Environmental nonprofit The Bee Conservancy has opened applications for the 2021 Sponsor-a-Hive program. This gives schools, gardens, and other community groups across the U.S. and Canada a chance to help mitigate a major environmental crisis and bolster communities using free native bee homes. This spring, The Bee Conservancy will deliver 500 homes — 200 from last fall’s awardees and 300 for the 2021 awardees. This is the largest campaign of its kind in the six-year-history of the program.
Sponsor-a-Hive gifts native bee houses, ongoing support, and educational materials to awardees chosen for their commitments to environmental stewardship, education, and food justice. With their guardianships of local bee populations, the awardees also help empower underserved communities to grow food, bolster local ecology, all while protecting keystone species.
Check out 5 beneficial bees you want in your garden.
Native Bees Are At Risk
The Bee Conservancy’s unprecedented expansion of its flagship program — extending for the first time into Canada — comes at a critical time. Currently, 1 in 4 of North America’s 4,000 bee species is at risk of extinction. A staggering report released last month found that 25 percent of wild bees have disappeared across the globe have disappeared in the last 30 years.
Native bees are a particularly important puzzle piece for a healthy ecosystem: Those species are responsible for pollinating 80 percent of flowering plants around the world, according to the United States Geological Survey. Bee pollination yields more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year, the government agency reports.
“To mitigate an environmental crisis of this scale, it takes a hive,” says Guillermo Fernandez, founder and executive director of The Bee Conservancy. “We are all impacted by declines in bee populations and the toll their loss takes on the environment. We are thrilled that Sponsor-a-Hive unites a broad range of populations from schools, nature preserves, food banks, community gardens and more in the fight for pollinator security.”
Discover sweet facts about honeybees.
Sustainable Hives Help Create Green Jobs
The program also contributes to safeguarding a larger ecosystem. Designed with sustainability, bee health, and user-friendliness in mind, each bee house is constructed with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, sustainably-sourced pine. The houses are manufactured by Brooklyn Woods. This organization trains unemployed and low-income New Yorkers in woodworking. It offers some graduates one of the first paying jobs of their careers.
“Sponsor-a-Hive isn’t just about protecting bees,” says Rebecca Louie, TBC’s managing director. “It’s about bringing people together to engage with nature, grow food and community bonds, and build economic opportunities in the green sector.”
Applications will remain open until 11:59 p.m. on April 30.
Next, check out the top 10 plants for bees and pollinators.
Fast-growing vegetables are great for backyard gardeners who want to maximize their summer harvest (or who are just impatient!). For every quick-growing veggie we’ve chosen for our list, we’ve included the number of days it needs before it’s ready to harvest. Check out the guide to veggie harvest times.
1. Salad Turnip
Brassica rapa; 38 days to harvest
Quick-growing salad turnips, like Hakurei, are popular at farmers markets but are easy to grow at home, too. Ready to dig up just weeks after seeding, they are known as a dual-purpose crop, yielding sweet roots as well as tasty greens for salads and stir-fries.
Why we love it: The golf ball-size roots are delicious raw, cooked or pickled. Plus, these super veggies are loaded with vitamin C, calcium and iron. Turnips also tolerate fall frosts and become sweeter in cool weather.
Check out the top 10 vegetables that grow well in shade.
2. Smooth-Leaf Spinach
Spinacia oleracea; 38 days to harvest
Seed companies offer three types of spinach: savoy, semi-savoy and smooth-leaf. For rapid growth, stick with smooth varieties, like Corvair or Space. Their round to oval leaves stay compact and maintain quality for an extended harvest season.
Why we love it: Long stems and flat foliage make harvesting and washing a snap.
Discover the best peppers to grow in your veggie garden.
3. Adelaide Carrot
Daucus carota var. sativus; 50 days to harvest
Forget the imposter baby carrots found in the supermarket. Adelaide is a true baby carrot, with 3- to 4-inch-long roots and a mild flavor. It’s also among the earliest carrots to mature, with roots that are ready to be pulled in just seven weeks.
Why we love it: Even those without gardens can grow these baby carrots by sowing seeds in pots or window boxes.
Learn how to create a windowsill herb garden.
4. Cherry Belle Radish
Raphanus sativus; 22 days to harvest
For over 60 years, this award-winning variety has been a garden standard, and for good reason. It offers an extra-early harvest of small, rounded roots with cherry red skin and crisp white flesh. This crop can be harvested three weeks after seeding.
Why we love it: Radishes are edible from top to bottom! Eat the roots and leaves, then let a few plants flower for the blooms and crunchy seed pods. Generally speaking the longer you allow radishes to grow, the spicier they will taste when you dig them up. Let ’em linger, but not too long—otherwise they become pithy rather than more flavorful.
5. Tokyo Bekana Cabbage
Brassica rapa var. pekinensis, 30 days to harvest
Although Tokyo Bekana looks like lettuce, it’s actually a loose-leaf type of Chinese cabbage. Slender white stems hold attractive rosettes of crinkly lime-green leaves. The flavor is sweet and mild, and the plants tolerate cold, thriving in early spring and autumn.
Why we love it: This easy, fast-growing vegetable is perfect for garden beds but works well in window boxes and containers, too.
Check out the seed catalogs every gardener needs.
Brassica oleracea; 65 days to harvest
This superfood not only packs a nutritional punch but is speedy from seed to harvest, too. Among the fastest to grow are smooth-leaved varieties like Toscano and Red Russian, which can be harvested as greens a mere month from sowing.
Why we love it: The leaves of recently sprouted kale are more tender than those harvested from mature plants. On the other end of the harvest spectrum, kale can even be harvested after a snowfall. Cooler temps prompt kale to turn stored starch into sugars, which makes it even sweeter. Give your yield a further boost by harvesting outer leaves when they’re 8 to 10 inches tall.
Discover 7 ways to grow the ultimate tomato crop.
Brassica rapa var. narinosa; 45 days to harvest
Tatsoi is a fast-growing mustard that forms low rosettes of spoon-shaped, deep green leaves. It has a mild flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. Tatsoi is very hardy, thriving in fall gardens and winter cold frames.
Why we love it: Light-challenged gardeners appreciate that tatsoi grows well in partial shade.
Eruca sativa; 40 days to harvest
The peppery leaves of arugula have been adding zip to salads for more than 2,000 years, and for good reason. This gourmet green is an uber fast growing vegetable, with baby leaves ready just three weeks from seeding. After you’ve had your fill of greens, allow a few plants to flower. The dainty blooms are edible and add a pretty pop of color to salads.
Why we love it: Arugula thrives in cool weather and can be planted as soon as the soil has thawed in early spring.
9. Leaf Lettuce
Lactuca sativa; 45 days to harvest
There are many types of lettuce, but for sheer speed, you can’t beat this one. Harvest-ready in six weeks, it comes in a variety of leaf colors and textures. Best bets include Red Salad Bowl, Black Seeded Simpson and Merlot. Start sowing seeds in early spring, and plant more every few weeks for months of homegrown lettuce.
Why we love it: Leaf lettuce is both pretty and productive. Tuck it into spring containers with pansies for an eye-catching, edible combination.
10. Petite Snap-Greens Pea
Pisum sativum; 30 days to harvest
If you love cute leafy greens, you’ll want to give Petite Snap-Greens a whirl. It’s a fast growing vegetable grown for its dense clusters of edible leaflets, not for the pods or peas themselves. Sow seeds in pots or beds and begin harvesting the leafy tendrils soon after they form.
Why we love it: The pleasant crunch of the leaflets add bright flavor to pastas, salads, stir-fries and wraps.
Check out the top 10 herbs to grow for cooking.
4 More Fast-Growing Vegetables We Recommend
Ready to harvest six weeks from seeding, this 2017 All-America Selections award-winner bears plump edible pods. It grows about a foot tall and is a fantastic find for hanging baskets.
Disease resistance and heavy yields of smooth green fruits in 45 days make this summer squash a real winner.
Crisp, rounded stems of kohlrabi are delicious raw or cooked. Korist grows 4 inches wide. Begin harvesting 55 days after sowing seeds.
No space is no problem. Porch Pick forms compact plants for small gardens or containers. Expect a bumper crop of tender green pods 55 days from sowing.
Silk moths blow away every belief you’ve ever had that all moths are small and dull. These large vibrant moths can have wingspans over 6 inches, and come in colors including red, pink, and green. Here is a list of five common silk moths you might find in your garden, and a few facts about silk moths. Check out 6 pictures that will change the way you look at moths.
Found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, this silk moth’s unique pale green color and long tails make it easy to identify. Luna moth caterpillars eat mainly leaves from white birch trees in the north. In southern areas, where birch is not available, they prefer leaves from sweet gum, hickory, walnut, or sumac. Discover fascinating facts about cecropia moths.
The polyphemus moth is also common in the east, but can be found as far west as California. The large eyespots on their wings help scare off predators. If you look closely at these eye spots, you’ll notice the centers appear clear or see-through. These areas lack wing scales, allowing you to see the clear membrane beneath. Polyphemus caterpillars eat a wide variety of tree leaves, including oak, maple, willow, wax myrtle, and more. Meet the colorful moths you can see during daytime.
Speaking of silk moths with stunning eye spots, Io moths are known for their venomous caterpillars. These brightly colored larva are equipped with urticating hairs, which release a toxin when brushed. This toxin causes unbelievable pain in humans, so imagine what it would do to a predator like a bird or small mammal. Io Moth caterpillars eat willow, hackberry, redbud, and blackberry. Check out interesting facts about hummingbird moths.
Also known as the royal walnut moth, this species has one of the craziest caterpillars you’ve ever seen. Called hickory horned devils, these creatures grow to the size of small hotdogs and boast spikes that would terrify any predator. The caterpillars eat the leaves of hickory, walnut, pecan, sumac and others. Learn how to tell the difference between moths and butterflies.
Imperial moths are found throughout the eastern U.S., but are much more common in the southern parts of their range. Their spiky caterpillars are harmless to humans but do an excellent job of deterring predators. Rather than spinning a cocoon, Imperial moths burrow in the ground beneath their host trees (pine, oak, maple, and more). They overwinter there, emerging the following summer. Plant a caterpillar cafe in your butterfly garden.
Facts About Silk Moths
- Adult silk moths have no functional mouthparts and do not eat. They fly for only 4 or 5 days, just long enough to mate and start the next generation.
- In contrast, silk moth caterpillars are voracious eaters, because they must store up all the fat reserves the adult will need. They generally feed on leaves of various trees, which provide plenty of the food they need.
- Many silk moths spin cocoons around themselves before undergoing metamorphosis.
- Commercial silk is produced by the domesticated silk moth caterpillar, Bombyx mori. B. mori does not live in the wild, and in fact could not survive in the wild because the adult moth is flightless. The caterpillars are raised in large factories where they are fed white mulberry leaves up to eight times a day.
A major part of attracting hummingbirds—and keeping them around throughout their short time here—is creating the right hummingbird habitat. Go beyond just hanging a sugar-water feeder with these helpful tips.
Design an Open Hummingbird Habitat
Liza Peniston of Wichita, Kansas, asks, “Do hummingbirds like open or more secluded areas?”
Different kinds have different preferences. But in general, North American hummingbirds like open habitats. In the American tropics—home to more than 300 hummingbird species—some types always live in the deep shadows of dense forest, and they almost never come out in the sunlight. If you want to create habitat for hummingbirds anywhere north of the U.S.-Mexico border, design an area with some trees and shrubs, a good supply of flowers and plenty of open space. Avoid using pesticides—hummingbirds eat bugs as well as sugar-water and nectar.
Habitat for Nesting Hummingbirds
“My mother-in-law has hummingbirds from spring to fall. I live only 15 minutes south of her and I only see hummingbirds in the fall, as they start to head toward Mexico. Can just a few miles make a difference as to where these birds decide to live?” asks Michelle Hesse of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
If you aren’t seeing as many hummingbirds as your friends and family, it could have something to do with the habitat in your neighborhood. In migration, hummingbirds may show up anywhere, but in nesting season they are more selective about their surroundings. They look for a special mix of trees, flowers and open areas. You can “sweeten the deal” in your yard by planting more nectar-producing flowers.
Psst—these are the plants hummingbirds love most.
Try Different Feeders
We’ve also found that hummingbirds can be somewhat persnickety about feeders. We’ve used many different kinds of hummingbird feeders, from the conventional style with a glass bottle and plastic bottom to whimsical feeders shaped like strawberries, most with good results. But there have been a few designs that the hummingbirds refused to use. So if everything else about your yard seems right, you might try experimenting with different types of hummingbird feeders from the ones you’ve been using.
Next, check out the essential guide to hummingbird food.
Hummingbird Sugar Water Recipe
If you haven’t memorized the recipe yet for hummingbird sugar water, then now is the time. Combine four parts hot water to one part sugar. Mix it up until it’s completely dissolved. Once it cools to room temperature, it’s ready. Follow these expert tips to attract more hummingbirds.
Do I Need to Boil Sugar Water for Hummingbirds?
“Is it necessary to boil the sugar water mixture for hummingbird feeders? I just stir until the sugar is dissolved. I’ve always wondered if it’s safe to make my hummingbird food recipe without boiling,” asks Amy Kernes of Brea, California.
Opinions differ on the importance of boiling the hummingbird food mixture. We always do boil the water to neutralize some impurities that might be in the water or sugar. Besides, sugar dissolves more easily in hot water. But as soon as the feeder is outdoors, contaminants will get into the water anyway, brought by hummingbirds, insects or just a breeze. So at best, boiling the mixture keeps it fresh a little longer. If your water is good and your time is limited, washing the feeder thoroughly and often is more important than boiling the sugar water mixture.
Using really hot water will usually suffice to dissolve the sugar. However, if you plan on making extra hummingbird sugar water to store in the fridge or you have so-so water quality, then it’s best to boil.
Check out 13 questions about hummingbird feeders answered by experts.
Stick to White Sugar
It’s always best to stick with real white sugar in your hummingbird feeders. Say no to sugar substitutes and brown sugar. Check out the essential guide to hummingbird food.
Don’t Add Honey
Some people like to come up with creative ways to sweeten their sugar water without sugar, and the most common stand-in is honey. Honey can make your sugar water mixture ferment more quickly. Skip the honey, and stick to sugar.
Skip the Red Food Coloring
Even though every bird expert seems to agree that you don’t need red dye, people still add it to their sugar water. You also see companies offering pre-made hummingbird sugar water that is red. If this is you, don’t feel bad—but it’s time to break this habit once and for all. You don’t need red water to attract hummingbirds. In fact, the food coloring could be bad for the birds (scientists are still figuring this one out). Either way, it’s not worth the risk. Hummingbirds love these red flowers.
Keep Sugar Water Clean
Hummingbird sugar water eventually goes bad, unless you’re lucky enough to have a busy feeder that the hummingbirds quickly empty. You should be in the habit of changing it every few days or even sooner if it’s really hot outside. Also, don’t forget to clean your feeders regularly. Mold can collect, so you want to make sure you’re offering hummingbirds clean, safe water.
Need clever tips for cleaning the nooks and crannies of hummingbird sugar water feeders? Our readers can help. “I rinse my feeders with vinegar, and they stay clean. I rinse them every time I change the food. It’s so easy and works well,” says Mattie Stillwell of Tenaha, Texas. “I keep a box of parakeet gravel on hand to clean my feeders. Put a couple teaspoons in the feeder with warm water, then swirl and rise. It cleans the toughest mold,” says Sally Brovold Kulm of North Dakota.
Add a Second Hummingbird Feeder
Add another sugar water feeder in late summer when migration increases. This will help keep territorial male hummingbirds from fighting for space. Psst—we found hummingbird feeders and accessories your birds will love.
As cooler weather approaches in fall, butterflies and hummingbirds migrate south for the winter. Help them along the way or provide great nectar once they reach their southern destinations by adding Mexican bush sage to your butterfly garden this fall. Your backyard hummingbirds (and butterflies!) go crazy for the abundant nectar in the beautiful late-season purple-and-white blooms.
Check out more late-blooming fall flowers that attract butterflies.
How to Grow Mexican Bush Sage
Mexican bush sage is native to Mexico and South America, and does well in gardens in warmer areas. In cool climates, treat this shrubby perennial as an annual and plant it as soon as the threat of frost has passed. It needs a long growing season and mild winter to survive. Though it’s not frost-hardy, it can be covered to protect it from occasional cold nights in zones 9 – 11, and will bloom from late fall to early summer. In zone 8, grow it for the great fall blooms that last until the first cold snap kills it to the ground; it will return the following year. Learn how to find the first and last frost dates.
- Latin name: Salvia leucantha
- Growing zones: Annual to zone 8
- Attracts: Hummingbirds and butterflies
- Light needs: Full sun
- Size: 3 feet tall and wide
- Grown for: Showy, nectar-rich blooms that last from summer until frost
- Foliage: The leaves and flowers have a fuzzy, velvety texture.
- Notable characteristics: This backyard favorite is low maintenance, drought-tolerant and container-friendly.
The silvery foliage of Mexican bush sage is just as attractive as the fuzzy white and purple blooms, but it’s these blooms that draw butterflies and hummingbirds. In my Florida garden, only a few hummingbirds visit each year, but this is one of only three plants I’ve ever seen them feed on. Like other salvias, the blooms grow on a long stalk. Trim back the stalk after flowering to encourage new flushes of blooms throughout the season.
Most people who grow Mexican bush sage note that it requires dry winters. Too much water during cooler weather may cause rot. When it does well, though, it simply thrives. Keep it pruned to stay within the boundaries of your garden. Mexican bush sage does not self-seed readily, so it will not spread where you don’t want it. Give it full to part sun and enough space to grow to about 3 feet tall once it starts blooming, and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds arrive!
Next, check out the top colorful flowers hummingbirds love.
Looking for an interesting native wildflower with striking color that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds? Cardinal flower might be the answer, though it doesn’t work for every location. If you can provide good wet soil and a little afternoon shade, though, the spikes of cardinal flower will reward you with visits from plenty of pollinators.
Eye-catching stalks of vibrant scarlet, white or rose flowers pop in summers garden from July to September. Deer and rabbits usually avoid the plant. It adds height to edges and thrives in moist, challenging growing conditions like rain gardens, along ponds and in wet meadows.
- Latin name: Lobelia cardinalis
- Growing zones: 3 to 9
- Attracts: Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees
- Light needs: Prefers partial shade but grows in full sun with moist soil
- Size: Shoots 2 to 4 feet high, spreads up to 2 feet wide.
- Grown for: Nectar-packed, showy blooms hummingbirds love
- Foliage: Tall stalks with long, thin, dark-green leaves
- Cultivars to try: Alba has striking white blooms, while Rose Princess has bronze stems and deep pink petals
Cardinal flower is native to the eastern United States, where it grows it wet woodlands. The flower spikes can reach 4 feet tall. It will re-bloom throughout the summer, especially when spent spikes are trimmed back to encourage new growth. It does need wet soil to thrive, so if you have a soggy spot in the yard, or are looking to plant something along the edge of a backyard pond, this is a great solution. Cardinal flower is a short-lived perennial. It spreads by basal rosettes at the base of the plant, which can be divided every few years, and also by seed.
Cardinal flower’s blue counterpart is great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), and the two are very eye-catching when planted together. If you’re looking to attract hummingbirds, though, red cardinal flower is your best bet.
Check out the top red flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Want to know how to attract birds? To turn your yard into a year-round destination for your feathered friends, zero in on the big three: food, water and shelter.
How to Attract Birds: Think Beyond Feeders
Common bird species like chickadees and goldfinches readily visit feeders, but many others don’t. “While feeders do provide a great resource, especially in colder climates where birds may have a hard time accessing food in the winter, they don’t feed all birds,” says Becca Rodomsky-Bish, a project leader with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “More than 90 percent of North American songbirds need insects to raise their young.”
Check out the 10 types of bird feeders you need in your backyard,
How to Attract Birds: Provide Natural Food Sources
A good habitat includes plants to provide natural sources of berries, seeds and nectar. You’ll also want plants that draw insects. Choose native plants, shrubs and trees for your backyard habitat to maximize the benefits for feathered visitors. Most berries ripen in the fall, just when birds are undertaking arduous migrations that require lots of sugar-fueled energy.
To find the best choices for your yard, shop at native plant nurseries or consult your local county extension office.
How to Attract Birds: Just Add Water
Wonderful wildlife habitats supply birds with plenty of water for drinking and bathing. Lakes, ponds and streams are the best natural resources, but birdbaths are a good substitute. Be sure to keep birdbaths clean and provide fresh water regularly.
Birds prefer moving water, so think about adding a solar-activated water agitator to your birdbath. In colder climates, experts suggest heated baths to keep the water from freezing. This will also draw flocks when temperatures drop and open water is hard to find.
How to Attract Birds: Grow Shrubs for Shelter
If you’re wondering why you don’t see many birds at your feeders, lack of shelter could be the problem. Birds need protected spaces to raise their young, hide from predators and take cover during bad weather. Feeders without nearby shelter can actually endanger birds, making them vulnerable to hawks and other predators while they eat. Plant shrubs or trees to give birds a convenient place to hide if danger threatens.
How to Attract Birds: Provide Birdhouses
If you truly want your yard to be a gathering place for feathered families, birdhouses and nest boxes are essential additions. Becca emphasizes that it’s important to make smart decisions based on the visitors most commonly seen in your area. “Nest boxes help to replace the snags or standing dead trees that are frequently removed from neighborhoods or properties,” she says.
Different species have different requirements, including hole size, box depth and placement. She recommends using NestWatch’s Right Bird, Right House online tool to find the perfect box for your local nesters. Or check out this birdhouse hole size chart.
You can also get creative by following these instructions to make a purple martin birdhouse out of a gourd!
Get more tips on how to attract birds to a birdhouse.
Check Your Yard for Hazards
Building a backyard habitat brings great pleasures, but there are also great responsibilities. “When you invite birds in, make sure you protect them once they arrive,” Becca advises. “While we don’t want to discourage habitat creation, it is important to ask yourself if you are really helping the birds if, once they show up, there are dangerous obstacles that could threaten them.”
Feeders that are low to the ground may accidentally turn visitors into easy prey for ground-based predators, such as outdoor cats. Those feeders can also attract nuisance animals like raccoons, which may stick around and snack on eggs in nearby nests, too. Hang feeders high and use baffles to deter predators. Keep your cats indoors—and urge your neighbors to do the same.
Check out 5 ways to create a bird-safe backyard.
Prevent Window Strikes
Windows are another major issue. The American Bird Conservancy estimates as many as one billion birds are killed in window collisions each year. They recommend adding decals, paint, tape or screens to make windows safer. Here are more tips for preventing bird strikes.
How to Learn More About Birds
As more avian species begin to call your backyard home, take time to learn about each bird using field guides and websites. Pick up a pair of binoculars so you can see feeder guests more clearly, or invest in a good camera and take up wildlife photography. Share your observations using online programs like FeederWatch or the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Backyard birding is a worthwhile and relaxing hobby, and making a few simple adjustments can turn any landscape into a must-stop location for avian visitors. Get more tips on bird-watching for beginners.
“Rabbits ate all of my marigolds. What are your suggestions for other colorful, long-blooming, rabbit resistant flowers?” says Peggy Connors of Newton, New Hampshire.
Seeing your precious flowers be gobbled up by wildlife can be frustrating at times! You are not alone in searching for a rabbit resistant flower garden solution.
(Psst—if squirrels are stealing all your birdseed, check out these squirrel-proof feeders.)
I hesitate to list any plant as rabbit resistant, since the eating habits of these critters can change when populations are high and their food is scarce. And know that what works in one garden may not work in another. Though marigolds are often listed as rabbit resistant flowers, you discovered that this is not always the case. The easiest solution is to try adding a variety of plants—if rabbits decide to devour one type, the other flowers can still provide needed color.
Something to keep in mind when reviewing any lists of rabbit resistant plants: There will most likely be discrepancies. Ageratum, cleome, flowering tobacco, snapdragons and verbenas appear on several rabbit resistant plant lists. Russian sage is also often listed as deer and rabbit resistant. You can also try red trillium, pasque flower and wild petunia. Zinnias appear on both susceptible and rabbit resistant flowering plant lists.
Keep records of what works in your garden and be prepared to add new varieties as needed.
Another solution is planting your garden just out of reach. Grow flowers and veggies in containers on a porch or deck, away from the rabbits. A 4-foot-tall wire fence will also do. Just be sure to bury the bottom 6 inches deep to prevent rabbits from digging under it.
Next, check out 5 deer-resistant bulbs for spring blooms.