Archive for Native Michigan Plants

Attracting Hummingbirds

Posted in Around Your Home, Green Building with tags , , , on May 5, 2011 by Pat Hansen

There are five different varieties of hummingbirds that have been spotted inMichigan between May and late August, the most common is the Ruby-throated hummingbird. The male has a red, metallic throat while the female is less colored with a white/gray throat. The female is the larger of the two. Gardeners and bird watchers are fascinated by these birds and often create gardens and hang feeders to attract them.

Because of the fast pace of their wings, they expend extreme amounts of energy, making it necessary for them to feed every 10 to 15 minutes from dawn until sunset.

Although hummingbirds eat tiny insects, they prefer nectar, which tends to be most abundant in trumpet-shaped flowers. They will also feed from other flowers, typically blooms that are reddish or purple in color.

Garden center specialists will often suggest using both a feeder, filled with sugar and water, and flowers or shrubs with high nectar content for attracting hummingbirds. The feeder should be in close proximity to the nectar producing plants.

The feeders are constructed to allow the birds to feed with ease. Many of the feeders are red, making them attractive to the birds. The sugar water is easy to make at home; a combination of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. After combining, bring the solution to a boil let it cool before filling the feeder. Boiling it will keep the solution fresher for a longer period of time, however, if the feeder is not emptied quickly, change the solution within a few days. Clean the feeder often to avoid mold spores and fermentation.  Never put honey into the feeder.  The recommended perennials, both spring blooming and summer blooming are often shown with bird symbols on the plant containers.

Some of the recommended perennials are:

  • Ajuga                         
  • Columbine
  • Dianthus
  • Iris
  • Bee Balm
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Bellflower
  • Coneflower
  • Coral Bells
  • Delphinium


Some recommended annuals are:

  • Salvia
  • Impatiens
  • Lantana
  • Hibiscus
  • Fuchsia
  • Petunia
  • Dahlia
  • Nasturtium
  • Snapdragon


Don’t forget the Honeysuckle and Trumpet vines, Azalea and Rhododendron shrubs.

If you want to encourage more hummingbirds to take up residence, plant several different hummingbird gardens in your yard with plenty of distance between them.  Hummers are territorial and will dive bomb other birds if they get too close to the food source.

It may take a season or two before the hummingbirds appear, but when they do, they will return every spring if the food source is available.

Feeding Deer in Winter – Why Not?

Posted in Around Your Home, Dining with Pat with tags , on March 1, 2011 by Pat Hansen

Severe winters like this one cause us to be concerned about the welfare of white-tailed deer and their ability to survive the winter.  While our hearts are well-meaning, we can actually do more harm than good by feeding them.

Deer do not need handouts to survive winter; they will adapt.  In the fall, deer grow a winter coat and begin to store fat. The winter coat has hollow guard hairs for insulation with a fine hair, under-fur for warmth; this helps them retain body heat, thus reducing energy needs to stay warm. The fat reserve provides nutrition over the winter. Deer decrease their metabolic rate during the winter which reduces food requirements to approximately one half of what they need in summer. The decreased winter energy demands can be met with limited natural grazing or browse, supplemented with fat reserves.

When the winter is severe, deer migrate to protective areas which are areas with thick overhead cover such as conifers where the snow is often shallower. These areas provide thermal cover and sufficient natural food for deer to survive winter. Deer substantially reduce their activity in these wintering areas, therefore require less energy.

Deer are ruminants meaning they have a four-part stomach with microbes that help digest the natural woody vegetation. When deer eat food that has not been part of their diet, the microbes are not present to help with digestion. If deer are fed a diet they cannot digest, the deer may starve even with a full stomach. In addition, a food source rich in carbohydrates has been known to cause grain overload and overeating disease which can be fatal.  Corn, fed as a supplemental diet, has been known to cause the death of many deer due to these difficulties.

Artificially feeding deer may also increase the energy demand on deer as they may be tempted to leave the wintering areas to gain access to food.

Feeding deer in the wrong location often results in deer spending winter in a poor location where wind chill is more severe and heat loss is greater. Deer in these locations become dependent upon artificial food to survive as the natural food may not be as plentiful.

The artificial feeding of deer may also cause the concentration of deer into even a smaller area than the habitat they usually winter in, which can cause disease transmission. Bovine tuberculosis and Chronic Wasting Disease have been documented in Michigan.

Deer do not share food.  Placing out an insufficient amount of food to feed all deer will not change what will happen without food. If insufficient food is available to feed all deer, only the biggest and strongest deer will have access to food. The young, old, weak and smaller deer will be denied access. Insufficient food available to feed all deer only ensures the survival of those that would survive anyway. The survival of those deer without access to the food may actually be decreased.  These deer expend valuable energy to try to gain access to food that dominant deer consume.

It’s clear that deer can survive quite nicely when left to their own devices.  In fact, the deer population in suburban Detroit, as with many other suburban areas, has become problematic.  In Michigan there are over 60,000 deer/car crashes annually.  That averages out to over 164 such crashes per day.  In Oakland County the chances of having a deer/car crash are even higher.  Feeding deer can only exacerbate this problem.

Buckthorn . . . the Gardener’s Foe

Posted in Around Your Home, Green Building with tags , , , , on February 21, 2011 by Pat Hansen

When buckthorn was first brought from Europe in the 1800’s, it was praised as the ideal shrub plant for creating hedges. That all changed when it began to plunder its way through our natural areas.

Like all invasive species, buckthorn lacks the natural controls, e.g. insects and disease that normally work to keep native plant populations in check. It’s also one of the first plants to foliate and one of the last to drop its leaves. As a result, it’s able to out-compete nearby plants for food, water and light, and quickly spreads over surrounding areas.

Buckthorn is spread by birds that eat and scatter its berries. When you consider that every one of the plant’s berries contains 3-4 seeds, each of which can remain viable in the soil for up to 6 years, it’s easy to see why buckthorn has become such a widespread problem.

The two types of buckthorn that are invasive are the Common Buckthorn and the Glossy Buckthorn.

Common Buckthorn (European Buckthorn)

  • Leaves: dull, oval-shaped green leaves; 1-2 inches long with fine teeth; leaves have distinct veins.
  • Twigs: tipped with thorns
  • Flowers: greenish yellow with four petals
  • Fruit: dark purple or blackish, ripen in late summer/early fall
  • Habitat: wooded edges, grazed and open areas

Glossy Buckthorn

  • Leaves: leaves similar in size and shape to Common Buckthorn, except they are shiny  and lack teeth
  • Twigs: tipped with thorns
  • Flowers: greenish-yellow with five petals
  • Fruit: dark purple or blackish; ripen in late summer/early fall
  • Habitat: wet prairies, marshes, meadows, sphagnum bogs, and tamarack swamps

Tips for Removal

  • Try killing young seedlings with a flame torch. Small shrubs do not have deep roots and can be hand-pulled or removed with a hoe. Wetting the soil beforehand or waiting until it rains will make it easier.
  • Glossy buckthorn can be tightly wrapped and eventually killed by cutting a 3 cm strip through the bark around the entire base of the trunk. This is a great option since it does not disrupt the soil, it will not cause the shrub to re-sprout, and can be done any time of the year.
  • Large shrubs (greater than 2 inches) should be cut as close to the ground as possible using a handsaw, and if possible, the entire stump removed. Plant the exposed soil, immediately, with a native tree or shrub.
  • If removing the stump isn’t possible, repeated cutting and removal of the resulting suckers will eventually kill the shrub. This will take time, so don’t give up.
  • Shrubs that have been removed should be burned or hauled away as waste refuse to prevent seeds from sprouting elsewhere.

The most persuasive reason to remove buckthorn is its effect on natural wildlife. Songbirds, rabbits, deer and squirrels find buckthorn less than desirable. Its tendency for making a thick, almost impenetrable mass on the forest floor and its lack of real nutritional value make it an unsuitable habitat for these animals. They will not spend much time in an area overgrown with buckthorn, especially if there are more desirable areas nearby.

In early March (2011) Independence County Park (Oakland County Michigan) will perform a “controlled burn” to eliminate invasive plants like buckthorn. The burn will promote better growth of native plants and provide a suitable environment for the animals.

Think Spring … Starting Seeds Indoors

Posted in Around Your Home with tags , , on January 25, 2011 by Pat Hansen

Indoor seed starting gives you a jump start on the gardening season. Most seed catalogs arrive in the mail in late January and early February. Early indoor, planted seeds go into the garden in spring larger and stronger, which makes them more able to handle outdoor conditions. Starting seeds inside in late winter or early spring also yields plants that reach maturity sooner, leading to earlier flowering or vegetable production.

Choosing when to plant depends on the type of plant and the estimated last frost date in any area. Planting indoor plants too soon leads to overly mature plants that don’t transplant to the garden well. Most seed packets give an estimated indoor seeding date, such as eight weeks before the last frost. If no estimate is given, add four to five weeks onto the germination time listed on the seed packet, and then subtract that number from the recommended outdoor planting time. For example, seeds that take seven days to germinate and are planted outdoors after frost danger is past, should be started indoors five to six weeks before the last frost date in any area.

Seeds require sterile potting media, which prevents disease issues in the young plants.  Peat-based seed-starting soils are sterile and provide proper drainage so seedlings don’t become waterlogged. Homemade mixtures containing compost must be sterilized by heating the medium to 180 degrees F and maintaining the temperature for 30 minutes. The best draining growing media is only as good as the pot you place it in. Use only clean pots that have a drainage hole in the bottom.

Lighting can pose a challenge indoors in later winter.  Sunny windowsills may provide enough light for seedlings. Vegetables usually require eight hours of direct sun while most ornamentals grow well with at least six hours. If direct light is unavailable or weak, use fluorescent light grows. It is necessary to provide twice as much time under grow lights compared to the light requirements on the seed packet. A plant requiring eight hours of natural light needs 16 hours of artificial light.

Seeds germinate at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. Most seeds don’t require light until after they germinate, so place pots in a warm room during germination without the worry about light availability. Seedling heat mats, available at garden centers, provide bottom heat that keeps the soil warm. Use these mats if you don’t have a suitably warm area for starting seeds indoors.

There is a fine line between too much and too little moisture. Seeds require evenly moist soils that aren’t soggy. Watering once at planting is sufficient if a small greenhouse is rigged up over the pots. Placing a plastic bag or sheet of plastic wrap over the plants retains the moisture in the soil during germination so seeds do not dry out during this time. Remove any covering on the pots once the sprouts appear, otherwise the high humidity may lead to fungal problems. At this point you will need to keep an eye on things to maintain proper moisture. Experience, is the only guide to what will work for you. Good luck on your harvest.

Green Building – Landscape

Posted in Green Building, Lifestyle, Renovation with tags , , , , on July 27, 2010 by Kevin Fox

What is green building?  Briefly stated it is: building according to specific parameters to minimize the negative impact on the environment.  Green building therefore addresses energy, water and resource conservation, both for the home and its larger impact, world-wide.  Green building also has an education component to ensure that the Homeowner understands how to maintain the green features built into the home.

Green building concepts can also be utilized in remodeling projects.  Saving resources and improving the living environment within the home are some of the easiest to include.  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Installing additional insulation
  • Choosing high-efficiency appliances
  • Utilizing water-saving faucets, shower-heads or toilets
  • Selecting low-VOC paints (Volatile Organic Compounds contribute to ozone and smog problems as well as being associated with respiratory problems)

Incorporating Green principles into a project may not have appeal for everybody, but saving money usually does.  We in the Great Lakes region may not be as sensitive to water conservation as those in other parts of the country, but we have all seen substantial increases in the cost of municipal supplied water.

Perhaps its time to consider an alternative to the traditional American front lawn as the cost to operate an irrigation system continues to escalate.  There are other alternatives that can be employed, at least in part.

People who live in desert communities in the SW United States embrace the natural desert environment as their home landscaping.  In fact, many communities require it.

Michigan has its own native landscape environment.  Why not take advantage of it?  Whether you are building new, remodeling or just trying to spruce up your home, consider reducing your lawn area in favor of native, Michigan plantings.  Here are a few reasons to using them:

  • The plants are naturally adapted to the growing conditions and climate in Michigan
  • Using them can save money because native plants require little care or water. You may want to save even more money by reducing or eliminating the size of lawn irrigation if you are building new
  • If planted in the proper locations, native plants do not require fertilizers
  • They provide food and habitat for birds and beneficial insects such as butterflies and dragonflies
  • Deep root systems of native plants provide a path for storm water to seep into the ground.  These roots system prevent erosion from storm water runoff
  • Using native plants helps reduce pollution from pesticides and fertilizers.  There is also reduced noise and air pollution from less use of mowers, trimmers and blowers.
  • Plants are available for all locations and conditions: dry or wet, sunny or shady.  There are native plants for any soil condition.  They come in all sizes and colors.  If you select carefully you can have blooming plants all summer long

For more information on Michigan native plant material, you can read more HERE

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