Seven reasons to grow Agastache

by Sandy Swegel

The number one reason, of course, is because hummingbirds love Agastache.  I was trying to pull a few weeds yesterday and at least three different hummingbirds were dining on the Agastache blooms…with one dive-bombing me to get me out of “their” territory.

As I enjoyed the late afternoon sun amid the buzzing I thought six more reasons I REALLY love Agastache.

Startling beautiful flowers

Complex blossoms in multi colors with long tubes.  Mine are orange and red.  Agastaches come in several colors in red-orange-apricot sunset colors.  Another Agastache (Lavender Hyssop) is blue. The Agastache stems make for an interesting addition in a cut flower arrangement.

Interesting Foliage

This Agastache (Agastache rupestris) has thin airy leaves that look quite blue.  An interesting texture when planted en masse.

 

Divine Fragrance

My little patch smells like root beer.  There’s a whole series of Agastaches named after the bubble gums they smell like.

Great in a Mixed Border

This little patch grows in the lavender bed.  When the lavender is in full display, the Agastaches are still small.  Then as the Agastache come into play, the lavenders are still putting out a few complementary purple flowers.  Orange butterfly weed is planted next to the Agastache making both look more interesting.  The Agastache reseed gently throughout the border.

Attract bees and all kinds of pollinators

Yesterday I saw hummingbird moths, native bees, honey bees, a huge bumblebee and some tiny flies…in addition to the hummingbirds.  Butterflies were there earlier in the day.

 

Photos:

monarchbutterflygarden.net/5-butterfly-flowers-attract-monarchs-and-hummingbirds/

 

 

Bird Baths

Eight critters you can find in your bird baths

by Sandy Swegel

Cute little birds hatched out of a nest in my roof eaves this spring so I decided to put a bird bath in the front yard so I could watch strategically from the window. I didn’t have traditional bird baths so shallow stone bowls on the ground had to make do. It’s been a couple of months and I have yet to see the birds in the bath although they may splash about when I’m not home. I have discovered lots of critters need water in the heat of summer. Here’s who shows up if you have a water source in your yard.
8. Wasps
OK, so they’re not my favorite although they have an important role in the garden. Wasps aren’t just insatiably thirsty, the water is crucial for keeping their nests cool.

7. Mosquito Larvae
Duh…standing water attracts mosquitoes. Since West Nile is prevalent around here, I empty out the water whenever I see the tiny larvae swimming around.

6. Raccoons
Fortunately, we don’t have too many raccoons in my yard, but if the birdbath is all muddy or knocked over, it’s a sign the raccoons were there.

 

 

5. Bunnies
We have a bunny overpopulation this year. Officially, I hate them. They chow down on young garden plants and my favorite flowers. Secretly they are so cute. It’s been so hot and dry who could deny a baby rabbit a sip of water. I guess the baby squirrels can drink too.

4. Bees
I always make sure there are rocks in my bird bath for the bees to stand on so they don’t drown. Bees need lots of water for digestion and to cool the hive.

 

3. Butterflies
Be sure to have nice shallow water to attract butterflies. These are so delightful! Even the cabbage moths are cute.

 

2. All the other mammals
Neighborhood dogs, deer taking a break from eating your flowers. If it’s a big enough bird bath, you might get a bear or two in bear country. My friends used a motion detector night camera to catch a bobcat drinking from their little water pond.

1. And finally birds!

Photos:

http://www.scoontemplations.com/2012/06/bunny-with-death-wish.html
http://hillsidegardencenter.com

http://animalwall.xyz/bird-bath-fun-water-hd-background/

 

Two Tough flowers of Summer

Two Tough flowers of Summer

by Sandy Swegel

The humans are drooping in the summer heat, but if you look at gardens and containers you’ll see that some flowers are absolutely thriving in July. Take a walk around your neighborhood one cool evening to see what is vigorously growing and that you have to try growing yourself.

Salvias
Salvias are real winners now. Tall spikes of flowers rise above the garden attracting our attention and lots of hummingbirds. Now that it is warm, the Salvia have grown tall and strong. Some deadheading and they’ll still be blooming at frost. Two favorites are the Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), most often seen with hummingbirds, and black and blue Sage Salvia guaranitica also known as hummingbird plant.

Rudbeckia
The other big happy flowers in the heat are Rudbeckia of many varieties. Stands of Black-eyed Susans thrill us, reminding us of childhood summers. In meadows and wilder backyards, you’ll find the Rudbeckia hirta that is the Black-eyed Susan we grew up with. Most urban landscapes have the sturdy Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ that looks like the hirta but is very well-behaved.

Other dazzling Rudbeckia are the green-headed, often very tall, Rudbeckia laciniata.

And there is the “Brown-eyed Susan” Rudbeckia triloba that is short lived but selfshort-livedf in the same spot every year.

If you want a stunning summer garden that looks great in the heat, are somewhat drought tolerant, and provides lots of food for hummingbirds and bees and other pollinators, be sure to include Salvia and Rudbeckia.

Photos:

www.gardenerdirect.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudbeckia_laciniata
https://www.gardenia.net/plant/rudbeckia-hirta-prairie-sun
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/514817801129456934/
https://www.anniesannuals.com/plants/view/?id=901

 

Pesticide Applicators CAN Protect Pollinators

By Sandy Swegel

Most of the visitors to our Facebook page and website are already among the converted. We know how important pollinators are and we’re doing everything we can from avoiding pesticides to planting pollinator gardens in hope of preserving our pollinators.

Sometimes as activists for the things we feel passionate about, we human beings have a tendency to make the people who oppose our opinion into our enemy. The reality is that right now, everyone isn’t going to quit using pesticides no matter how much we want that. We all have spouses or neighbors or friends who are going to use pesticides no matter what we say. Garden and tree businesses are going to spray. So what the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) is doing is bringing together government agencies like the EPA, pesticide manufacturers, licensed pesticide applicators, and non-profits like beekeeping associations to develop guidelines to teach pesticide applicators how to choose pesticides and how to spray while causing the least harm to bees and pollinators that end up as collateral damage.

A couple of obvious things pesticide users can do:

Schedule your pesticide application when bees aren’t active. Saturday morning or in the evenings after dinner before dark are the worse time to apply pesticides. Bees and pollinators are foraging then and likely to get sprayed or eat pollen or nectar that has just been sprayed. For some pesticides, simply applying it at night protects the pollinators while still killing the pests. You have to wake up before the bees or stay up after they go to sleep.

Plan your pesticide applications when plants aren’t in bloom. This isn’t always possible but some bloom times are short and you might find that waiting another week until the bloom is finished will still kill your pests and protect the pollinators.

Avoid drift and runoff.
Don’t spray on windy days. The wind carries the pesticide into neighboring areas or into your nose and eyes.
Don’t spray when it is about to rain. Many pesticides will dry within a few hours of application and be less toxic to pollinators. If you spray when rain is coming, those pesticides are going to be washed away into storm drains or rivers.

Keep the pesticide spray on the problem area….don’t keep spraying the rocks or sidewalk because you’re walking from one area to another. Use only as much pesticide as needed to achieve your goal. Drenching everything isn’t necessary.

Read and re-read labels. The formulations of your favorite pesticides can change Some are very toxic to bees. Others are only toxic under certain conditions. Know exactly what you are spraying and how it affects bees.

Pesticide applicators aren’t out there spraying because they hate bees. They want to get rid of their pests in the most efficient way. Print out this brochure for friends and neighbors and even companies you see applying pesticides. Help the people who INSIST on using pesticides learn that they can still protect pollinators.

Photos and more information:

 

www.Environmentalleader.com/2013/08/16/epa-launches-bee-protecting-pesticide-label/

 

Hummingbird Love

By Sandy Swegel

We, humans, are crazy in love with hummingbirds. I received so many emails and messages about hummingbirds this week, I have to pass on the things I’m learning.

Spring migration is happening all over the US and there are hundreds of citizen scientists who report their sightings. You can check your area to see if Ruby-throated hummingbirds have arrived. http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html  This week they are showing up in Canada and at higher elevations. Hummingbirds showed up in Colorado about three weeks ago.

I learned we should keep an eye out for hummingbird nests. They are so tiny. The eggs are the size of jellybeans. The Denver Post newspaper had a whole article on how to recognize the nests so you don’t hurt the eggs when you are doing spring pruning.

Most hummingbird lovers find one feeder isn’t nearly enough. You should have more than one feeder so the birds don’t have to fight over it. Or a big feeder with multiple feeding stations. Some people go totally crazy and fill their yard with feeders. Sugar water isn’t the only food hummingbirds rely on in spring. They eat lots of nectar from flowers, pollen, bugs including mosquitoes, and even tree sap. But their metabolism is so high, they need to eat constantly.

The most important thing I learned about hummingbirds this week is that you have to wash out the feeders and change the water every few days. Old sugar-water grows mold which can kill the hummingbirds. Our neighborhood feeders get drained pretty quickly…but it’s still a good idea to rinse the feeder with vinegar water before refilling.

The most fun hummingbird thing I did this week was watching YouTube videos on hummingbird babies. Cuteness overload. I have quite a few flowers planted that hummingbirds like, but now I see that I need some feeders outside the window by the breakfast table!

The oddest thing I did for hummingbirds this week is to buy a new garden hat. My old hat was a bright orange-pink color, and hummingbirds would dive bomb my head thinking I guess that I was a big flower. I have a more subdued lavender hat now…and so far I’m safe.

I recommend highly putting up a few feeders yourself so you can enjoy the show!

Photo credits

Photo credit: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/hummingbirds-have-arrived-in-colorado-check-your-trees-and-shrubs-before-trimming

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/05/16/animals-nests-weird-animal-questions-science-birds/

 

Planting Wildflowers

Grow a Wildflower Meadow!

by Sandy Swegel

This blog post is for anyone who wants to grow wildflowers.  It is especially dedicated to BBB Seeds’ friends at the Rockies Audubon Society who have an awesome program called Habitat Heroes that encourages “wildscaping” your garden with native plants that attract pollinators and birds and support wildlife even in an urban area.

  • Deciding What and Where to Grow

Look at the site where you want to grow a wildflower meadow or patch.  An ideal site would have sun and good drainage and not too many weeds. Nature seldom provides what we consider ideal. So the next step is choosing the right mix of wildflowers.  We help by providing mixes for unique conditions such as sites that are dry or sites that shady.

  • Prepare the Soil

TX-OK-1oz

Some don’ts:

  • Don’t deep till!

That’s the number one rule….unless you are planning a year ahead of time.  There are enormous numbers of weed seeds in any soil and tilling up the soil brings up all those weed seeds to the light and they start to grow.  You do have to deal with weeds and you will lightly till/scratch in a shallowly.  But this is time to leave the tiller in the garage.

  • Don’t use weed killer

Especially don’t use the weed killers for your lawn or those with pre-emergents that stop new seeds from germinating. Those will have long-lasting effects that will thwart your wildflower growing efforts.

  • Weeds:

You will have to deal with weeds especially if you have an area that is pretty barren of other vegetation.  People have good success with putting down black fabric or cardboard weeks ahead of time to suffocate the weeds.  For big hunkin’ weeds like dock, it’s good to get the shovel out. You can’t get all the weeds, but after you put your seeds out, you won’t be doing any weed-pulling for a while because you’ll accidentally pull the new wildflowers or disturb their young roots. Replacing weeds with wildflowers will be an ongoing process.

  • Scratch and Rake

You do need to break the soil and rake it smooth, but not more than 2-3 inches deep.  You want little crevices for the seeds to slip into so they have a cozy home.  I’ve had the best success by loosening that top couple inches of soil and waiting a couple of weeks for all the weeds to germinate. I then scratch up those weeds, rake again, and then put the wildflower seed out.

  • How Much To Plant

One ounce of seed (a small packet) plants about 100-150 square feet.  (eg 10 feet by 15 feet.)  Follow this rule of thumb.  Planting more than this makes the plants choke each other out.  Planting less gives weeds free run.

Expert Tip:  Mix some sand with the wildflower seed to make it easier to spread the tiny wildflower seeds evenly.  About four parts sand to one part seed.

 

  • When to Plant

If you live someplace mild and humid, you can plant almost anytime.  The rest of us either plant in the Spring (about one month before last frost date) or Fall.

  • Water

That’s the biggest challenge for many.  If you aren’t living in the above mentioned mild and humid area, you need to be sure the wildflowers get enough water.  One gardening buddy said her secret was to go out and seed the night before a big snowstorm and let the melting snow help.  I personally use row cover over the area to keep water from evaporating.  I also use a soft rain nozzle to hand water over everything.

Our website has a Resources Section with more detailed instructions on seeding wildflowers. https://www.bbbseed.com/wildflower-grass-tips/

 

That’s really it.

Pick an appropriate wildflower mix.

Get rid of the huge weeds and prepare the top couple inches of soil.

Plant.

Water.

Wait for Nature to do What She Does Best: Create beauty for you and food for all the wild creatures.

 

Before and After Pictures are some of my favorite things.  The Habitat Heroes program has awesome before and after pictures that will inspire you:

Photo Credit:

http://rockies.audubon.org/get-involved/habitat-hero-winners

A Parking lot median at the West View Rec Center in Westminster, CO, before and after

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter

02.15.16 'Planting Wildflowers' WestViewRecCenter2

 

 

Why Won’t my Garden do What I Say?

by Sandy Swegel

That’s the kind of questions I’m hearing these days.  Why won’t my plant bloom?  Why aren’t my tomatoes red? Why does my garden look so bad? Why is my tree dying?  Let’s tackle a few of these questions so you can figure out why it seems your garden is disobedient?

Why won’t my pineapple sage bloom?  It’s so beautiful in the magazines. Salvia elegans or pineapple sage smells deliciously of pineapple and hummingbirds flock to it.  Alas, what I discovered after a season of coaxing and fertilizing is that it will never look so beautiful in Colorado as it does in the Sunset magazine pictures of California.  It’s one of those plants that bloom according to day length and short days to stimulate blooming.  So no matter what we do, it simply is not going to put out blooms till late August.  Since our first frost can be in September, this is a very unsatisfying plant to grow in a northern area with long summer days.

The second part of this question is “Why did all the other fancy hybrid flowers I bought in Spring quit blooming?”  Some may be day length sensitive like the pineapple sage.  Most have issues with our hot dry summer heat.  If you keep deadheading as soon as the weather starts to cool, the blooms will restart.  And there’s no changing Nature’s mind with more fertilizer or water.

“Why won’t my watermelon plants get big?” a friend asked over afternoon tea.  The answer to most questions is to put my finger in the soil. It was dry, dry, dry.  There was one drip tube on the plant but that’s not nearly enough for a watermelon which needs lots of water.  I looked up. The garden was right next to a big spruce tree. The tree was on the north side so the plant had lots of sun, but the sneaky tree roots ran all through the garden sucking up irrigation water. If you’re going to grow a plant with a name like “water” melon…you have to put a lot of water in the system.

The second most-asked question is “Why do I have so many weeds?” The answer is, alas, because you didn’t spend enough time in July keeping after them.  Who wants to weed in the heat of summer?  And summer weeds grow really fast and tall.  You can’t even blink.

The most-asked question, of course, is “Why won’t my tomatoes turn red?”  This year everybody has lots of green tomatoes but not nearly enough red tomatoes. The truthful answer is “D***d if I know. I wish mine would turn red.”  A Google search shows thousands of people ask this question.  People who answer have all kinds of pet theories about leaves and fertilizer and pruning the plant etc. I’m just learning to wait and making a note to grow more early tomatoes next year.

Nature just doesn’t work the way we want sometimes.

Photo Credit: http://eugenebirds.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

 

It’s a Bug Eat Bug World

by Sandy Swegel

I met a new bug this week. And really a bug…an insect scientists call a “true bug” but whose common name is “Assassin Bug”! Someone on an email list caught a picture of the assassin bug eating a bee to which my first response was “Poor bee.”

But the is the way of the insect world. All the creatures we call “beneficial insects” are beneficial because they eat bugs we don’t like. Ladybugs eat all those aphids for us, and we cheer them on. We love the predators that eat thrips and whiteflies or all the beetle eggs on squash. We’re so happy to see the insects we like eating the babies of the insects we don’t like. But sometimes the top predators aren’t too picky and they eat bees and ladybugs and butterfly caterpillars too. Fortunately, they assassinate many more bad bugs than good bugs.

The bugs at the top of the food pyramid have some great names like assassin bugs or pirate bugs They are still beneficials in our book because they are eating lots of the bad guys. Of course, they happily eat cute ladybugs and even their own siblings when they are ravenous after hatching. Keep an eye out in your garden for some of these more interesting creatures.

Beneficial Insects with Great Names:
Assassin Bugs
Pirate Bugs
Predatory Stink Bugs
Big Eyed Bugs
Damsel Bugs

See this link for more on these predators. http://insects.about.com/od/insectpests/tp/top10beneficialinsects.htm
Photo Credits
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthpicturegalleries/9927514/Bug-eyed-macro-photographs-of-insects-by-Ireneusz-Irass-Waledzik.html?frame=2508309
Vickers Myers

 

No Neonics: Three Easy Ways to Help

by Sandy Swegel

Just a moment to be serious now. Spring has arrived and stores are filling with bedding plants and seeds. At the same time, homeowners are noticing all the weeds in yards and some still go out to buy weed killer.

There are three easy quick things you can do that make a difference to help protect bees and yourself from the “neonic” pesticides.

Learn One Name
Imidacloprid
That’s the neonic most likely in retail products. If you’re an overachiever, the other names are Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Acetamiprid, Dinotefuran. These are ingredients in weed killers, especially products marked Bayer or with names like Systemic or Max. Just check your labels and don’t buy these.

Watch For the Label
Customer pressure led Home Depot and Lowe’s last year to agree to put labels on all plants treated with neonics. The label is deceptive….makes it sound like neonics are better…but watch for the label.

Ask Your Retailer
There’s no government regulation (Alas!) that says neonics have to be labeled. The best thing you can do is ask at the garden center if the plants you are buying have been treated with neonics. If they don’t know…then you can probably assume the plants have been sprayed. The treatments can last up to two months in your garden…making your pretty flowers potentially lethal to bees that land on them.

Every time you ask a garden center employee or a grower if their plants have been treated with neonics, you are educating them. That’s what we are after. Nobody really wants to harm bees or the environment. Two years ago when I asked a major grower here in the Denver area if they used neonics, the owner looked at me like I was some crazy Boulder liberal. Which of course I am. He said, “Bah humbug, there’s no way to grow plants without neonics.” But last week, his greenhouse (Welby) had an open house in which they proudly said that most of their plants were grown without neonics and they were continuing to work on how to get neonic-free.

Oh, and of course there’s a fourth thing to do to help the bees. Grow your own plants from good non-pesticide treated, non-GMO, often organic, often heirloom, always neonic-free seeds like ours!
For lots of info on neonics in consumer products, you can read this pdf put out by Xerces.
http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/NeonicsInYourGarden.pdf

Photo Credit
http://ecowatch.com/2015/02/10/global-ban-bee-killing-neonics/

 

 

Early Spring Flowers for Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

Hungry pollinators are starting to wake up. Well, maybe not this week in Colorado if they are smart. We still have a foot of old snow on the ground, but the sun will come out later this week and I expect to see the first crocuses poke out from the melting snow.

The first warm days of Spring bring out lots of our pollinator friends. In a long winter like this, honey supplies are running short and honeybees are eager for fresh food. Wild bees and bumblebees who don’t have honey stores are very hungry. Ladybugs that woke up a few weeks ago and have been eating aphid eggs in the leaf litter are eager for some sweet nectar or pollen. Everybody’s hungry and are flocking to the first flowers to gather nectar and protein. They need to build up their own strength and to provide food for Spring babies.

 

You can spot some of the first pollinators of the season if you look closely at the first Spring bulbs. Plan to plant more of these in your garden if you want to attract more pollinators. You can lure pollinators to your yard by having the first flowers. Then they’ll stay for the rest of the season if you have flowers in bloom all year.

 

Some of the easiest spring flowers to grow are:
Crocus
Snowdrops
Grape hyacinths
Daffodils
Tulips, especially native tulips.

Little bulbs like snowdrops and grape hyacinths re-seed themselves and naturalize a good-sized patch. If you don’t have these in your own yard, it’s easy dig up a few bulbs from a friend’s overgrown patch and transplant into your own garden. They don’t mind the transplanting too much and will bloom as usual…attracting more pollinators to your yard.

So bend down close to those little crocus flowers to see our pollinator friends. Bring a camera. The bees get groggy from gorging on pollen and are often moving pretty slowly, so it’s easy to get a good picture.

 

Photo credits:
Mason bee on crocus: http://www.earthtimes.org/scitech/saving-bees-new-pesticide/2612/

Bee on tulip: http://matthewwills.com/tag/honey-bees/

Bee on muscari and fly on snowdrop: http://urbanpollinators.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/more-early-spring-flowers-for.html

To make your pollinator garden click here!

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