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Master Your Garden

by Barbara Kozlowski, Master Gardener

Let’s hope all the April showers (and snow) will bring May flowers. Although so many of our spring flowers have bloomed, let’s be positive that our flowering trees will still bloom. My redbud went into a dormant stage. It had started to show its colors but seemed to retreat when the cold weather and snow appeared. Now that it is warming again, the tree is full of delicate purple flowers. My crabapple trees still have budding blossoms on them and maybe they will burst forth with the onset of more spring-like temperatures.

Speaking of warming temperatures, it’s the time of year when the hummingbirds return. I usually hang a feeder or two out around May 1 to welcome these tiny birds back to my garden. If you live in the village, you may see them before I do. Be sure to have their feeders ready, because they’ll be hungry after their long trip north.

If you have never fed hummingbirds, select a couple of feeders from Wal-Mart, Tops, Lowes, Home Depot or a shop that carries feeders. There is no need to purchase special food for them. Just boil 3 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar (no honey), let cool and fill a clean hummingbird feeder. Then hang in a sheltered location and wait for the action. Hummingbirds are fun to watch as they vie for feeding space, males chasing females away from the feeders and endless feeding close to sunset. I usually make up a fairly large batch of this nectar to have some on hand as the feeders empty or to refresh them if they aren’t emptied after a few days. It’s important to keep the feeders clean and filled with fresh nectar to prevent disease among the hummingbirds.

Another bird to watch for is the oriole. It’s a beautiful orange and black bird that prefers a grape jelly food, orange-flavored food or orange slices rather than the hummingbird nectar, although they may try to eat at a hummingbird feeder. They use a more specialized style feeder that allows them to consume their food. These feeders are usually orange in color and have a larger opening than the hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds will eat at an oriole feeder.

Attracting these birds can be as simple as adding their favorite flowers and shrubs to your garden. A hummingbird garden should include some or all of these flowers – apple-scented geranium (Pelargonium), trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), white-flowered impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), scarlet sage (Salvia splendens), and flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). These plants are usually available at a nursery or via a catalog. Check in a bird book or on a website to find additional flowering plants to attract hummingbirds and any other type of bird you want to have around your yard. Some flower catalogs list a variety of plants that attract both birds and butterflies.

Soon it will be warm enough to move any seedlings you may have started outdoors. Before going into your garden, these seedlings should be hardened-off. This means placing them in a shady area to become accustomed to the outdoor light and then slowly introduced to direct sunlight. When seedlings aren’t hardened-off, the sun will scorch their leaves and possibly kill the plant. Once outdoors, cover the seedlings or move them to a protected area should we have a late frost. This area may have a frost up to and possibly after Memorial Day. This is the time of the year we become weather watchers as it pertains to our gardens.

If you haven’t done so, consider signing up for Gardening Day workshops on May 12 from 8:30 a.m.–1:10 p.m. at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Building at 28 Parkside Drive in Ellicottville. The programs are free, but please pre-register by calling (716) 534-5477 or (716) 860-3936. The event is sponsored and presented by the Cattaraugus County Master Gardeners, and they will be there for the on-site presentations on the basics of soil, garden layout, and how to plan seed and plant purchases. Participants may also participate in mini workshops from 12:40 – 1:10 p.m. on how to build a rain barrel, vermicomposting, gardening with children, how to start composting and constructing vertical gardening supports.

Write down any gardening questions and one of the Master Gardeners will provide an answer for you.  We look forward to seeing you there!

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