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Northern Cardinal – The Infamous Red Bird

Chances are you have probably received a Christmas card illustrating a snowy white landscape as the backdrop for a barren tree or fence post holding a bright red cardinal.   The Northern Cardinal, AKA Red Bird, is common throughout the eastern United States from Maine to Florida, continuing north into Canada, and west to southern Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and the eastern half of Mexico. It’s hard to take your eyes off the male Northern Cardinal, with its brilliant red feathers, black mask, and orange/red beak.  The female is a buff golden-tan with a red tinge to the wings and tail, with a smaller, less distinct mask.  Both genders have a prominent head crest that can be raised and lowered to indicate the bird’s mood. 

When spring arrives, one of the first songbirds noticed is the Northern Cardinal. Males, in particular, may sing throughout the year, though the peak of singing is in spring and early summer. Males often sing to scare away the competition when courting.  Few female North American songbirds sing, but the female Northern Cardinal does, and often while sitting on the nest. This may give the male information about when to bring food to the nest. A mated pair shares song phrases, but the female may sing a longer and slightly more complex song than the male. The cardinal repertoire includes sounds like what cheer, what cheer, what cheer or purty, purty, purty.  For a sampling, click HERE.

Cardinal couples typically mate for life and produce up to 3 clutches of eggs in a season.  These birds bond over a feeding courtship ritual in which the female bird mimics the behavior of a nestling and the male bird offers her seeds or berries in a kiss-like gesture.  The male becomes aggressive in his protection of his territory and is known to engage in a battle with his own reflection.  If you ever see a cardinal hitting a window over and over, that’s what is happening.  The female cardinal builds the nest, usually 3-10 feet above the ground in a dense tree or shrub. While the female tends the nest, the male cares for her by bringing food and guarding against predators.  Both parents tend to the cardinal chicks, and even after the chicks have matured, they stay together as a family.

When given the opportunity, cardinals will feed on a wide variety of insects, however 90% of their food intake is sourced from weed seeds, fruits, grains and berries.  Many of the foods contain carotenoids, the source of phytonutrients like beta-carotene and lutein.  Cardinals have an enzyme that converts yellow carotenoids to red before depositing them in the feathers.  Some cardinals have a defect that fails to convert the carotenoids, causing the birds to have yellow feathers instead of red.  Cardinals will forage while hopping on the ground or in low bushes, and sometimes higher in trees.  They readily come to bird feeders, where they favor sunflower and safflower seeds. Because they do not migrate, it is likely your cardinal visitors will return to the same feeders.

An interesting fact about the Northern Cardinal….it is the State Bird in 7 states in the US.  Those states are: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Northern Cardinals are also associated with a great deal of folklore, legends, and spiritual beliefs in many different cultures. It is common folklore that a visit from a cardinal represents a sign from a loved one who has passed.  Birds have often symbolized heavenly visitors, messengers to the gods, or even the gods themselves in feathered form. This belief has been part of ancient Egyptian, Celtic, Maori, Irish, and Hindu spiritualism, as well as the lore and legends of many Native American tribes.  Cardinals are often associated with romance, and it is believed that if you are single and see a cardinal, romance is in your near future. At the same time, if you are in a relationship and a cardinal crosses your path, it is said to be a reminder to honor your partner and remember the romance that brought you together. 

If you haven’t been charmed by the Northern Cardinal or another of the birding community in your yard, you’re missing out.  Get acquainted by installing a feeder somewhere in a spot that you can view from your porch, deck, or window.  You’ll be in awe when you see that male cardinal sitting on the bare tree branch or the fence post…so beautiful, with or without the snow!

Visit Wings & Things, the Birding Department in the Wingard’s Produce Market, select a feeder and grab a bag of Cole’s Birdseed.  While Cardinals will eat a variety of seeds, safflower is one of their favorites.  Safflower is also a lifesaver for those having trouble with squirrels or large “nuisance” birds. Since most squirrels and blackbirds don’t like the bitter taste, it is an easy way to send a message to any undesirable visitors. 

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

What’s wrong with my plant?

It’s a common question we get this time of year! In fact, a customer sent us this picture.

Here are some things you can do to troubleshoot the problem: 

1. Pull the mulch back about 4″ away from the trunk of the plants, and make sure it is not more than 3″ thick. If more than 3″ thick thin it out.  

2. For newly planted trees and shrubs, check to make sure the top of the root ball is 1″ above ground level.   If it is at ground level or below the plant should be replanted higher. It should take 9 to 12 months to settle to ground level. 

3. It would be good to dig up the plant and see if the ground is holding water like a bowl and not soaking in. Lack of drainage will create root rot which will kill the plant. The roots will be brown, instead of white, and can be mushy. 

To fix this a drainage problem, 

  • dig up the plant and cut off all mushy roots and remove a large amount of soil out of the hole. Bring in fresh soil to re-plant in. Treat the hole and plant roots that are left with Captan fungicide.After re-planting add root stimulater to the soil to get the white feeder roots boosted and growing. They are the main ones that take in moisture and nutrients.
  • adjust irrigation length of time to allow only 1” of water to hit the plant. You can put some sort of container near the base of the plant and measure how long it takes your irrigation to add 1” of water to the container. That’s how long you should be running that zone. If you can’t adjust the time for that zone, then adjust how frequent you water. 

4. If you dig up the plant and find the soil is very dry, follow the instructions above to make sure you are getting 1” of water to your plants when you irrigate. If you checking and make these adjustments you should see a major improvement in your plant provided the root damage has not hit the point of no return. 

5. Do you have a dog ? If so make sure the dog (or a neighbor’s dog) is not urinating on the plant. With time the urine will kill the plant. Normally it starts on one side and moves across the plant. Or, has the dog laid on the plant or has somebody stepped on the plant and broken it up?  

6. Freeze damage often doesn’t show up until summer when the heat kicks in. Look at the base of the trunk or the stems close to the trunk. See if they have split open. You may see wood and no bark or bark torn away from the wood.  If this is the case, you will just have to replace the plant.7. If none of the above are the issue it would be good to get a soil test done 

  • The ph could be way off.
  • The lack of a nutrient (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) would indicate a fertilizer issue.

The soil test is done through the Clemson extension office located below the Cook Out in Lexington next to the magistrate’s office. It should cost $6 for the standard test. The test results will tell what needs to be added to the soil to balance the pH and n-p-k needs.

 

Japanese Beetles

 You may have seen some beetles munching on your roses or crape myrtles or a variety of other flowering plants.  These are Japanese Beetles, and they arrived a little late this year, since we had such a cool Spring. Japanese beetles feed mainly on flower buds or open blossoms, but can feed on leaves. Since many beetles feed mainly at night, the gardener rarely sees them, only the damage that they cause.

Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) feed during the day and are perhaps the most readily recognized of the beetle pests that feed on plants in your garden. An adult Japanese beetle is about ½ inch long and has a metallic green body and legs with coppery-brown wing covers. It can be distinguished from similar beetles by the tufts of white hair that are clearly visible at the end of its abdomen.

The adults begin emerging from the soil in mid-May and are present through August. They can live from 30 to 45 days. They lay their eggs in the soil. Grubs hatch from the eggs and feed on grass roots. As the weather cools, the grubs move more deeply into the soil to overwinter (survive the winter). In the spring, the grubs migrate back up to the root zone and continue to feed. They pupate (change to adult form) in late April and May.

Japanese beetles have chewing mouthparts and feed on flowers, buds and leaves of roses (as well as numerous other plant species). Partial or entire flowers and buds may be eaten. Typically, flowers and buds that have been fed on have ragged edges and/or holes in the petals. Affected buds may fail to open. Rose leaves are typically skeletonized (only leaf veins remain) by the feeding. Leaves with tender veins may be eaten completely.

Control: Various non-chemical control options are available for Japanese beetles. They can be handpicked and destroyed by dropping into soapy water. When only a few plants are involved, fine netting, such as tulle fabric, can be placed over the bush or individual blossoms to exclude the beetles. Japanese beetle traps are available commercially, but should be used with caution. They can be effective at reducing adult populations, but they should be kept at least 50 feet from the plant(s) that you are trying to protect. The traps have the potential to create more of a problem by attracting numerous beetles to the area. Also, traps must be emptied frequently as beetles are repelled by the smell of ammonia which is released by dead, rotting beetles.

It is important to keep in mind that rose blossoms openly quickly and are very attractive to Japanese beetles. These circumstances make it difficult to keep the blooms adequately covered with insecticide to protect them.  So, the best chemical-free method is to just let them have their feast and your plant will recover after they’ve had their fill. 

Insecticides that are labeled for homeowner use include sprays containing bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, lambda cyhalothrin, neem oil, permethrin, or pyrethrin to control beetles.  We recommend Bayer 3-in-1 Insect, Disease & Mite Control if you are prone to using chemical insect control.  Additionally, treat your soil this summer with Hi Yield Grub Free Zone, to kill the grubs which will morph in to beetles next year.

Nurturing Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs faithfully reappear at the most advantageous time – after a long, cold winter, just when we’re longing for bright colors to relieve the monotony of winter snow and ice. Most spring bulbs are perennial and multiply in number every year, bringing more beauty to the flowerbeds each spring, but some problems can destroy a carefully planted bulb bed. Seemingly carefree, bulbs do require a bit of nurturing to ensure they perform their very best for years to come.

Tips for Bulb Care

  1. Plant spring bulbs in October.  Be sure to read directions on the package for planting depth.  Different flowers required different depths.  Position bulb in ground with foliage tip up and root end down.
  2. Good soil drainage is important to prevent bulbs from rotting so plan your site accordingly. Do not plant bulbs near areas where downspouts let out or in low wet areas.  Amend clay soil with soil enhancer to promote good drainage.
  3. When planting bulbs in the fall, add a high phosphorus fertilizer to the planting hole for the development of strong roots. This will help the bulbs establish well so they can renew themselves each year.  Bone Meal is a good fertilizer to use.
  4. Bulb foliage will often break through the soil after a few warm winter days. This vegetation is hardy and its exposure to the cold will not damage your plants or prevent them from blooming. There is no need to cover, wrap or otherwise protect this initial foliage.
  5. Fertilize bulbs as plants are emerging from the ground. Do not fertilize once flowers appear. Use a 5-10-5 granular fertilizer to assist in foliage and flower development, ideally one that is formulated especially for bulbs.
  6. After blooming, cut back the flower stalk, but not the foliage. Cutting back the flower stalk will force the plant to put its energy into the bulb for next year’s flowers and not into seed production that would dampen the strength of the bulb.
  7. Allow the leaves to die back naturally. The leaves are vital for producing food that is stored in the bulb for next year’s growth. Cut leaves, never pull, once they have turned yellow – pulling can damage the bulb. Do not tie leaves as this reduces the leaf surface required for adequate food production.
  8. When the foliage has completely died back the bulb is dormant, and this is the proper time to dig and separate bulbs if necessary. Flowering will often be reduced when bulb beds become over-crowded. If division is needed, bulbs should be dug and stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place and replanted in the fall.
  9. Fertilize bulbs again in the fall with a high-phosphorus, granular fertilizer.
  10. Daffodils and Narcissus are the easiest to grow in the South, and most of them are deer resistant.  Tulips are the hardest to grow in the South, because they prefer a colder climate.

With thoughtful care, you can easily help your bulbs reach their full potential and they will thrive for many years.

Autumn: Why Plant Now?

Although many gardeners plant trees and shrubs in the spring, knowledgeable gardeners plant in the fall to take advantage of all this fabulous season has to offer. But why is fall planting better than spring planting?

  • Stress Reduction
    Transplanting causes stress as plants are removed from containers, balls or established locations and changed to new locations. Planting in the fall, when a plant is entering dormancy and is generally hardier and sturdier, reduces this stress so the plant can thrive.
  • Establishing Strong Roots
    Fall planting “establishes” trees and shrubs by encouraging root growth. Because the soil is still warm, the roots continue to develop until freezing, though the upper parts of the plant are already dormant. When transplanting in the spring, the developed roots are active and delicate tips or rootlets, as well as buds and new leaves, are more easily damaged.
  • Weather Resiliency
    Trees and shrubs planted in the fall are better able to withstand the rigors of the next summer’s heat and dry conditions because they have much longer to develop healthy roots systems and become thoroughly established. This is especially critical in dry climates or areas prone to drought or irregular rainfall.
  • Faster Maturity
    The “head-start” of fall planting results in a larger plant in less time, helping create a mature landscape without waiting for smaller plants to catch up. This can be especially critical when replacing dead or damaged plants in a mature landscape to avoid a gap or uneven look.
  • Water Conservation
    Planting in the fall saves watering time and promotes conservation by eliminating daily watering. Cooler temperatures with the addition of both morning and evening dew contribute greatly to soil moisture availability in fall without as much supplemental watering.
  • Color Confirmation
    Fall is the best time to see a plant’s autumnal color. Planting in the fall eliminates the surprise of the wrong color or unexpected shades that may not coordinate with nearby plants. By planting in autumn, you’ll know exactly what you’re purchasing and planting, and you will be able to match better with your existing landscape.

Autumn can be the ideal time to plant trees and shrubs, whether you are adding to your landscape, replacing plants or starting a whole new look. If you plant in autumn, you’ll be amazed at how lovely your landscape will look next spring.

Watering: How Much?

Water is critical for a healthy garden and landscape, but how much water is too much, how much isn’t enough and how much is just right? Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific answer that suits every gardener’s needs. All plants have different water requirements, which change depending on the type of soil, amount of sun, temperature, humidity, season, maturity of the plant and overall growing environment.

Initial Watering

All plants, including specimens described as drought tolerant, will require water when first planted. This is because many of the smaller roots responsible for water uptake are usually damaged during shipment and planting. Build a small circular soil wall around the plant to contain water while it percolates into the soil. Watch new plants carefully and keep them well-watered as their roots settle in and they adapt to their new or transplanted location.

Groups Are Good

It’s a good idea to have some knowledge of the plant’s water requirements when determining the location in the garden. It will keep watering simple if you plant a new specimen near other plants with similar water requirements. In this way, there is no need to readjust an irrigation system or watering schedule, since all the plants in the group have similar needs.

Need a Drink?

Because plants’ watering needs can change through the season, how can you tell if a plant needs more water? Most plants will wilt as the soil becomes too dry. The leaves may droop, and if it’s an upright plant, the top ends may become soft and bend over. Glossy plants may begin to look dull, while thick leaves will shrivel. If you notice these signs, it is time to water! Most plants will revive if watered quickly enough, but be sure to water deeply rather than allowing moisture to run off the surface.

How can you tell if you should water? Push your finger into the soil an inch or two from the base of a plant. Perfect soil should feel cool and slightly moist. Some soil should stick to your finger. If none does, it’s too dry. If it’s muddy, don’t water. Overwatering kills plants by depriving the roots of oxygen. Some gardeners use water meters to see the precise amount of moisture. If you’re unsure, this tool can be helpful.

Adjusting Your Watering Schedule

The amount you have to water your plants or landscape can change from day to day. A cool morning will allow more dew to form and drain to the soil, or a sudden afternoon thunderstorm can be enough water to keep your plants hydrated for a few days. An overly hot day, however, can rapidly deplete water resources and extra watering may be required. Check your plants and landscape regularly to be sure they are getting adequate water, and make adjustments as needed to keep them suitably moist without either too much or too little water.

How MUCH water?

Established lawns require approximately 1 inch of water per week in the summer.  Put several
containers out on your lawn and put a mark at a depth of 1 inch. Then turn on the irrigation. Determine
how long it takes to fill the container to the 1 inch mark. Divide the time by 4 and set the zones to run that
amount of time every other day starting at 5:30 am. Keep an eye on the lawn as some zones may need
more or less water due to the soil’s ability to drain. 

New lawns – follow the instructions by the installer, or the place of purchase.

Trees or shrubs (3 or 7 gal) installed within the past six months – Each plant will need about 1 inch
of water a day when daytime temperatures are 90 degrees or higher. (Even more if temperatures exceed
100 degrees.) You can use the same container method explained above to determine how long it takes
your irrigation system to put out 1 inch of water. You will need to water for that amount of time every day.

Trees (15 gal) installed within the past six months – Take a 5 gallon bucket and put a hole on the side
near the bottom using a 1/16 inch drill bit (approximately the diameter of the lead in a #2 pencil). Fill it
with water daily, and it will slowly trickle out. Put a brick in the bucket so it doesn’t blow away when it is
empty. For larger trees, use more buckets.

Remember to reduce the water when our high temperatures decrease as we go into the Fall.
If the temperature high is in the:
80’s – water every other day
70’s – water every 3rd day
60’s – water every 4th day
50’s – water once a week

These are some general rules, but not an absolute answer to irrigation of a lawns, trees, and shrubs due
to natural rainfall, soil variables, slopes, drainage, and other issues. Every location is different. Watch
how your plants respond and adjust accordingly.

For more information, https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/watering-shrubs-and-trees/.

Breathe Easier With Indoor Plants

You can bring the bright atmosphere of a tropical vacation into your home with indoor plants. An integral part of your home décor, indoor plants not only artistically improve your home, they also cleanse and freshen your indoor air quality. Plants take in carbon dioxide and release clean, pure oxygen. Some plants even absorb certain air toxins, potentially harmful radiation or unpleasant smells. Indoor plants also add welcome humidity to the air we breathe, and filter dust particles for a cleaner environment. While indoor plants can improve your life in many ways, they must be selected to fit successfully into your lifestyle.

Don’t Consider Light Lightly

When selecting a foliage plant, first determine what type of light you have – this will be the best key to the plant’s health and survival. Look at the area where you would like to keep the plant through the entire day to determine if the light changes. You will also want to keep in mind the time of year – the light will change with different seasons as well as the angle of the sun. 

  • Low Light – 3-4 hours of indirect light. Don’t confuse this type of light with no light. If you can sit in the room and read comfortably without turning on a light, it is low light. If you must turn a light on, then it’s considered no light.
  • Medium Light – 4-6 hours of indirect or direct morning sun.
  • High Light – Direct or indirect sun for 6-8 hours a day. Direct afternoon sun in the winter can be too hot for many houseplants. Be careful this time of year because many plants can get sunscald.

No matter what the light levels in different rooms of your home, there are plants that can be comfortable there.   The best rule of thumb is to give your indoor plants the most light you possibly can.  If you are short on natural light, try some of these plants which are more tolerant to low light conditions:  

  • Pothos
  • Philodendron
  • Snake Plant
  • ZZ Plant
  • Arrowhead Vine
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Peperomia
  • Peace Lily
  • Rubber Plant
  • Bromeliad
  • Maidenhair Fern

If you aren’t sure what your light may be or which plants may thrive, we also recommend you talk to one of our experts about your particular situation for best results.

A Word About Watering

The most common cause of death of an indoor plant is overwatering.  The second most common cause is underwatering.  So it’s important that you watch out for the watering needs of your indoor plants.

The smaller the pot, the more frequently you will need to water your indoor plant. Small pots (2-3 inches) might need water every day depending on the plant’s needs and the richness of the soil. A 4-6 inch pot may need water every 3-4 days, whereas a 10-inch pot (or larger) usually only requires water every 4-6 days. These guidelines can change depending upon the location of the plant, the type of pot, variety of plant, soil condition, general humidity, time of year and weather conditions. Plants don’t utilize as much moisture on gray days as they do on sunny days.  Plants that prefer drier conditions may need to be watered only every two weeks.

Because so many factors can impact indoor plant watering, determining the watering schedule for large pots (over 10 inches) can be difficult. To help, take a natural wooden dowel and push it into the soil until it reaches the bottom of the pot. After you pull the dowel out, you will be able to see the wetness on the bottom of the stick (if there is any). Also, remember that the larger the pot, the more water will be held in the soil at the bottom – even if there are drainage holes.

Plants that have lower water requirements:

  • Sago Palm
  • Snake Plant
  • Orchids
  • Ponytail Palm
  • Succulents
  • Spider Plant
  • ZZ Plant
  • Red Aglaonema
  • Pothos
  • Rubber Plant

Despite their water requirements, most all indoor plants grow naturally in the tropics.  Therefore, they appreciate a humid environment, which most homes do not provide.  Home heating systems can be especially drying in the winter.  Keep a hand held mister close by and give their leaves a spritz every now and then.  It wouldn’t hurt to do it every day.  Keeping bowls or trays of water near your indoor plants is also helpful.  As the water evaporates, it puts more moisture into the air around your plants.

Fertilizing

Most foliage or non-flowering houseplants will thrive with occasional fertilization. You can increase the feeding to twice a month during the growing season. Flowering plants have different fertilizing needs depending on their bloom schedules and growth productivity.  You can find fertilizers specific to certain indoor plants, such as  African Violets and Orchids.  Investigate the needs of your individual plants and feed them appropriately.  Use a general indoor plant fertilizer and follow the instructions on the package.  

Houseplants can add great beauty and many benefits to your home. Once you begin choosing houseplants, you’ll soon be enjoying them in every room and every season.