Perennial Sunflowers

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It’s January, but my brain is in July. I need to imagine warm breezes, green leaves, and most of all, bright flowers. And what is more reminiscent of a hot, summer day than a bright yellow sunflower? When we think of sunflowers, the image that comes to mind is a large brown disk surrounded by brilliant, sunny petals, kind of like this: Continue reading “Perennial Sunflowers”

But Where Are the Birds?

Steller's Jay_BlkForest_20100424_LAH_3670The birdfeeder had been up for weeks, but no birds came to dine. My friend was understandably frustrated. “Why won’t the birds come to my yard?” she asked. “I spent all this money on a feeder and birdseed, but they don’t seem to care!”

I thought about all the birds flocking around my assortment of feeders, and tried to see the differences. What was she doing—or not doing—that I was doing differently? We both lived in suburbia, amid rows of houses with lawns and trees and shrubs. In fact, we were only a few miles apart. So why did I have finches and doves and hummingbirds (and more), and she did not?

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Annual Sunflowers

helianthus-annuus-sunflower-csu-23jul04-lah-029Sunflowers may resemble a huge yellow sun towering overhead, but their name comes from their ability to keep their “face” turned toward the sun. Everyone recognizes a conventional sunflower with its huge dark disk surrounded by yellow petals, set atop a sturdy stalk that may reach over eight feet in height. A quick tour of a seed catalog shows that this is just the beginning. Breeders have developed shorter plants (as low as two feet) and an expanded palette of hues ranging from mahogany through orange to lemon yellow, white, and even soft rose to wine-red. Many types sport more than one color.

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Which Varieties are Best for Colorado?

seed-catalogs_lah_2733Seed catalogs are beginning to arrive in our mailboxes. With all the brightly colored photos of perfect vegetables and flowers, it’s tempting to order one (or more!) of each. Most of us, however, have limited garden space. We need to make some hard decisions.

Which varieties should we order? What will thrive in Colorado? Which ones really taste the best?

Most catalogs have some sort of icon indicating which variety does best across the country. The problem is that we don’t live in the rest of the country. We live in Colorado. Our soils, weather, water, even the quality of light here are all different from most of the United States. When a company recommends a product that grows well in Pennsylvania, or California, or Arizona, there is no assurance that it will do as well here.

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By the Birds, For the Birds

blkforest-co_lah_8039This year, the birds planted themselves a garden.

I have half a dozen bird feeders scattered around our yard. Some hold millet, others contain suet, and a small feeder near the house is full of tiny, black nyjer seeds specifically for the goldfinches and Pine Siskins. But the most popular feeders are the ones full of black oil sunflower seeds.

House Finches, jays, nuthatches and chickadees, magpies, grosbeaks—all are attracted to the sunflower seeds. (So are squirrels, but they only get the spilled seeds on the ground.) While the finches sit contentedly on the feeder, munching away, the jays, nuthatches and chickadees tend to swoop in, grab a seed (or three, in the case of the jays), and hightail it to the relative safety of a convenient branch. There they open the shell and extract the seed before returning to the feeder for their next bite.

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Is Safflower Seed for the Birds?

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We gave our daughter and son-in-law a birdfeeder for their wedding anniversary. They were delighted. We filled it with black oil sunflower seeds and hung it on their backyard fence. It didn’t take long for the local House Finches to discover the new food source. My daughter enjoyed watching the pretty red birds gather around the feeder, politely taking turns at the narrow tray.

Then, a few weeks later, a huge flock of red-winged blackbirds realized dinner was available in my daughter’s backyard. They seemed to know every time she filled the feeder. As they jostled for position, they displaced the more subdued finches. Within minutes, the feeder was empty. Clearly, something would have to be done. Continue reading “Is Safflower Seed for the Birds?”