Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nesting and bloom update

Wow. Things have changed in the garden. I was out of town for week and when I got back I was amazed how quickly things change this time of the year. Suddenly I feel like there is so much to do in the garden, and suddenly I am so far behind. Here is a brief update of the goings on...

It appears that everything has leaves, buds or flowers on it now; below I list what is in bloom.
Nesting Update
  • the chickadees are bringing nesting material into their box (click here for my favorite nesting material combo- squirrel and moss).
  • The flickers evidently completed the excavation of their box all while we were gone.
  • The mystery this year was what was happening in the nuthatch box? The nuthatches "claimed" this box early on, but then some chickadees began excavating it, and pretty regularly. And there was no sign of the pair of nuthatches. Were these the same chickadees that were also going to nest in the normal chickadee box? And who's ever heard of 2 pairs of chickadees nesting the same yard? Craziness- they need a couple of acres because of competition for food. But now, all has been revealed- the nuthatches have returned and they are now nearly completely done excavating their box.

Once they finish excavating they will probably continue their tiny onslaught of my bent willow furniture- shredding off the bark into fine nesting material for their little, freshly excavated cavity. Then they will carefully line to opening of the box with sap- lest I try to get back said components of my bent willow furniture. Order has been restored.
Bloom Update:

Flowering now- arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata ), golden current (Ribes aureum), blue bells (Mertensia oblongifolia ), larkspur (Delphinium bicolor ), Jacobs ladder (Polemonium pulcherrimum), biscuitroot (Lomatium triternatum and L. dissectum), violets (Viola canadensis ) pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens), cutleaf daisy (Erigeron compositus, pictured above), blue virginsbower (Clematis occidentalis, see photo at beginning of the post of the virginsbower on my clothesline), prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), blue eyed mary (Collinsia parviflora, see below- this is one of my favorites, and it makes a nice groundcover), sivery lupine (Lupinus argenteus ), kittentails (Synthyris missurica ), Oregon grape (Mahonia repens ), and many more species flowering every day that it is hard to keep up.

So much to do. Last weekend I removed a little remnant lawn patch that I have had my eye on to turn from lawn to what I call a mowable prairie. In the lawn's place I planted natives that can be mown and maintained- like a lawn was originally intended- a meadow that could be mown to a height that would allow for paths and play areas. Instead of a lawn or a water hungry meadow, I planted this with drought tolerant, trample resistant natives like yarrow (Achillea millefolium ), hairy golden aster (Heterotheca villosa), mixed aster and erigeron species. After planting starts and transplants in the mowable prairie area, I covered the whole thing with mulch, but not just any mulch, gentle reader, a special mulch... this mulch is made from seed heads and flower parts I cut off last fall and kept in a bag out side all winter (cold stratification). Then I carefully (read: not at all) applied it to the surface of the fresh bed. I've found that with hairy golden aster, and my bag of assorted asters (by assorted I mean I can't really tell the difference between most asters and erigerons in my garden), they do great germinating when laid down in a mulch. I have been waiting for rain to do this, and by golly the rain has finally come (hopefully it will continue for a little while).

I did have a chance to also plant my potatoes, beets, peas, and other things I am probably forgetting and I finally built a new raised bed- for onions (see below, with cat guard installed), I moved the hill that was in its place and potted up all the asters and such that were on the hill. Maybe this weekend, I'll plant those potted up plants into the front yard or fill in other places in the yard.
Now I am well on my way to completing my 2010 garden project list (click here for this list). According to the list, the only thing left is making a new composter, but in reality, the list has really grown...

Lots going on suddenly, more updates with pictures to follow, oh and, a new arrival to the garden yesterday, a golden crowned kinglet.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hummingbirds are coming

The 15th of April does not just mean the open date of spring black bear season in Montana, nor is it just the income tax filing date- to me the 15th of April is a reminder that the hummingbirds will be back soon. Hummingbirds are one of the few birds we set out feeders for. So its time to get them get them ready.
But nearly as important as providing feeders is planting native plants that flower coincidental with their arrival. Here wax currants (Ribes cereum) and golden currants (R. aureum) are the first to bloom, and golden currants (like the one above) are just about to flower in our yard and in Missoula. As a result, these are the most visited by the travel-weary humming birds (click here to read about other non-traditional humming bird plants).
This year, I am excited to have wax currants in our garden; while attending the Calypso Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society's meeting, I bought three from Catherine Cain of Southwest Montana Native Landscapes and I found out that Kathy Settevendemie of Blackfoot Native Plant Nursery , who was also at the meeting, sells them as well.

The exact date of hummingbird arrival depends on native plants. Hummingbirds follow the blooms of many plant species on their way north to their nesting sites. It is these plants that provide them with the sustenance for their travels and will ensure plenty of food when they court, nest and raise their nestlings. So, hummingbirds are intimately tied to native plants. Just like butterflies, hummingbirds will feed on any flower at certain times, but the timing of the flowering of native plants is critical for them.

Planting firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), or other commonly described "hummingbird" plants may have little benefit to them (click here for more information and plant selections).
So its time to get those feeders ready, but, more importantly, get those native plants ready!

Oh, since my last post, I noticed that one of my favorites, the blue eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora)is in full bloom, and so are kittentails (Synthyris missurica).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Early spring wildflowers in our yard

Here's a brief post- a look at what is flowering this week in our garden. Above are shooting stars (Dodecatheon conjugens), dramatic, if not tiny.

Below the prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) is pinking up.One thing I am really happy about is that we have incorporated a lot of diversity in our garden, and by diversity, I don't mean rare plants. Most plants in our garden are locally common and easy to grow. The reason I like this, is that what is flowering in our garden is also in bloom on the hills, forests and remnant short grass prairies around Missoula.
Below the prairie crocus or pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) is starting to bloom in the shadier areas of our yard.

But in the front prairie, the is a lot more happening. The sagebrush buttercups (Ranunculus glaberrimus), the first to flower are still hanging on...

and so are the aptly named yellowbells (Frittellaria pudica).

I suspect if I looked hard enough, I'd find some lomatium in flower, but why spoil all the surprises in one day.
Soon, however, lots more species will join in the bloom, like bluebells (Mertensia oblongifloia),

larkspur (Delphinium bicolor),

and even arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), which had a good year last year. Let's hope the seedlings that showed their first leaves last year will be back for another. Then in a mere 5 or 6 six short years, our little prairie will be awash in balsamroot!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Native Plant Society/ Native Plant Gardening Workshop Presentation

Thanks to Catherine Cain, the Calypso Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society and the Big Hole Watershed Weed Committee for organizing such a wonderful Native Plant Gardening Workshop. It was a fantastic turnout, and I am already looking forward to attending next year's event.

As promised, click here to download a .pdf of the presentation I gave this morning.

Also, in talking to some of you this morning, here are some past blog posts that might be helpful:
How to remove your lawn
Important plants for hummingbirds
Time series and change in our garden
Growing a bird garden- a link to download the Montana Outdoors article
How to build a brush pile

Thanks again, and I hope you all enjoyed the workshop.