Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bird Magnet

There's a volunteer mulberry tree growing near the house that in just a few years has reached over 15 feet high. From my second floor office window, I have the perfect vantage point to watch the many birds that are flocking to it.

The small, oval-shaped mulberries are an unripe white, not black, but the birds aren't waiting. They are stripping them off as if they just emerged from a famine. It's the same thing with my doublefile viburnum. I rarely see the red berries because they're gone long before they fully ripen.

The mulberry tree is shading out a large, spreading gooseberry which is loaded with gooseberries now. I have neither the time or energy to transplant the thorny shrub, so if it makes it, great, if not que sera, sera.

Perhaps the mulberry tree will also shade out the oats that have become invasive. I honestly don't remember if these are the wild oats known to be invasive or if these are domesticated, but after a few years of getting established, they did indeed become a problem. Sigh. I thought their seed heads would look nice in dried arrangements, and indeed they do.

A large part of my "gardening" efforts seem to be centered on controlling or attempting to get rid of a variety of invasives. Some, like the pachysandra were here when I bought my house 17 years ago. Huge swaths of pachysandra still exist, though I have gotten rid of a fair amount of it, as much for the purpose of reducing tick habitat as anything else.

The barberry is mostly gone, though I did notice several bushes in the back that should ideally be removed. Bittersweet will always be present, I'm afraid. As will the garlic mustard. This is the first year I'm seriously tackling the vinca. I'm afraid that was one of my own doing. I vaguely recall transplanting something from the front of the yard to the picket fence garden and there may have been a bit of vinca in the soil at the time. Not having experienced the horror of its spread, I didn't think much of it. Until now.

The vinca has totally engulfed 4 or 5 blueberry bushes which I mostly haven't paid attention to over the years because their berry output was negigible, and the birds got to them before me, anyway.

This year, there's one waist-high plant absolutely covered in green blueberries. So now I'm reluctant to give up on what must be 15-year old blueberry plants. It took them that long to get established. Periodically, I'd throw some white pine needles down around them, but that's about it.

I've been researching how best to eradicate the vinca, and there seems to be a limited number of options:

1. Dig and pull out manually.
2. Mow or use trimmer to cut vinca down to ground level. Cover with clear plastic and several inches of mulch, upon which you plant anew. Yes, the idea is that you plant on top of the plastic and the vinca. This might work if you have no pre-existing plants you want to save.

Roundup is said to be ineffective on vinca because of the leaves' waxy coating. I wouldn't want to spray that much Roundup 'round here anyway, as I have toads and garter snakes. I reserve it for spot treatments of poison ivy.

So I've been digging. It's back-breaking work. The roots are very strong and hard to pull out, especially around the blueberry bushes, which are said to have shallow roots themselves. I fear I will never be rid of the vinca. Because I've had Lyme Disease three times, I'm wearing my fisherman's hip boots in there.

In the past, I'd made a mistake, when seeking to clear a large area, of deciding to try to clear/weed/hack down everything all at once and only then would I decide what to plant in its place. Well, the problem with that is that clearing a large area can take weeks, and by that time, new weeds are already taking over.

So I decided to consolidate my gains with the vinca patch and, rightly or wrongly, wound up transplanting a half dozen coral bells and an astilbe in the roughly 5-foot-square plot I'd cleared. I then cut a large piece of plastic, cut holes for the plants I'd just planted and plan to get a pile of free mulch from the landfill today to apply over the plastic.

I suspect this won't be fool-proof as the vinca can come up through the openings I've made for the new plants. But what's the alternative? Look at ugly sheets of plastic all summer?

Suggestions welcome!

I would like to get this fenced garden under control. Actually, my overriding goal would be to make it as low-maintenance as possible. Each summer I'm so busy with other chores, my vegetable garden and other perennial beds, this area just gets ignored.

It's a large rectangular area close to the house on the north side; probably 12 x 25 feet long. It's surrounded by invasives right now: a huge sea of pachysandra on the one side with the vinca having spread to almost half of it and the oats on the other side making inroads.

I want to keep the 4 or 5 blueberry bushes. I have already started chopping down the three dwarf cherry trees I had in there. They grew easily but then came under attack from some disease that caused the ends of branches to dry up. I researched it at the time and know it needed spraying, but my reluctance to use toxic sprays was greater than my desire to eat cherries, so I never sprayed.

I also have some sort of willow shrub in there and because part of it is shady, I have some nice shade-loving perennials including hosta, Jacob's ladder, astilbe and bleeding heart. There's also a lot of spiderwort (invasive in its own right, I find) and who knows what else.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Time to Catch Up!

Oh, my. No posts since February? That's unconscionable. Truth be told, I opened one too many Google accounts and the site wasn't accepting what I thought was my password.

What's new from the past three months?

A pair of bluebirds successfully fledged in one of of the nestboxest at Owl Hollow. This evening I had the pleasure of sitting on the front stoop with a bottle of Beck's, surveying my wild kingdom, while flashes of blue whizzed past me, left to right, then right to left. There were three or four of them, the babies, I'm convinced, practicing their insect-hunting skills.

I'm still seeing bluebirds spending a lot of time at the now cleaned out nest box. If they nested a second time, that would be the first time they would have done so in a single season. But I also saw a house wren there, and, a few weeks ago, the dreaded English sparrows.

In fact, I first saw English sparrows at the box a day after I cleaned out the old bluebird nest. I noted the date, and watched wtih grim determination as the sparrows set about nest-building. I had already decided I was going to addle their eggs and puncture them with a small needle, to be doubly sure the eggs didn't hatch. I wanted to make sure that all the eggs that were going to be laid were laid, and yet I didn't want to wait too long because I know I couldn't harm live baby birds, English sparrows or not.

I marked my calendar for the day and when I went to open the box, I was much surprised that the nest had been only half built inside, and no eggs. The sparrows seemed to have abandoned the project, for reasons unknown.

Fine by me.I hope they've moved on.

The vegetable garden is off to a good start. Well, mostly. The broccoli, cauliflower and collards are taking a beating from insects. I had gone to the trouble of draping a fine mesh fabric over the broccoli to see if I could save them from insects, but in truth it seems to have had little beneficial effect. Are the bugs coming from the ground? otherwise, I don't know how they got in there. I did pick off about 5 small worms on one plant, but that's all I could find.

The pea pods are doing really great and already are flowering, so the pods won't be far behind. I've begun picking lettuce. The yellow wax beans, green string beans and soybeans are coming along. I have 8 tomato plants this year, some cherry, some regular sized. There was also room for a single zucchini plant and a single yellow squash. Oh, yes, and of course, 3 cucumber plants, several bell peppers, an eggplant in a pot and lots of basil for my pesto sauce. (Can't live without it.)

The hummingbirds returned in early May and have me well-trained for refreshing their sugar water every 3 or 4 days. Any longer and it gets moldy. I was also still feeding black sunflower oil on the back patio, from a triple tube feeder hanging from the dying dogwood tree, but I let it go when the English sparrows became a regular sight. I'd like to start it up again. Rose-breasted grosbeaks were regulars there.