Shawnee News-Star Blog 21 May 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg The suet feeder was nearly empty.   Despite the warm humid weather, suet seems to be a hot commodity.   I cut open the suet with berries and carried the container outside.   The suet cage was attached by wire to the free-standing bird feeder.   The feeder sat on [...]

Shawnee News-Star Blog 21 May 2017

Scavenging Sunflower Seeds

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The suet feeder was nearly empty.   Despite the warm humid weather, suet seems to be a hot commodity.   I cut open the suet with berries and carried the container outside.   The suet cage was attached by wire to the free-standing bird feeder.   The feeder sat on the top of a five foot metal pole.   The pole and feeder were leaning at a strange angle.   I shoved the pole to center, holding onto the birdhouse.   The top opened and out popped a squirrel.   I don't know who was the most surprised.   The squirrel took a leap and landed on the tree branch two feet away.   It sat there and chittered at me while I collected my wits and anchored the pole into place.   It appears Mr. Sunflower Seed Eater had somehow gotten himself trapped inside the birdfeeder, was unable to get out and decided to make the most of the situation.

I refilled the suet feeder and went back inside the house.   It took that squirrel no more than a minute to jump to the top of the birdfeeder, swing itself upside down, and begin munching.   The hummingbird feeder hanging on the branch behind slowly moved back and forth in the wind with nary a hummer to have a taste.   I walked through the house to the front door and looked at that feeder.   Only the wasps were tanking up.   Perhaps the little birds were nesting.   If so, the only time they tend to be seen is early dawn or late dusk.   But something was moving around the red sage.

Quietly the front door opened, thanks to WD 40, and I slipped out to get closer.   Sure enough, there was a male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird busily hitting all the red sage flowers.   He then flew over to the one red flower on the tropical hibiscus for a quick check before buzzing away.   So, the hummers are here, just not at their feeders.

Red Sage

The red sage has taken control of my garden in a way.   I thought I purchased one scarlet sage (Salvia splendens) several years ago.   It happily grew way too tall, continuously bloomed throughout the growing season and set many seeds.   Those seeds planted themselves in my avocado plants, pineapple plants, red ornamental pepper plants, the tropical hibiscus and others.   Every potted plant I brought indoors for the winter each had at least on scarlet sage plant.   These guys were supposed to be the ubiquitous scarlet sage everyone buys to plant in their garden borders.   The scented broad leaves are deep green and the terminal raceme is thickly covered in bright red tube flowers. A raceme is a stem that supports short stalked flowers which first open at the bottom and slowly unfurl their way to the top.   Terminal does not mean dead, but the end of the stem.   To deadhead the Salvia flower tops, though, can stimulate more blossom production. The plants may get two feet tall. The red sage at my house has smaller green leaves and its red tube flowers are more widely spaced along the top of the stem. The fuzzy stems easily reach four feet in height and may even form branches.   My Red Sage is not the least bit cold hardy.  I think it is actually Salvia coccinia.   This clever sage goes by many names:  Red Sage, Tropical Sage, Blood Sage or Indian Fire. The not so smart sage is called Texas Sage.

I totally take back that last sentence.   The Texans have discovered the importance of native wildflowers and are doing something about it.   The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, ten miles from Austin, covers nearly 300 acres and only has native plants"more than 700 species native to Texas.   Founded in 1982, its purpose is to preserve and protect North America's native plants and habitats.   The Center is self-supported and functions as a research hub for the University of Texas at Austin. They maintain a fantastic native plant data base I use quite often.

This past fall Red knew in order to survive it must once again hide out with other plants that were to be moved to warmer quarters before the first frost.   The hibiscus continued to bloom throughout the winter in the greenhouse and the Red Sage kept pace with it by sending up floral stalks, developing seeds and making more baby Red Sages.   Everything else took a holiday, including the three poinsettias.   They coasted right through the holiday season and their bracts turned red late February. When it came time to move the plants out of the greenhouse to the great outdoors, there was already a supply of Red Sage blossoms in nearly every pot.   Hungry insects discovered the tube blooms and were more than ecstatic.   Small birds investigated the plants looking for seeds.   The leggy sage had difficulty standing upright, so some were staked, while others were allowed to fall over as vines or be propped up by taller plants.

Green Pepper Support System

I know it is recommended to ditch the tomatoes and peppers at the end of the growing season, but I hauled my sweet green bell pepper plant into the greenhouse.   It continued to produce peppers until late January.   The aphids found the plant delicious and during the next two months its shiny green leaves turned yellow and dropped off, leaving only green stems.   I moved the plant back out in the spring.   Tiny bunches of leaves began forming at all the growth tips.   Little yellow flowers bloomed.   On the oddest pepper plant one will see, there are seven green bell peppers developing on last year's plant.   It provides great scaffolding for the Red Salvias.

The hummingbirds love the Red Salvia flowers. This member of the mint family probably originated in Mexico, so our Ruby Throats that overwinter in Mexico and northern Panama know this plant. To them it is a bit of home.   Different Salvia species may grow as annuals, perennials, or shrubs. Salvia forms the largest genus in the mint family, and the region of Central and South America has over 500 species.

With the threat of severe storms now on our doorstep the next several weeks, have you cleaned out your cellars or basements?   The broom, dust pan, bucket of soapy water, rag and I opened the cellar door, descended the steps and tackled the hidey hole.   I wore my heavy duty garden gloves, long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans.   Two dead scorpions, three live scorpions, two brown recluses, several small spiders, spider webs, a handful of roly-polys and one dried worm later, the cellar was fit for occupancy.  The old water jug was replaced with a new one.   New batteries went into the old lantern.   The screens below the turbine and vent were cleaned of debris and one wasp nest.    I hope we won't have to discover how lovely the cellar now is.