Weekend Notes: Soaker Hoses, Gluttonous Grackels, Spring Berries

Break Out the Hoses. It’s definitely turned into a dry Spring. Hot, sunny weather, and just a little over an inch of rain for the past thirty days.

It’s a point of pride with me that except for the vegetable gardens, I almost never water. I do hand water my containers and new shrubs and perennials. As for the rest,  many of my plants are prairie natives or otherwise well-adapted hombres that laugh at drought. And if the grass grows dormant, so be it.

Foxgloves (Digitalis ambigua)on backyard path.

However, it’s gotten just dry enough that I’ve given in. I’m being a little extra careful because I do have a lot of new perennials, plus I’m using many more annuals as fillers and these are more vulnerable to drought.

So I got some new soaker hoses that are a big improvement on the last one I had. Sold under the brand name Gilmour, they are flexible and easy to use.

If I have to water, I definitely prefer the soaker hoses. They use water much more efficiently and you can target the water more precisely. The disadvantage is you have to be careful laying down the hose in a bed full of growing plants – I snapped the main stem of a tall white cosmos while doing so yesterday.

Step Away from the Peanuts. On the avian front, I’ve decided to give the peanut feeder a rest until the cold weather returns. I’m tired of feeding the grackles, who’ve been consuming about 90% of my peanuts, sometimes emptying an entire tube feeder in a single day. I put out the peanuts for the benefit of woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other nice, colorful birds.

Yes, I’m talking to you.

Grackles are not nice. They are like the Hell’s Angels of bird feeding: they show up in a gang, eat everything, and then hang around intimidating everybody else.  Grackles can be kind of attractive in a menacing way with their glossy purple sheen, and I wouldn’t mind them if their behavior wasn’t so atrocious. I also like to watch how they dunk their peanuts in water.

Fortunately, the grackles leave the bird feeders alone during the winter. Until then, I’ll have jelly for orioles, suet for woodpeckers, nyjer seed for the goldfinches, and sunflowers for everybody else.  No peanuts.

Berries of Spring. We’ve got a nice crop of ripe spring berries for the birds: red elderberry, blueberries, serviceberries, and wild strawberries. The serviceberries are being gobbled up by the robins and others. This is the first year we have an appreciable number of blueberries. I grow them in containers to make it easier to keep the soil acidic. I have two low-bush varieties: Top Hat and Little Crisp.

Serviceberries. Their taste has been described as a cross between blueberry and almond.

I’m growing the straight species of native red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) as a hedge on the east side of the house. They must be happy because they have a bumper crop of berries for just their second summer. The birds don’t seem to be eating them, though. I wonder if I should put up a sign that says something like “FREE EATS.”

Red elderberries.

I find wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) make an excellent groundcover. The berries don’t taste like much, so I’m happy to leave them for the robins, squirrels, and chipmunks.

I also really like the unusual striped berries of Starry Solomon Seal (Smilacina stellata).

There are other berries later in the Summer and in the Fall. I’m very happy to find that my gray dogwoods (Cornus racemosa) are loaded with green berries for the first time, after several frustrating years. When the berries turn white in Autumn, they are devoured by birds – or so I’m told.

7 Comments on “Weekend Notes: Soaker Hoses, Gluttonous Grackels, Spring Berries”

  1. The past 30 days my backyard has received 0.25″ rain – very discouraging! I used to be hardhearted about watering, but then I nearly lost a mature viburnum and my crimson king maple dropped it leaves two years ago, so now I am more proactive. However, I think I will follow your example and start planting more prairie natives – I love your yard!

    • I’m sure you know that not all prairie plants are drought tolerant, but those that are have amazing resilience. Grasses like Switchgrass and Little Bluestem, Echinaceas, and perennial sunflowers are all great for getting buy without much water. Check out the website for Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin and Prairie Moon in Minnesota.

  2. Weirdly, we’ve been having rain when normally (if there is a normal anymore) we do not. This is the second year that the weather has been unpredictable.

    On the topic of the dreaded Grackles, I noticed some people here start using safflower seed when the Grackles are overtaking the garden. Squirrels and Grackles won’t eat them but many other birds including woodpeckers enjoy them. I haven’t tried that yet….

    I love the colour of the foxgloves and the pathway.

    • You’re right, safflowers deter the big bad birds while being eaten by many we look on with favor. If there was hulled safflower available, I’d buy it. The problem is that when I used safflower the yard would become a big, spongy mass of safflower shells. As in other aspects of life, there is never a perfect solution when it comes to bird feeding.

  3. I love your backyard path, both the texture of the brick with moss and the perennials crowding it just the right amount.

    As I read your post this morning, I felt just a slight green tinge of jealousy. I, too, use mainly native plants. I’m still at the experimental stage to see what will do well here in southcentral Kansas and what just can’t handle our heat and drought. My green tinge? It came from reading about (and seeing) all your berries! Keep up the good work!

  4. We’re in the driest part of the UK yet it’s rained nearly every day since mid-march. It is actually the “wettest drought on record” as only recently, water restrictions are slowly being lifted after being imposed in early spring.

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