Tag Archives: gardening for birds

“Plants for Pollinators,” the LI Gardening Calendar for 2017

Now’s the time to buy the Long Island Gardening Calendar 2017, a perfect gift or stocking stuffer for the passionate gardeners in your life. Plants for Pollinators is filled with tips for creating pollinator-friendly gardens on Long Island. With beautiful photographs every month, this calendar features information on how to support bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths and birds by planting native habitat for them. Blueberries, strawberries, apples, carrots, broccoli, and pumpkins are among many plants that require pollinator services to produce fruits and vegetables — which means we need pollinators, too!


A flower fly visits a Rosa virginiana, a native rose. Photo © Mina Vescera.

This high-quality calendar discusses how to analyze your landscape to plan a pollinator garden and how to include nesting habitat for insects, and gives you a resource list of organizations and websites where you can learn more about sustainable horticulture and pollinators. There’s even a list of where to buy native plants on Long Island! Purchase calendars at the front desk at CCE Suffolk, 423 Griffing Avenue in Riverhead for $5 each; or use this order form to have them mailed to you for $7 each to cover their cost with postage.

Whether you’re a beginner or advanced gardener, there’s something here to inspire everyone who wants protect and support pollinators. It’s time to start planning for next year’s garden, and calendars are limited, so pick up or order Plants for Pollinators today!

Robin Simmen is Community Horticulture Specialist for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at rls63@cornell.edu or at 631-727-7850 x215.

Dreaming in Color: Starting Flowers from Seed

It’s the end of March, the sky is gray, and I’m dreaming of color. I do believe it’s time to begin propagating flowers for the upcoming seasons! Annuals and perennials in all shapes, colors, and sizes are important for biodiversity in the garden. They attract bees, butterflies, birds, and a plethora of vital insects to your cultivated habitat. Here in Suffolk County, our average last freeze date is April 20, the rough date to guide you on sowing seeds indoors. Although this isn’t a hard and fast date, keep an eye on the forecast and consider your personal experience in your own yard to decide when it’s safe to set plants outdoors.

Violas or pansies are blooming outdoors now! Photo c Sandra Vultaggio.

Violas or pansies are blooming outdoors now! Photo © Sandra Vultaggio.

Different flower seeds require different germination strategies. Some seeds need light to germinate, others need darkness. Some need pre-treatments like scarification (nicking the seed coat), soaking, or chilling before you plant them. Some flower seeds are much slower to germinate and grow than others; a calendar will help you organize when to plant them. Common flowers that need a longer head start (eight-to-ten weeks before transplanting) include salvia, snapdragon, impatiens, pansies, petunias, lavender, and gazania. Compare those to flowers that need only a few weeks (three or less) such as cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, nasturtium, and zinnias. Some annual and perennial plants don’t like to be started indoors and then transplanted. Poppies, butterfly weed, and candytuft prefer to be sown directly outdoors. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to grow, research the preferred methods of sowing and pretreatments by browsing books in the library, researching specific plants online, or referring back to the seed packet or grower’s website/catalog.

Seed starting tableThe most important tools for starting seeds indoors are light and heat. As a child, I remember growing seeds inside every spring. I would pick out seed packets with pretty flowers on the cover, and my mom would buy a bag of potting soil and containers or maybe expanding peat pots. We’d sow the seeds, set them on a sunny windowsill, and wait for them to germinate and grow. While starting seeds like this is a great activity for children, usually the seedlings don’t amount to much. A windowsill is likely too cool and too dark for most plants.

If you are serious about starting quality plants indoors, you’ll want to invest in fluorescent lights and a heating mat, available at home improvement stores and garden centers. For the really committed, I’d recommend an automatic timer for lights, a propagation stand, and easy access to water. This type of seed-starting setup creates a healthy and controlled environment where your plants can thrive.

Seed-starting materials checklist:

  • Clean containers (use cell packs, peat, fiber or paper pots, or re-purpose old containers)
  • Clear plastic dome or plastic bags
  • Commercial soil-less seed-starting mixes, usually composed of vermiculite and peat moss
  • A location where air temperatures stay consistently above 60°F
  • Fluorescent tube lights (one cool and one warm bulb)
  • Automatic timer, set to stay on for 10-12 hours
  • Electric heating mats for bottom heat (don’t plug your mat into the timer!)
  • Water
  • General purpose water-soluble fertilizer to use only after seedlings develop several sets of true leaves

Sandra Vultgaggio is Horticulture Consultant for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached by email at sib7@cornell.edu or by phone at 631-727-7850 x387.

Buff Up Your Conservation Buffers

Because Long Island is surrounded by water, responsible residents strive to keep pesticides and fertilizers from polluting our coastal and drinking water resources. And as stewards of our land, we need to preserve as much habitat for wildlife as possible. One way to accomplish both goals is to plant garden or conservation buffers. These small pieces of land with permanent vegetation help control pollution while providing undisturbed habitat for wildlife. Examples of buffers include riparian buffers, small wetlands, shallow water areas, herbaceous and woody windbreaks, contour grass strips, living snow fences, and field borders.

Garden buffers like this one at Cornell Plantations in Ithaca can be used to filter polluted run off from parking lots.

Garden buffers like this one at Cornell Plantations in Ithaca can be used to filter polluted storm-water run off from parking lots. Photo © Robin Simmen

Although you may view them primarily as pleasant landscape features, buffers quietly prevent soil erosion, improve soil and water quality, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, reduce flooding, conserve energy, and ultimately conserve biodiversity. By capturing up to 75 percent of flowing sediment and by enhancing infiltration, buffers trap heavy metals. When properly installed and maintained, they can remove up to 50 percent of pesticides and nutrients from polluting coastal waters!

In addition to providing wildlife habitat (increasing the number and diversity of birds and butterflies) and creating corridors for their movement, buffers are attractive, low-maintenance, sustainable alternatives to traditional turf. Water moves more slowly through shrubs and other buffer plantings as compared to turf, thus reducing your irrigation needs. Conservation buffers can also improve your quality of life by reducing noise from the street and odors from garbage.

An added benefit is that buffers help reduce flooding. They also help stabilize streams, enhance biodiversity by providing micro habitats, and decrease and then stabilize water temperature. Fluctuations in water temperatures and warming can be very deleterious to fish and other aquatic creatures important to the stream food chain.

A shallow water area or a small wetland is a place where water depth is usually less than 2 feet with no more than 10 percent of the entire area being over 4 feet deep. These wet areas may be seasonal in nature, such as vernal pools, so you might be tempted to “dry ‘em out or fill ‘em in,” but DON’T DO IT! Not only is it often illegal to do so, but such spots are of particular importance to certain plants and animal species that depend on transient moisture for parts of their life cycles, e.g. reproduction or nesting.

To learn more about how to construct a conservation buffer on your property or how to evaluate your existing landscape, please join me and Joann Gruttadaurio, Senior Extension Associate Emerita, Cornell University, on October 15, 2015, 9:00 a.m. until noon, at the Suffolk County Farm for a hands-on workshop on how to “Buff Up Your Soil and Garden Buffers.” The cost is $30, and preregistration is required. Click here to download the registration form.

Dr. Tamson Yeh is CCE Suffolk Turf Use and Land Management Specialist. She can be reached at tsy3@cornell.edu or 631-727-7850 x240.

Best Plants for Attracting Ruby Throated Hummingbirds

Question: What are the best plants to grow for attracting ruby throated hummingbirds? I put up a bird feeder but was told that having the right plants is really important.

Answer: Yes, growing the right plants is critical for attracting these little jewels to your yard. These flowers provide not only the nectar the birds need but also habitat for all the little insects they like to eat. Best of all, flower nectar doesn’t require cleaning and refilling like bird feeders do!

Bee balm is a favorite flower of hummingbirds in my yard. Photo c Alice Raimondo

Bee balm is a favorite flower of hummingbirds in my yard. Photo © Alice Raimondo

Some of the best plants for landscaping for hummingbirds include the following (there are others plants that hummers can’t resist, but here are the plants they go nuts for in my yard):

  • Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
  • Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
  • Bee balm, Monarda didyma ‘Jacob Cline’
  • Anise-scented sage, Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’
  • Cuphea, Cuphea ‘David Verity’

On Wednesday, September 2, 2015, you can join me and my colleague Sandra Vultaggio for a presentation and tours about gardening for the ruby throated hummingbird. We’ll start at 3:30 p.m. with a PowerPoint presentation about this magical little bird, including how to attract them to your backyard and keep them coming back year after year. Then take a tour of two local backyard gardens to witness these natural jewels within garden habitats we designed just for them. The cost is $30. Click here to register for the hummingbird workshop and tour.

Alice Raimondo is Horticulture Consultant for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at aw242@cornell.edu or 631-727-77850 x335.