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Gardening for the Birds – 2014 Update

Recently I received this message via my website…

Hi Jessica, I have been reading your blog and using your photos to identify birds for about a year now.  Your photos are so beautiful!  I am working on making our new yard (pretty much a “blank slate” right now) in Orlando more bird friendly.  I looked at the pictures of your yard and am wondering if you would consider showing us updated pictures now that your plants have had some time to mature.

It’s such fun to get feedback from total strangers who are enjoying my blog!  Thanks for your comments, and please keep them coming! :)

I’m not sure if this reader was looking at my Garden Craze page, which shows my initial garden setup back in 2006, or my Gardening for the Birds page, which was a 2012 update describing lots of plants to attract birds (especially hummingbirds) to the backyard.   But I’d be happy to share some more recent pictures of the yard.  It was a hard decision a few years back to rip out most of my roses, but I realized that I was using way too many pesticides and fungicides in order to keep the rose bushes healthy.  It’s hard work raising roses in humid Florida!  Besides, my viburnum hedges had grown in well enough to start providing nesting habitat for songbirds, like Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and Brown Thrashers.  I decided that I couldn’t keep spraying pesticides that would kill off the insects that these birds eat, and might also hurt the birds.  I’ve replaced the roses with a lot of native plants, most of which attract birds and hummingbirds.  I’ve seen hummers in the backyard in both summer and winter, so I know they are around!  Maybe someday they will favor me with more frequent visits. :)

So here are some iPhone panorama shots of the backyard as it is now.  It’s a little more wild looking than it used to be, but the birds love it.  I did just trim back some of the giant Coral Porterweed plants.  I have several bird feeders in the yard, as well as a bird bath.  I vary the feeders at different times of year.  Right now my yard is rather quiet, so I don’t put as much seed out.  In the wintertime, I add a hummingbird feeder (in the summertime the nectar goes bad really quickly in the Florida sun, and besides, the birds prefer the natural nectar from the flowering plants.)

2014 Backyard Panorama - Left
2014 Backyard Panorama – Left.  Click on image to view larger.
2014 Panorama - Back
2014 Backyard Panorama – Back. Click on image to view larger.
2014 Backyard Panorama - House.
2014 Backyard Panorama – House.  Click on image to view larger.

Some changes to note since my 2012 description…

1) I replaced the plants around the porch with Wendy’s Wish salvia.  It’s a very healthy, thick salvia with bright pink blooms.  It’s been my best-growing salvia in the yard.

2) The Painted Buntings in the wintertime, and now the House Finches in the summertime, love my red salvia annuals.  They re-seed like crazy, and the birds love to eat the seeds.  I’d highly recommend them to anybody who wants to attract birds to their backyard (hi Michael!)  Look in the back middle bed and they are growing throughout that bed.  They don’t look so great right now, but they have bright red blooms that attract hummers.  The Painted Bunting link also shows pictures of these flowers.

3) The hummingbirds in my yard love my Firebush “Hummingbird Bush”.  Look to the right of the wooden bird feeder, and you’ll see a tall bush with little orange flowers.  That’s it.  They love it.  Ironically, this is the “dwarf” variety.  I planted two of them side by side back in 2007, then I pulled one of them when I realized how big they got.  Then I pulled the other one as the viburnum hedge grew.  But apparently I missed some of the roots, because the plant grew back.  Finally I let it grow, and grow it did!  It’s huge now, and very popular with my hummingbirds.

4)  Coral Porterweeds are also great hummingbird plants, but beware, they grow huge!!  They easily get to be as tall as I am, and just as wide.  Look in the back middle bed, between the two bird feeders, and you’ll see the porterweeds on the far left and right.  I trimmed mine back about a month or two ago, and they haven’t started blooming again yet.  I periodically trim them almost to the ground and let them re-grow to keep them from taking over the whole yard!

5)  Another plant that gets really big is the Firespike (look in the “house” panorama, to the right of the door).  This bush was just trimmed.  It was easily twice as tall and much wider.  But again, the hummingbirds love it.  Our cat Goldilocks finally got to see her first hummingbird when one buzzed by her porch to nectar on the firespike!  (Goldy is my indoor cat that inspired the birdwatching craze in our house.  Thanks, Miss Clock!)

Half-weeded Bed to Give Perspective on Size
Half-weeded Bed to Give Perspective on Size

As I looked through my iPhone snapshots to create this blog post, I came across the one above showing the back bed while I was weeding it.  The right side has the Coral Porterweed trimmed almost to the ground and the dead wood removed from the salvias. The left side has a huge Coral Porterweed and un-trimmed salvias.  So you can see that if you choose to plant these hummingbird-friendly plants, you may have a little jungle on your hands.   It’s worth it, though! :)

Coral Honeysuckle - or "Poor Trellis!"
Coral Honeysuckle – or “Poor Trellis!”

A lot of the hummingbird plants are vines. I tried planting this Coral Honeysuckle on a trellis. As you can see, it grew a little!  It overtook the trellis and grew into a small bush, weaving itself around the woody base it made around the trellis.  Then the trellis couldn’t take it anymore and flopped.  I’ve trimmed the honeysuckle back significantly this spring, and one of my summer plans is to create a little bird blind for myself, and let a vine grow up around it.  That will definitely make the blog when I do it!

Pineapples!
Pineapples!

I couldn’t write about the backyard at this time of year without mentioning my pineapple patch, which is so much fun partially because it’s so easy!  Take the tops off a few store pineapples, bury them, abandon them in a sunny spot that gets some water, and then in a few years, you’ll have pineapples!  It does take about two years for each plant to produce a fruit. The above snapshot was my two best pineapples from this year’s crop.

I hope this helps inspire some more gardening for the birds.  Feel free to leave me comments and questions below! :)

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