Monthly Archives: February 2015

Circle of Life

I hope you’ll enjoy my latest article from the newspaper.  If you already read it, or don’t want o read it, that’s okay.  I write for my own enjoyment, and some people tell me they enjoy me writings. 🙂


The Circle of Life

     Whenever I see the butterflies, bees, hummers, and other pollinators flitting about in my garden from spring until fall, I just want to burst out in a chorus of The Circle of Life, theme song from The Lion King movie.  Indeed, there is a circle of life going on right there in my yard.

     Many gardeners seek to have beautiful butterflies and hummers flitting about in their flower gardens.  But in order to assure that will happen, there are some things you must keep in mind.  Butterflies have a cycle which includes the adult butterfly, the egg, the larvae (caterpillars), and the chrysalis.  If you provide an abundance of nectar plants in your landscape, you’ll get butterflies, at least for the first year or two.  But if you don’t go the extra mile in providing host plants on which the butterflies lay their eggs, your population may decrease over time.  The nectar plant sustains the adult, but the caterpillars need a totally different plant with leaves they can eat.  And then there’s the chrysallis, which needs a safe place to hang for the winter, until the adult butterfly emerges in the spring.  If we remove all the brown plant stems and rake all the leaves, we may be destroying the chrysalis that will become next year’s butterflies.

      The oak tree is vital to the survival of many butterflies, as it supports more than 500 species of native insects.  Yes, the leaves may start to look somewhat ragged after a horde of caterpillars munch on them, but the tree doesn’t suffer so long as no more than 30% of the leaves are eaten.  We just have to learn to embrace the ragged leaves as a natural part of the insect life cycle.  Other native trees and shrubs are also valuable as host plants.  So when planning your landscape, be sure to leave the oaks, add some natives such as sassafras, pawpaw, buttonbush, willows, wild cherry, New Jersey tea, blueberry, and viburnums.

      Hummers have their own circle of life that involves migration.  We provide nectar plants and shelter for them on their journeys to and from their winter/summer breeding grounds.  Without the plants they need to build up body fat, they won’t survive their long migration.

      Bees need nectar plants too, but also rely on the protein rich pollen to feed to their young.  Native mason bees and bumblebees are some of our most reliable pollinators.  These critters also need nesting sites, which might be a hole in the undisturbed ground, or inside the hollow stems of plants that are left standing for the winter.  Some, like the leaf cutter bees, will use leaves from native plants to pack inside their nesting site.  Once again, you’ll have to learn to tolerate a less pristine yard.

   Notice the number of birds visiting your feeders as spring approaches. The birds come for the food, but hang around if nesting places, fresh water, and shelter are available.  Most of our songbirds are seed and berry eaters, but 90% of them feed their babies insects.  By enticing birds to your yard, you are assuring that the caterpillar population will be kept under control.  If there are too many caterpillars, they can overgraze on the leaves and weaken the plants.  But with birds in the yard, a significant number of insects will become bird food.  Once again, there’s a circle that includes insects, native plants, and birds.    

     Since our birds and insects have coevolved over thousands of years with our native plants, they can tolerate the chemical defenses put out by the natives. They cannot do this with nonnatives, so they bypass those plants..  Putting in nonnatives will certainly assure that we have pristine plants, but it will also assure that we will have fewer of the beautiful pollinators and birds we enjoy in our yards.  The animals simply cannot get the nutrition they need from non natives.  Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home, stated that ‘A plant without damage is a plant that hasn’t done its job”.

     Chickadees are one of the most delightful birds in the home landscape.  A study done by the 

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center found that chickadees will bypass non native trees and shrubs such as gingko and crape myrtle within a few hundred yards of their nests, and travel up to a city block away to find insects on a native tree.  Some non native species do support insects, but not the kind of insects our native birds prefer.  

   Perhaps the greatest impact on animal habitats is the change from mostly native to mostly non native species in our landscapes.  About 80% of suburbia is landscaped with plants from Asia, according to Dr. Tallamy.  “When nonnative plants replace natives, entire food webs are disrupted by the loss of specialized plant-eating insects-the most important food for animals ranging from other insects and spiders to reptiles and amphibians to mammals and birds.”

   To sum it up, if you want to enjoy the critters in your yard, you have to plant with them in mind.  Do some research before you plant a tree or shrub.  Ask your landscaper to start replacing nonnative plants with natives.  Make sure your flowering plants from the nursery are free of herbicides and pesticides.  If the label doesn’t say so, then ask.  If the nurseryman doesn’t know if his plants have been treated, then don’t buy them.  When you take home a plant that has been treated with pesticides, the insects that feed on the leaves will be killed.  A pesticide doesn’t discriminate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ insects.

     Enjoy your yard, embrace the chewed up leaves, and join me in a chorus of The Circle of Life.  Your singing can’t possibly scare away more critters than mine!

To learn more about the importance of native plants in our environment, join us at the next meeting of the West Georgia Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society on Tuesday, February 17 at the ag center.  The meet and greet and plant sale will be at 6:30, with the program at 7:00.  Jim Ozier will present a program on the Bald Eagle.  Guests are welcome.  Membership applications will be available.  Check out the GNPS website at and the West Georgia Chapter at for more information about the organizations.


Two Old Ladies on a Trip

What a great few days!  Dianne went with me on a trip to Ellijay, where I was doing a program about pollinators and native plants for the local Gilmer County Beekeeper Club.  What a great and friendly bunch of people.

We drove up Sunday night and spent the night at Leslie and Bradley’s house, so we wouldn’t have to fight the Monday morning traffic into Atlanta.  Early Monday morning we headed up I-75 to north Georgia.  We went straight to downtown and stayed there all day, with a delicious lunch at a little restaurant right off the square- the tomato basil soup was probably the best restaurant soup I’ve ever had!  And the chicken salad sandwich was nothing to sneeze at either.

We must have visited a dozen antique shops (two dozen if you count each revisit as a shop).  I found some great Christmas presents, along with a couple of things for my new home office.  Dianne bought some great pictures for her kitchen.  She just loves chicken ‘stuff’, and the shop owner said having chicken ‘stuff’ in the house would bring good luck.

After lunch we checked in to a motel.  Our first choice was closed for repairs, and the second one (which was recommended by one of the club members) looked nice, well off the main road so it was quiet.  But boy can looks be deceiving!  The phone wouldn’t work, the internet service wouldn’t work and the drink machine was out of order.  At the continental breakfast, I too a big swig of my glass of milk, only to find that it was spoiled.  Ugh!  So, needless to say, my next post will be a review of our stay.  If it hadn’t been so late, and the only other motel we knew about, we would have left this place.

At least the beds looked good, until the spring poked me in the rigs all night.  So much for looks, once again.

But we were treated to dinner at a meat and three place, which didn’t look so great, but was very clean and service was wonderful.  The food was delicious, and the company of bee keepers were a delight.

After the program, I got a basket filled with their fresh honey, some lip balm made from their wax, and some books about pollinators.  They were a very gracious audience, and I think enjoyed my program.

This morning we got up early and headed back to Cartersville, where we went on a native plant rescue in some really cold, windy weather.  But it warmed up nicely, and we got a ton of great plants for new areas of the Buffalo Creek Nature Trail, as well as our own yards.  (Check out the West Georgia Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society facebook page for the progress on the trail, as well as some timely information about gardening with natives, and for the wildlife.)

The dear folks at the Dallas Chik Fil A have come to overlook our mud spattered clothes, and our rubber wading boots, and our outrageous digging outfits, and welcome us hardily to lunch.  It’s our routine to enjoy lunch together, since we don’t do a lot of visiting on a rescue-too busy digging.

Now, I have dozens of plants to get in the ground, along with two meetings tomorrow morning.  Hopefully, I’ll get some planted on the creek bank that we specifically dug for that purpose.  Then it’s off to Dianne’s to get some of hers in the ground before the cold weather predicted for Thursday.  Too much fun to to had, too little time to have it.

So now, off to fix some cornbread and veggies for Scott, who is such a dear about not fussing about all my running off and leaving him to fend for himself.