Gardening Considering our wildlife

Gardening

By Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

By the end of October, beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) bushes in my backyard had been denuded of berries. The birds had been making a determined assault on them for several weeks, and when hurricane Matthew passed through it finished the job. Cardinals and catbirds then busied themselves stripping any accessible fruits from my firebushes (Hamelia patens). Since these fruits dangle on the ends of slender stems, the only way for the birds to reach them was to fly at them and grab them in passing, much like a flycatcher’s technique; it was so comical to see.

In early November it was still mild enough for butterflies to be out and about. Tall red pentas (Pentas lanceolata) and firespike (Odontonema strictum) are particular favorites for nectaring butterflies, as well as our ruby-throated hummingbird. Although the maypop vine (Passiflora incarnata) had finished blooming, its still-tender shoots were home to more than a few gulf fritillary and zebra longwing caterpillars.

Come December, birds migrating to our area for the winter will have been here and entertaining us for several months. Our gardens are mellowing and slowing down, and the seed heads of wildflowers such as coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), narrow-leaved sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius), coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), gaillardia (Gaillardia pulchella), and asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), as well as grasses (such as bushy bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus; split-beard broomsedge, and A. ternarius; pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris), supply feed for those same birds. Nut- and berry-bearing shrubs and trees — hollies among them — will also be attracting birds and small mammals; it’s a fine time for creatures stocking their winter pantries.

One of my favorite authors, Craig N. Heugel, wrote “Florida Plants for Wildlife; A selection guide to native trees and shrubs,” published way back in 1995 by the Florida Native Plant Society. He lists plants suited to the northern, central, and southern areas of Florida primarily to highlight food sources for birds. He adds that we could also consider cover, both for shelter and nesting, and encourages us to develop our landscapes for our other wildlife neighbors, but always depending on what we ourselves want to invite into in our yards. This and his more recent books are available from the Jacksonville Public Library.

Snakes are slowing down with the cooler weather. Look out for them in garages and sheds, where they may have gone initially to escape the storms, and be aware that although they are more than likely to be harmless, it’s certainly not guaranteed. This article gives a deeper insight into situations we might encounter: http://tinyurl.com/h5ffy24. And check out http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/snakes/north.shtml for a really good illustrated guide to identification. It’s sound advice to familiarize yourself with some of our local species before you’re confronted with a potential problem.

The November/December issue of A New Leaf has useful information on helping your trees and landscape recover from hurricane Matthew, as well as ideas on what to plant now in the flower and vegetable gardens: http://duval.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/nleafNovDec.16mail.pdf. Enjoy.

Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.