Got Ants on Your Feeders? & Other Hummingbird Info

It’s so easy to keep ants off your hummingbird feeders. I often hear people say they can’t feed the hummingbirds because the ants take
over the feeder. The solution is simple. Use an ant moat! An ant moat is a very small water barrier the ant has to cross before it gets to the
feeder. The ants will not swim the distance of ½ inch to get to the sugar water.

Some ant moats are separate from the feeder. (Imagine a spray paint can lid turned upside down with a hook on the inside and the outside.)
Fill the moat with water and place the moat between the hummingbird feeder and the hook where you usually hang the feeder.

My favorite feeder has the ant moat built in. This feeder is called the HummZinger and is available at the local bird stores.* This is easiest of all the feeders to clean and does not have any yellow color on it. (Yellow is supposed to attract bees and wasps.) I use a sun/rain shade to protect the feeder from rain.

Prepare for the Hummingbirds

  • If you don’t leave feeders out all year, put them out by mid-March. Expect to see the first hummingbird anytime between mid-March and the first week in April.
  • Hummingbirds are very territorial and one bird will defend a feeder. If you want to see more birds in
    your garden, place several feeders together.
  • In early spring before your garden has flowers blooming, buy a basket of colorful annuals to attract the
    birds. Plant your garden to provide blooms as early as possible and lasting until frost.
  • Red food coloring is not required to attract the birds.
  • Yellow attracts wasps and bees. Use red nail polish to cover any yellow on existing feeders.
    Keep the feeders clean and change the sugar-water mixture every third day when weather is hot.
  • Hummingbirds are important pollinators. Avoid pesticides!
  • Use a mister or dripper to provide a water source for hummingbird baths.
  • My favorite hummingbird flowers: columbine, red and blue salvia, impatiens, coral honeysuckle,
    butterfly bush, lantana, petunias, trumpet vine and lobelia.
  • My favorite bird store is “Strictly for the Birds” in Lawrenceville.

Mycorrhizal Inoculation: Does It Benefit Plant Growth?

Mycorrhizal (pronounced my-core-RYE-zall) fungi have a mutualistic relationship with the plant roots that they colonize. The tiny strands of the fungi or mycelia extend far into the soil and become extensions of the plant’s root system. The mycelia increase the surface absorbing area of the roots by one to two orders of magnitude (10 to 100 times) thereby greatly increasing the plants ability to utilize soil nutrients and water absorption. Several miles of mycelium can be found in a thimble full of soil. According to Michael Miller, senior soil scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, “Basically, 90 percent of the world’s vascular plants belong to families that have symbiotic associations with mycorrhizal fungi.”

The mycorrhizal fungi increase nutrient uptake not only by increasing the surface absorbing root area but also by chemically dissolving phosphorus, iron, and other tightly bond soil nutrients. Due to the extensive network of mycelium, mycorrhizal plants also have a greater ability to take-up and store water than non-mycorrhizal plants decreasing drought stress.

Mycorrhizal fungi also improve soil structure by producing polysaccharides or organic glues that bind soils into aggregates and improve soil porosity. Improving the soil porosity and structure aerates the soil and promotes water movement, root growth, and root distribution.

Science has verified that when present, mycorrhizal fungi not only provide increased water, mineral, and nutrient uptake but also increase feeder root longevity by providing a biological deterrent to root infection by soil pathogens.

Most undisturbed soils already contain beneficial organisms including various types of mycorrhizal fungi. In native plant communities, certain mycorrhizas have coevolved with specific plant species. Undisturbed sites with native plant communities are likely to have functional mycorrhizas that will colonize the roots of newly planted native species. Conversely, non-native plants planted on these sites may or may not form associations with local mycorrhizal population.

Tillage, fertilization, removal of top soil, erosion, site preparation, road and home construction, fumigation, invasion of non-native species, and leaving soils bare are some of the activities that can reduce or eliminate beneficial soil fungi.

Routine nursery and greenhouse practices, such as fumigation and using high levels of water and nutrients, result in producing non-mycorrhizal plants. The high levels of fertilizer and water provided to non-mycorrhizal plants allow them to thrive in this artificial growing environment, however, they are ill prepared to survive in their eventual outdoor environment.

Mycorrhizal fungi, either naturally occurring or artificially introduced, are capable of colonizing the roots of numerous trees, plants, and food crops.

More and more companies have begun producing and selling mycorrhizal inoculants. Artificial mycorrhizal inoculation may benefit plants when
there are no natural mycorrhizas in the soil or the mycorrhizas are not appropriate for the species. Inoculation may be beneficial in highly impoverished soils (such as mine spoil sites) that cannot support natural fungi growth. New construction and home landscapes, where the topsoil
has been removed, may also be a prime candidate for artificial mycorrhizal inoculants.

Successful treatment with artificial inoculants cannot be guaranteed since (1) the existing soil may already contain native mycorrhizal fungi that will out-compete the introduced mycorrhizas or (2) the soil organic matter content may not be adequate. The presence of organic matter is known to enhance the development of mycorrhizae.

Commercially produced mycorrhizal inoculant fungi for plants, trees, and food crops are on the rise. These inoculants have the fungal spores “enhanced” with root stimulants, fertilizers, humic acids, water absorbent gels, and other ingredients that are intended to invigorate roots and promote plant growth.

The debate, however, continues over the validity of applying these artificial mycorrhizal inoculants to the soil. There is very little, unbiased scientific evidence to confirm that mycorrhizal inoculation of plants actually improves their growth and survivability compared to non-inoculated species. The available evidence is rather inconsistent.

Either commercially prepared inoculants are not very viable or that they are not viable by the time they reach the consumer. Any short-term positive effects on plant growth might be attributed to the fertilizer components and other ingredients that are often present in the commercially available mycorrhizal inoculants.

Let us recap some of the recently published scientific research that examines the validity of claims made by some commercially produced inoculants.

  1. Liquidambar styraciflua (sweetgum) inoculated with commercial products from Earth Roots, MycoApply endo, and VAM 80 had greater leaf area, dry mass, and growth rate relative to non-mycorrhizal sweetgum in a nursery environment. Two other commercial
    products showed no relative growth enhancement compared to a non-inoculated, control sweetgum. (Effectiveness of Commercial Mycorrhizal Inoculants on the Growth of Liquidambar styraciflua in Plant Nursery Conditions. J. Environmental Horticulture (2005), 23(2):72-76. Corkidi, Lea, et al.)
  2. Hardwood and pine forests in North Carolina and New Hampshire showed that active fungal biomass was 27% to 69% lower in the fertilized plots compared to the control plots. Active bacterial biomass was not greatly affected by nitrogen additions. Ectomycorrhizal fungi community diversity was lower in the nitrogen treated plot than in the control plot. (Chronic Nitrogen Enrichment Affects the Structure and Function of the Soil Microbial Community in Temperate Hardwood and Pine Forests. Forest Ecology and Management (2004) 196: 159-171; Frey, S.D. et al.)
  3. A methodology has been developed for preparation and use of vascular-arbuscularmycorrhiza for seed treatment in the form of a slurry application that show promising signs that indicate enhanced plant growth of economically important agricultural and horticultural crops in New Delhi. (Mycorrhiza and its Significance in Sustainable Forest Development. Orissa Review, India (2004). Mishra, B.B. et al.)
  4. Using established Quercus palustris (pin oak), Quercus phellos (willow oak), and Acer rubrum (red maple), scientists found no apparent measurable growth benefit to inoculation with a commercial mycorrhizal fungal product, unless it was combined with fertilizer.
    (Mycorrhizal Fungal Inoculation of Established Street Trees. J. Arboric (2003) 29:107-110. Appleton, B., et al.)
  5. In the oak savanna in Minnesota, increased nitrogen supply decreased the diversity and shifted the composition of ectomycorrhizal fungal communities. (Long-term Increase in Nitrogen Supply Alters Above and Below Ground Ectomycorrhizal Communities and Increases the Dominance of Russula spp. In a Temperate Oak Savanna. New Phytologist (2003) 160:239-253; Avis, P.G., McLauglin, D.J. et al.)
  6. In a study with Quercus phellos (willow oak), trees inoculated at the time of installation showed no survival or growth enhancement one year after the inoculation treatment. (Can Mycorrhizae Improve Tree Establishment in the Landscape? Proc. SNA Res. Conf. (200) 45:405-407; Calson, J., et al.)
  7. Established Quercus virginiana (live oak) showed a significant and rapid increase in fine root development six months after fertilizer, mycorrhizal inoculant, and fertilizer/mycorrhizal inoculant treatments. (Root Response of Mature Live Oaks in Coastal South Carolina to Root Zone Inoculations with Ectomycorrhizal Fungus Inoculants. J. Arboric (1997) 23:257-263; Marx, D.H., et al.)

The bottom line seems to be that artificial inoculation may have either a positive or neutral effect on plant growth and health. In any case, artificial inoculation has not been found to be injurious to the plants.

I’ll be trying mycorrhizal inoculants this spring when I do my annual attempt at propagation. It may take several seasons to determine the results but I will report them to the GMG.

Research indicates that organic soil amendments, particularly the addition of composted mulches, greatly enhance the mycorrhizal status of landscape plants without the addition of artificial mycorrhizal inoculants. Other research suggests that the jury is still out.

If you already have a healthy soil, you probably don’t need inoculants. Improvements in soil conditions may really be the most important factor in mycorrhizal development in the landscape. To encourage your own mycorrhizas:

  • Avoid as much as possible soil disturbances such as annual tilling.
  • Avoid the use of synthetic pesticides, especially fungicides.
  • Avoid soil compaction.
  • Where possible, avoid the removal organic material, like leaves, from the beds.
  • Mulch with partially composted leaves and other organic material.
  • Encourage birds and other beneficial wildlife to visit your garden.
  • When planting native trees and shrubs, add some organic duff from the woodland near your home to the planting hole. This duff likely contains spores of locally occurring mycorrhizas.

The Enchanting Moonlit Garden

Fragrant plants, the swish of flowing water, and the whisper of wind chimes carried by the gentle evening breezes enhance the mystery of summer twilight. Although white flowers in daylight are a pleasing picture creating a felling of coolness and refinement, the moonlit garden is enchanting with flower shapes standing out as if they were lights themselves. At evening time, settle yourself into a comfortable Adirondack, sip on a refreshing beverage, and enjoy your Moonlit Garden.

What plants will you be enjoying in your garden? What qualities make them special? What combination of lighting and garden accents will enhance the garden experience? While searching for the perfect combination of plants for your moonlit garden select those with light flower coloration of various heights and fragrances. Select silvery iridescent foliage, different textures, or night blooming flowers.

The poplar Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria) is a half-hardy perennial whose lacey silver-gray leaves bask in the sunshine during the day and glimmer in the moonlight at night. Dusty Miller is a drought tolerant that demands full sun and a well-drained soil.

Try the heady fragrance of the waxy white, funnel shaped tuberoses (Polianthes tuberosa). These white tubular flowers are loosely arranged on spikes that can reach 3 or 4 feet in height. They have long, narrow, grass-like basal leaves. The tuberose is available with either single or double flowers. It is best located near patios, walks and decks, or in containers so it may be placed where its perfume may be enjoyed to the fullest.

In evenings and on cloudy days white, fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers grace the vigorous Moonflower vine. Trumpets may be up to 6 inches across while the vine rambles up to 20 feet in length. To keep the Moonflower happy, be sure to give it plenty of sunshine.

You may modify the plant selection to include an all white theme, night-scented flowers, or night blooming flowers. Another way to vary this garden is to add plants with foliage in contrasting shades of white, blue, and gray. Your garden may also have flowers in pale pink, blue, or yellow, as these colors will reflect the glow of the moon at night. Don’t forget to include trees and shrubs with interesting shapes and exfoliating barks. These will look especially nice under lighting and during winter.

Botanical Name Common Name Type Fragrant Drought Tolerance Foliage Interest
Achillea millefolium Common Yarrow Perennial Aromatic Yes Moderate
Azalea, Rhododendron Rhododendron Varieties Shrub Yes No No
Cerastium tomentosum Snow-In-Summer Groundcover No Moderate No
Chrysanthemum maximum Shasta Daisy Perennial No No No
Cistus salvifolius Sageleaf Rockrose Groundcover No Yes No
Clematis –white Clematis spp Vine Yes No No
Gardenia ssp Gardenia Shrub Yes No No
Hemerocallis spp Selected Daylilies Perennial Yes Moderate No
Hosta Hosta Perennial Yes Moderate Yes
Iberis sempervirens Candytuft Perennial No No No
Impatiens White Impatiens Annual No No No
Lamium Beaconsilver Lamium Groundcover Slight Moderate Yes
Lilium White, bicolor lilies Bulb Yes Moderate No
Mentha Mint Perennial Yes Moderate Yes
Magnolia spp Star Magnolia Tree Yes No No
Nicotiana-white Nicotiana Annual Yes Moderate No
Rosa banksias ‘Alba Plena’ Lady Bank’s Rose Vine Yes No No
Spiraea prunifolium Bridalwreath Shrub No No No
Trachelospermum jasminoides Star Jasmine Vine Yes Moderate No
Viburnum spp Viburnum Shrub No No No
Yucca spp Yucca Perennial Yes Yes No

Coleus: Color So Bright “I Gotta Wear Shades”

Most of us gardeners have learned patience through our plant endeavors. Some of us even enjoy being teased for weeks by the swelling buds of something soon to be magnificent, but only lasting days. But sometimes, let’s admit it, we want the instantaneous ratification of instant non-stop color…just add water and presto! I do enjoy creating instant curbside appeal with colors so bright “I gotta wear shades”!

COLEUSIn my landscape, I have my designated annual beds where I concentrate on bold color masses. Though there are many beautiful annual summer blooming flowers, Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides), by far, is my absolute favorite! I don’t have to wait for flowers because the color is all in the leaves! With its various textures and colors ranging from purple, red, orange, hot pink, chartreuse, yellow to soft pastels, there are so many possibilities. I have beautiful color from spring to frost with minimal upkeep!

Native to Eastern Asia and Malaysia, coleus has become naturalized in many tropical settings such as Hawaii, Fiji, and the Cook Islands. In the mid 1800’s, Dutch traders introduced the plant to Europe and the plant breeders quickly began to hybridize new, more colorful cultivars. This soon caught the eye of British and American gardeners as well. Coleus is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Don’t be frightened! Unlike true mints (Mentha spp.), coleus does not have runners and cannot survive our Georgia winter temperatures. As soon as first frost comes, it’s history.

I’ve also found that coleus is not just for shade. There are many wonderful cultivars that can handle full sun! Special thanks to Dr. Allan Armitage of the University of Georgia for introducing many of these new cultivars that thrive and stay bright-colored in our southern sun! In fact many of the cultivars that are said to prefer shade, can handle the sun. They just fade to a lighter color usually more yellow or golden) in full sun. They will also require more frequent watering.

COLEUSBe sure to group your annual coleus in masses rather than spotty hit n’ miss plantings. Not only will this have the most impact, but also they will be far easier to care for. To achieve this impact, have designated annual beds. Annual beds look best when the soil is mounded about six to ten inches above ground level. When dealing with an area of poor red clay soil, first till up the area about 2 or 3 inches deep. Then mix approximately 2-parts soil conditioner, 1-part mushroom compost, and 1-part topsoil in your wheelbarrow. dd this mix to the existing soil and till again. Then with a shovel and rake, work the area into a nice mound. At this point, add a slow release fertilizer (such as Osmocote) and water saving crystals (mix according to label) mixing in about three to six inches deep. Then mark the planting holes with your trowel (spacing will depend of cultivar) about six to twelve inches apart and three to four inches deep. Prior to planting, thoroughly water the soil and the individual plants. Now the area is ready to pop the plants in. If the plants look a little root bound, gently pull the root ball apart with your fingers while placing in the hole. Now tuck the soil around the plant eliminating air pockets. To help retain moisture and eliminate weeds, place a thin layer (one half to one inch) of pine bark mini-chips around the plants. Then cleanup the plants with one last misting of water.

There’s no guessing as when to water next. Coleus will do the droopy dance when it gets thirsty. Just water and within a couple of hours they’re perked up again. My coleus beds that are in full sun and next to the street require two thorough watering per week in he summer (if it hasn’t rained). Other than watering, I pinch off the upper third of the plant (about three to four times a season), to keep it from getting leggy and flowering. Yes, this is one plant that you want to pinch off the flower buds. If you decide to let it loom, they do attract all sorts of great pollinators.

COLEUSTo keep the color alive, many gardeners collect root cuttings in fall. It’s easily propagated by taking four inch cuttings of healthy Plants just prior to first frost. Using a sharp clean knife, cut just below the leaf node at an angle. Remove the lower leaves (keeping he top two to four leaves) and submerse about one to two inches of the stem in water. Place the cuttings in a sunny window and be sure to change the water a couple of times a week. Within two weeks, you’ll see roots developing. They are then ready to transplant into a container with good, well drained, sterile potting medium. Keep inside until last frost has passed and ground temperature has armed up to at least 50 degrees F. The cuttings also can be rooted directly in soil. For this, use two to four inch cuttings, removing ll leaves except the top two. Place the stem about one inch deep into moist soil (you can dip first into a rooting hormone such as Roottone). Again, be sure that you are using a good, well-drained, sterile potting medium. Place your containers in a warm sunny window and do not allow the soil to dry out.

Through my various research of coleus, I was actually surprised to see how many cultivars of coleus existed. I had found there to be 922 listed cultivars! There are variations in color, size, form, and leaf shape. There are forms that are tall and thin to short ground covers to full mounds; leaves that are scalloped to twisted, to lacy; and colors of the rainbow that are solid to speckled, to striped.

Just in case you can’t find the variation you desire with coleus alone, there are many other annual companion plants to choose from. For plantings in full sun, low growing verbena is a nice accent around the base of your beds. Other sun loving annuals that do well with coleus are Ageratum, Pentas, and Zinnia. In shade, use Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), Impatiens, and Caladiums. If you
choose to place your coleus in a container, be sure to use a large container at least twelve inches in diameter. Add sweet potato vine at the base of the coleus to fall over the edge of the container.

Now put on your shades and get ready for a blast of summer color!

Sidebar:
The following websites were a great resource of information:
Coleus Finder has wonderful images and will help with locating a nursery: http://www.coleusfinder.org
Glasshouse Works also has a great library & catalog: http://www.rareplants.com/gallery2.html

QUICK FACTS
Common Name: Coleus or Painted Nettle
Botanical Name: Solenostemon scutellarioides
Native Range: Eastern Asia and Malaysia
Cold hardiness: Will not survive frost.
Color: varies from soft pastels to vivid pink, purple, red, orange, yellow, chartreuse, green.
Blooming Period: A mint-like flower stalk usually purple.
Type: Annual
Size: Varies from six inches to four feet.
Exposure: Full sun to shade

KEYS TO SUCCESS
When to Plant: After last frost and soil temps warmed to at least 50 deg. F.
How to Plant: Raised bed of six to ten inches well-amended soil.
Spacing: Six to twelve inches depending on cultivar.
Soil: Acid, rich organic, moist.
Watering: About two times per week or when top one to two inches of soil is dry.
When to Prune: Pinch off approximately one-third of plant when flower stalk appears.
When to Fertilize: Use slow release fertilizer at time of planting.
Suggestions for Your Landscape: Plant in masses of at least one foot wide by six feet long.