Look carefully at the center of the picture, and you’ll see an almost-sharp picture of a female goldfinch feeding on Rudbeckia seeds in my perennial border. This time of year, we can’t open our back door without disturbing a flock of these noisy little guys–sometimes more than a dozen at a time shoot out of the border and take flight across the backyard. They’re hard to photograph because they move so fast. But yesterday I finally captured this one.

Each year, from the time the first seeds ripen on plants in the Asteraceae–the enormous aster family, which includes all the Rudbeckias and sunflowers, in addition to the asters–we see and hear goldfinches all day, every day. Goldfinches are exclusively seed eaters, and they nest late so there will be lots of seeds available to feed their young. And this particular perennial border, full of sunflowers and Rudbeckia, is a cafeteria for goldfinches. We see and hear them from the beginning of August through early fall each year. When I planted the perennials, I expected to get pretty flowers, but I didn’t know I would get entertainment as well.



7/26/13: In the garden this week


The first sunflower (a perennial species, downy sunflower or Helianthus mollis) opened in my garden a day or so ago. Native perennial sunflowers are much easier to grow than the annuals that most people think of as sunflowers. The perennials are back-of-the-border plants that grow up to about 6′ tall and will bloom through October. Goldfinches and other small birds will hang from the seedheads upside down to eat the nutritious small seeds.

It’s National Moth Week! Moths are the very important class of pollinators we rarely see, because they do their thing at night. Check out some fascinating information about these vital and beautiful creatures.

It looks like moderate temperatures and rainfall will stay with us for the next week or so, so there will be plenty of opportunities to enjoy the garden and maybe even to get some chores done:

– keep the grass long (3″ or more) to reduce mowing times. Mow with a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn, where they will serve as natural fertilizer. There is no need to fertilize or water. We had approximately 3″ of rain over the past week.

– as perennials finish blooming, leave the dead flowers on the plants. Collect seeds as they ripen throughout the season; let most remain to feed the birds next winter. I deadhead only when all seeds have ripened. For most perennials, I will not remove any growth until early next spring.

– continue to plant beans, kale, chard, and other members of the brassica clan if you have room; harvest squash and beans before they get large and tough. Pull up bean plants when they stop producing.

– continue to stake tomato plants firmly as they grow and remove all suckers. Now that plants are producing fruit, cut back on watering to prevent cracking.

– monitor the garden carefully for pests and diseases; high rainfall in June and high humidity in July are leading to fungal diseases, although most are not severe enough to threaten a plant’s health (more on that in a future post). Identify pests before taking action: most insects are harmless or even beneficial.

— take advantage of the relatively cool weather to do garden chores: carry out remedial or cosmetic pruning as needed, check the compost pile to see if the compost is cooked. Because of the very hot weather, I suddenly have a large load of compost ready to screen and spread on the vegetable garden.

Get out there and enjoy the garden this weekend!