bit longer, but it’s a much safer option than flying over open water.

Be sure to enjoy all the hummingbirds over the next month or so and also let us know how many have been visiting your feeders!

Attract Wildife with Rose of Sharon

Jill Staake

On a recent trip to Michigan to visit family, I was captivated by the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) bush in their front yard. It was a magnet for everything with wings! One afternoon, I dragged a lawn chair into the shade by the bush to watch for about an hour to see what visitors I could spot, including:

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Attract Wildlife

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), female

Attract Wildlife with Rose of Sharon

Honeybees (Apis mellifera)

Attract Wildlife with Rose of Sharon

Attract Wildlife with Rose of Sharon

And plenty more I didn’t capture photos of, including other varieties of bees, wasps, and flies. I also spotted other butterflies using the flowers for nectar, including a Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), and Cabbage White (Pieris rapae). Dragonflies were using the branches to perch, and small songbirds flitted in and out of the shelter of the branches. It was simply amazing how this one small bush was providing food and shelter for so many different species all at once.

Attract Wildlife

This Rose of Sharon wasn’t large, but it was able to attract wildlife like you wouldn’t believe!

Rose of Sharon is native to Asia, and usually grown in the U.S. in zones 5 – 8. It blooms summer through fall, and is easy to grow in most soils and conditions. It can be pruned into a hedge or tree form, or left to ramble wild. Find multiple cultivars at your local garden center, or ask a friend or neighbor for a stem cutting from one in their yard to root. (Learn how here.) One word of caution: this non-native shrub is considered invasive in some areas. If you’re concerned, check with your local extension office to find out if Rose of Sharon is right for your yard.

What wildlife do you see on your Rose of Sharon bushes? Come chat about it in our Gardening Forums!

Drought Tolerant Perennials for a Thirsty Garden

Are you experiencing a drought in your area?  You may be surprised to hear that drought has affected not just California and the Southwest, but also areas in the Pacific Northwest, the Central Plains and even some areas in the Southeast.

U.S. Drought Monitor Map

Many cities have issued watering restrictions of outdoor plants and as a result, many gardens are suffering.  Because of the worsening drought in many areas, the interest in drought tolerant gardening has increased dramatically.

The good news is that whether you live in an area experiencing drought or if you are wanting to add plants that need less water – there are many beautiful plants that are drought tolerant.  Why put up with a garden filled with plants that are struggling from lack of water when you can replace them with drought tolerant ones that are equally as attractive?

It’s important to note that just because a plant is drought tolerant, does not mean that it doesn’t need water – they do.  The difference is that they can survive on less water than most other plants.

Beginning today, we will look at a variety of plants that will add beauty to your landscape while also being drought tolerant.  You may be surprised to find out that some of your favorite plants are actually drought tolerant.  Over my next few posts, we will look at perennials, ground covers, shrubs, grasses and succulents for a drought resistant garden.


Drought Tolerant Jupiter's Beard

Jupiter’s Beard (Centranthus ruber)

Jupiter’s beard is a long-blooming perennial that produces magenta/red flowers in spring, summer and fall.  It has fragrant flowers that attracts bees, birds and butterflies.  Other desirable attributes include the fact that it is deer resistant and is equally at home when planted in the ground or in containers.  Deadhead flowers to promote additional blooms.  This lovely perennial is also available in a white variety and can be grown in zone 4 – 8 gardens.

'Moonshine' Yarrow (Achillea Moonshine)

‘Moonshine’ Yarrow (Achillea Moonshine)

‘Moonshine’ yarrow has striking silver/gray foliage that is topped with flat, bright yellow flowers.  When planted in full sun, this deer resistant perennial produces flowers in summer and fall that attract both bees and butterflies to the garden.  Moonshine yarrow can be grown in much of the United States in zone 3 to 9 gardens.  While some species of yarrow can self seed and spread, ‘Moonshine’ does not.

Wild Indigo (Baptisia minor)

False or Wild Indigo (Baptisia minor)

False or Wild Indigo is a purple flowering beauty in the garden, which can be grown throughout the United States in zones 3 – 10.  There is little not to love about this drought tolerant perennial – it is deer resistant, attracts bumblebees and butterflies and thrives in full sun.  There is a yellow-flowering variety available as well.  Flowering spikes appear in late spring into summer.

Drought Tolerant Coneflower

Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflower can be found in many gardens in zones 3 through 10 where their daisy-shaped flowers and prominent centers are a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds.  Although purple coneflower does best in full sun, it can also grow well in partial shade.  Flowers appear summer into early fall and can be left on the plant after flowering is finished to feed resident birds.  In addition to purple flowers, there are orange and yellow varieties available.

White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri)

Whirling butterflies is not as widely known as many other perennials, but as more people learn about this perennial with its pretty, butterfly-shaped flowers, it is becoming more sought after.  This lovely perennial has a special place in my own garden where its delicate white flowers bloom from early summer into fall until frost arrives.  Because of its long bloom period, it is one of the last flowers available for bees in fall.  Whirling butterflies can be grown in zones 6 – 10 gardens.

Each of these drought tolerant perennials deserve a place in the garden where they will provide beauty and drought resistance in the garden.  On Friday, we will look at some drought tolerant ground covers that will look great in any landscape.

Want more ideas for colorful drought tolerant plants to add to your landscape?  Check out this Birds & Blooms article, “Colorful Drought Resistant Plants”.

Be on the Lookout for Migrant Warblers

Rob Ripma

We are finally to the time of year when many warblers have finished breeding and are on the move! Lots of birders are only excited about spring migration, but I love looking for warblers during the fall migration, too. One of the main reasons is that there are more individual birds migrating during the fall. With all of the freshly hatched young, you have the potential to see a lot more birds, but sometimes there can be more challenges with identifying warblers in non-breeding plumage.

Although it is still early in the migration season, some warblers are already starting to move through my favorite local park. While leading a trip for the Indiana Young Birders Club today, we found 5 warbler species which is my highest total of the fall migration season so far!

Blackburnian Warbler is one of my favorite warblers and was one of the species that we found today.

Blackburnian Warbler is one of my favorite warblers and was one of the species that we found today.

We also found one Northern Parula today. Although warbler isn't in the name, it's still a warbler!

We also found one Northern Parula today. Although warbler isn’t in the name, it’s still a warbler!

Have you seen any warblers yet during this fall migration season?

Growing Lemongrass

Jill Staake

Much as I love beautiful flowers in the garden, I’m also known to keep plants around just for “smelling purposes”. I love fragrant foliage like mint, rosemary, and bee balm that gives off a lovely scent when you brush it on the way past. I have a special weakness for citrus-scented plants, like lemon balm, orange mint, and especially lemongrass. Lemongrass has the added benefit of being a beautiful ornamental grass, with lots of culinary applications. Though it’s a tropical frost-tender species, it can be enjoyed in most gardens as an annual or wintered over inside with some special precautions. Find starter plants at your local nursery, or visit a market specializing in Asian cuisine for fresh stems that can be rooted.

Growing Lemongrass

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is native to southeast Asia and is an evergreen perennial in zones 10 and higher. In zones 9 and 10, it may be damaged by frost or even killed to the ground by a freeze, but usually returns from the roots in the spring. In these zones, plant outdoors in a sunny spot and give it plenty of room – this plant takes off when the heat of summer arrives and can grow to 5 feet by 5 feet in just a few months. Well-drained loamy soil is best, but it thrives in the sandy soil here in Tampa, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Further north, you’ll need to bring lemongrass indoors before the first frost. If you grow it in a pot, simply move it into a warm sunny location for the winter. If you grow it in the ground, you’ll need to dig up some small clumps (get great step-by-step instructions here). In either case, be prepared to water it well during the winter. It may not look fantastic while being kept indoors, but should bounce back once planted outside next spring.

Lemongrass is wonderful for cooking, and many southeastern Asian cuisines use it extensively. For cooking, harvest lemongrass at the bulbous area where the stem meets the ground. Lemongrass stems freeze well, so feel free to harvest it all at the end of the growing season to save for the winter ahead. (Get complete details on harvesting and cooking with lemongrass by clicking here.) You can also dry the long leaves and use them in tea. Do you grow lemongrass? Tell us about your experiences!

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