Birds and Blooms Blog

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

Container Garden Soil Toppers

Jill Staake

Looking for an easy way to make your container garden more interesting? Consider adding some soil toppers around the base of your plant. This is especially effective for plants where the soil is exposed, like with my amaryllis bulbs shown below. These soil toppers will also help keep your soil moist longer, and can prevent curious house pets from digging around in your dirt.

Container Garden Soil Toppers

I used small pebbles and shells collected from local beaches in my pots, but there are plenty of options. Just remember to pile the toppers no more than half an inch to an inch thick, so you can still stick your finger down into the soil to check to see if it needs to be watered. Also make sure that the toppers you choose won’t leach any damaging chemicals into your soil, and give anything you choose a good rinse in a colander before adding them to your container garden. Here are some other soil toppers to try:

  • Spanish moss
  • Aquarium gravel
  • Glass or plastic gems
  • Sand
  • Marble chips
  • River rocks
  • Beads
  • Corks
  • Crushed shells
  • Wood chips

Container Garden Soil Toppers

Need help choosing a container for your plants? Try this handy chart!

Q&A with Vegetabowls

Cantaloupe-shaped bowl molded from a real cantaloupe.  (Find out how you can get your own here.)

Cantaloupe-shaped bowl molded from a real cantaloupe. (Find out how you can get your own here.)

Ever wanted to make the vegetable garden a more permanent fixture in your dining room? The team behind Vegetabowls has been doing exactly that with their cute veggie-shaped bowls and mugs. We fell in love with their quirky take on dishware and recently featured Vegetabowls in the May issue of Birds & Blooms Extra.

One half of the Vegetabowls duo, Melanie Mckenney, agreed to share the story and process behind these fun, veggie-inspired creations. Read to the end to find out how you can get a 15% discount on your next Vegetabowls order!

Birds & Blooms: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Melanie: Justin, a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and I, a true Buffalonian, met while teaching at a public access glass art studio in Boston. Early on in our relationship, we individually pursued our own artwork while working for other artists in the greater Boston area. But occasionally we were given opportunities to work on commissioned projects together. These projects became the foundation of us working together as a team and ultimately led to us co-founding our company, Vegetabowls, in 2010 (also the same year we got married).

B&B: How did you get started making Vegetabowls? Where did the idea and the name come from? (We love the play on words, by the way!)

Melanie: The idea came about during a ceramics class I was teaching. I used a cantaloupe to demonstrate the use of plaster molds to capture texture in clay. I finished the cantaloupe bowl and brought it home to use. Justin immediately saw the potential in the bowl to create a whole line of fruits and vegetable bowls. The next thing he said was, “Vegetabowls!” Since then we have expanded the line to over 20 different designs, and we are always adding more!

B&B: What’s the process like to make one Vegetabowl?

Melanie: The process to make a Vegetabowl begins with choosing the right fruit or vegetable from our garden or local farmers market. We then make a plaster mold directly from the veggie. Once the mold is set, we remove the actual veggie and allow the mold to dry. We are then able to pour liquid clay into the mold, which picks up the texture from the mold. Once the clay is dry, we remove it from the mold and trim and wipe it by hand. It is then fired in the kiln, glazed by hand, and fired in the kiln again to make it food safe.

B&B: Do you do a lot of gardening, then? (Non-pottery vegetables, of course!)

Melanie: In the warmer months, we do have a small vegetable garden at our house, which we are hoping to expand this year. We also harvest from my mother’s large garden and visit the local farmers market often!

B&B: Do you have any future Vegetabowls creations in mind?

Melanie: With the wide variety of fruits and veggies out there, we are constantly inspired to create new designs or improve on our current ones. Right now, we are working on offering complete dinner sets and refining our citrus set to be the perfect addition to any cocktail party!

Head over to or and use the coupon code “blooms” for a 15% discount on your next Vegetabowls order! Coupon code expires 6/1/15.

When Will Baltimore Orioles Arrive?

Rob Ripma

I’ve been getting many questions recently about when Baltimore Orioles will be arriving in certain areas of the country and when everyone should start putting out their oriole feeder to try to attract this beautiful bird to their backyards. This can be a tricky question to answer, as it depends on how migration progresses throughout the spring, but I can offer you the resources for you to keep track of migration so that you can see when the orioles will be arriving near you.

When Will Baltimore Orioles Arrive?

Are you hoping to attract one of these beautiful Baltimore Orioles to your yard this year?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, eBird offers you the chance to see where birds are being reported. This allows you to see the most recent reports and to track where birds are moving if you check back frequently.

When Will Baltimore Orioles Arrive?

You can see that Baltimore Orioles are being seen in the Southeast as well as up most of the East Coast.

Use this link to see the interactive map for Baltimore Orioles. Check back frequently for new reports and put out your oriole feeders when the reports start to approach your area! For tips and tricks to help attract orioles, check out this awesome article!

Attract Indigo Buntings with White Proso Millet

Jill Staake

The bright blue flash of an Indigo Bunting in mating plumage is a sight every birder would welcome to their backyard. In summer, this beautiful bird is found throughout the eastern U.S. and into Canada (Floridians can look for them in the winter, although they won’t attain full mating plumage until early spring), and you might be able to attract Indigo Buntings your backyard by offering one of its favorite seeds – white millet.

Attract Indigo Buntings with Millet

Jill Staake Indigo Bunting enjoying white proso millet seed

Offer white proso millet seed in platform feeders or tube feeders like the one shown. If squirrels are a problem, try one of the tube feeders encased in a cage that allows birds through but keeps pesky squirrels out. Sprinkling a little millet on the ground may also attract doves, juncos, quail, and bobwhites. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has Painted Buntings, you might find these colorful birds at the feeders too!

Attract Indigo Buntings Millet

Jill Staake Indigo Buntings (L), Female Painted Bunting (Top R) and Male Painted Bunting (Bottom R)

Here in Central Florida, I like to visit Indigo Buntings at Felts Audubon Preserve, where Painted Buntings can also be spotted. Both of these birds are routinely seen at feeders offering exclusively white proso millet seeds, making it clear that this is their favorite. Millet seeds are often part of bird seed mixtures, but you can also buy it on its own at specialty bird stores and online. (Avoid red millet and mixtures containing it – most birds don’t seem to care for it.)

Attract Indigo Buntings Millet

Jill Staake Indigo Bunting

With spring approaching and Indigo Buntings about to head north for the summer, now is a great time to add white proso millet seed to your feeders, so you’ll attract Indigo Buntings as soon as they arrive in your area. Learn more about Indigo Buntings, including a range map and song recordings, by clicking here.

Top 4 Gulf Coast Birding Hotspots for Spring Migration

Rob Ripma

The time of year when warblers arrive is rapidly approaching, and some species have even started to arrive along the Gulf Coast! Migration might not last long, but it sure is exciting while it’s going on. If you want to see some of the most spectacular displays of warbler and other passerine migration, make a stop at one or more of these birding hotspots along the Gulf Coast during late March and early to mid April. Birding should be good no matter when you go, but if you are lucky and experience a “fallout” it can be one of the most remarkable experiences in all of birding. A fallout occurs when the weather forces migrants to take shelter as soon as they hit the coast. These conditions can cause massive concentrations of migrants at these and other birding hotspots along the Gulf.

1. High Island, Texas

High Island is one of the most famous and active spring migration hotspots on the Gulf Coast. It’s designed to be birder-friendly, and there are many smaller birding hotspots within the High Island area where you can experience migration. Learn more about High Island from the Houston Audubon Society here.

Although Black-and-white Warblers aren't as flashy as some of the other warbler species, I still find them to be a stunning species to observe.

Although Black-and-white Warblers aren’t as flashy as some of the other warbler species, I still find them to be a stunning species to observe.

2. Dauphin Island, Alabama

Just off the the coast of Alabama sits a barrier island called Dauphin Island (not Dolphin like I hear many call it). This is one of the first places that migrants can make landfall after flying over the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. There are a number of parks and reserves that you can visit on the island to experience migration first-hand. Click here to learn about all of the birding sites. Also consider taking the ferry over to Fort Morgan for more birding fun!

Blackburnian Warbler is one of the species that many birders are most excited to see.

Blackburnian Warbler is one of the species that many birders are most excited to see.

3. South Padre Island, Texas

This is the farthest south of the hotspots that I have included and thus has migrants earlier than some of the other locations. This barrier island has few trees which means there are fewer places to look for birds, but there are also fewer places for the birds to hide. The best site on the island is the South Padre Island Convention Center trails. Not only can there be an amazing number of migrants, you’re sure to enjoy all of the wading birds and shorebirds using the tidal flats to feed.

Chestnut-sided Warblers are always a crowd favorite at birding hotspots!

This Chestnut-sided Warbler is one of my favorites to see each spring! Chestnut-sided Warblers are always a crowd favorite at birding hotspots!

4. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

This is the most remote and inaccessible location on the list. In order to get to this national park, you must first travel to Key West and then catch either a ferry or seaplane to get out to this small set of islands. While migration might not be as constantly amazing here, when a fallout occurs, the birding is phenomenal. The only fresh water on the entire island is a small well, and since all of the birds need water, the well is the place to be!

Since the Dry Tortugas sits much farther east than the other birding hotspots, more of the migrants that winter in the Caribbean can be found there. That includes species like this Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Since the Dry Tortugas sits much farther east than the other birding hotspots, more of the migrants that winter in the Caribbean can be found there. That includes species like this Black-throated Blue Warbler.

How to Start Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds indoors can help you get a jump-start on spring! Learn what you need and get tips for successful seed starting here.

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