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Homegrown Habitat

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds delight people throughout Connecticut. Photo copyright Tomas Koeck.

A New Feature To Help You Attract More Birds To Your Property

How enjoyable would it be if more birds and butterflies visited your yard? And how much better would it be for wildlife if they could find more of the plants they need to thrive?

We’re creating this web feature—Homegrown Habitat—to help you make that happen. Because if you attract more birds to your yard, you’ll also attract more butterflies, bees, moths, small mammals, and beneficial animals of all kinds.

Homegrown Habitat provides advice on what and where to plant, one per month, written by Sarah W. Middeleer, a landscape designer whose work focuses on ecology and designing for wildlife.

Sarah is also vice chair of Connecticut Audubon’s Board of Directors.

We’ll add videos, lists of native plants, and more.

We also want to hear from you, so send us your questions, tell us what has worked for you in your yard: homegrown@ctaudubon.org.


Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly by Michael Audette

Hello, from our native plant expert

Greetings, bird lovers!

Native plants have co-evolved over eons with local insects and birds to form a natural balance that benefits all of them.

But development has resulted in serious degradation and loss of habitat, forcing many birds and other kinds of wildlife to try to find sustenance in urban and suburban settings. Luckily, many native plants are well suited to these conditions and also bear features that make them highly attractive to people.

Native plants are not always easily available, and so they may also be unfamiliar to many readers.

Nurseries that sell native plants exclusively are, unfortunately, all too rare. But recently, general-purpose nurseries and garden centers have begun to offer more native plants. It’s important to ask your local plant sellers to carry more natives. Also, public botanic gardens often offer plants for sale.

I hope you’ll find this monthly column enjoyable and informative. Please send comments and questions to homegrown@ctaudubon.org. We look forward to your feedback!

Sincerely,
Sarah W. Middeleer


 

Homegrown Habitat, May 2024: Eastern Red Columbine

May 21, 2024— What better way to celebrate this floriferous time of year than to plant the fascinating, bird-friendly Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)? You can join the welcome party that columbine throws for the beloved ruby-throated hummingbirds: just as the tiny migrants return from their winter sojourn in Central America, columbine unfurls its brilliant red and yellow tubular petals full of sweet nectar. 

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Homegrown Habitat, April 2024: Sweetfern

April 19, 2024—Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) isn’t actually a fern, but a low shrub in the Myricacea family with somewhat fern-like, aromatic foliage. It is native from Quebec south to Georgia and west to Ontario and Minnesota. This under-appreciated shrub, which grows two to four feet high and four to eight feet wide, has many appealing features including its value to wildlife. 

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Homegrown Habitat, March 2024: Spicebush

March 20, 2024—The tiny, lemon-yellow flowers of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) brighten the landscape just when we need them the most—when wintry weather lingers, and the warmth of spring seems a distant memory from last year.

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Homegrown Habitat, February 2024: Sweet Birch

February 16, 2024 — A simple pleasure in winter is to take note of unusual bark on trees and shrubs. Many examples exist; bark might be peeling, flaking, or striped, and red, green, white, or a beautiful smooth gray, etc. Sweet birch (Betula lenta), also known as black and cherry birch, exhibits shiny, black bark in its youth, with horizontal lines called lenticels. As the tree ages the bark will develop scaly plates. The bark and twigs emit an aroma of wintergreen when scratched.

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Homegrown Habitat, January 2024: American Holly

January 20, 2024 — When the Pilgrims arrived in what is now called Massachusetts, they encountered pyramidal evergreen trees with spiny leaves and red berries that reminded them of a tree back home called English holly (Ilex aquifolium), a symbol of Christmas for centuries in England and Europe. Thus the American holly (Ilex opaca), also known as white holly for the color of its wood, was immediately bestowed with similar reverence and symbolism, which it still retains.

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Homegrown Habitat, December 2023: Balsam Fir

December 18, 2023—If you celebrate Christmas, you know the balsam fir (Abies balsamaea) as an iconic symbol of the season. Its symmetrically conical shape and dark-green needles make it a popular Christmas tree, and it is also used extensively for wreaths. Balsam fir bark and needles contain terpenes that lend its foliage a delightful fragrance. But in addition to its beauty, balsam fir has much to offer ecologically. Woodland mammals rely on it for food and shelter, and it offers many benefits to birds. And, as you will see below, it has several interesting characteristics and uses.

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Homegrown Habitat, November 2023: Northern Bayberry

November 27, 2023—During this gray, dark time of year, the flame-colored leaves we’ve enjoyed so much in the last month or so turn brown and drop onto the cold ground. But an often overlooked shrub lets us know that there is yet life and spirit in the landscape—if we would just take the time to notice.

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Homegrown Habitat, October 2023: Highbush Blueberry

October 23, 2023—Blueberries are bird-friendly native plants with autumn flair. Their delicious summer fruit is packed with vitamins and antioxidants; all sorts of health benefits are attributed to them. Their subtle spring flowers, small white and pink bells, are lovely to look at and entice pollinators. But blueberries become showstoppers in fall, with foliage that turns brilliant red, orange, and purple. In winter their beautifully textured bark ensures the blueberry’s status as a garden plant with four-season interest.

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Homegrown Habitat mail: planting advice

September 28, 2023 — Two Homegrown Habitat readers who live on opposite sides of the Connecticir River—Old Lyme and Old Saybrook—wrote this week seeking practical advice on what and where to plant. We thought you might find Sarah Middeleer’s advice to be useful.

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September 2023: Asters

Asters and goldenrods: These two standouts of the late-summer and autumn landscape give new meaning to the oft-repeated garden design phrase “four-season interest,” but from the point of view of our treasured pollinators and songbirds.

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August 2023: Goldenrods (with asters to follow in September)

August 21, 2023 — The dynamic duo of yellow goldenrods and purple asters is one of the glories of the late-summer landscape. These members of the aster family often grow near one another, for good reason – bees, who benefit greatly from both genera, are attracted to the combination of purple and gold. Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, says of goldenrod and asters, “Their striking contrast when they grow together makes them the most attractive target in the whole meadow, a beacon for bees. Growing together, both receive more pollinator visits than if they were growing alone.”

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Homegrown Habitat Mail: Great, basic advice on planting for the benefit of birds and pollinators

August 2, 2023 — Responding to a question about what to plant on a specific property, Homegrown Habitat author Sarah Middeleer instead responded with advice that almost any homeowner can use.

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July 2023: Blazing star

July 17, 2023 — In July and August the native meadow flowers start to shine. A standout is blazing star (Liatris spicata), also known as gayfeather due to its feathery flower heads. Its showy purple flowers appear on stalks two to four feet, but occasionally to six-feet high, blooming progressively from the top down.

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June 2023: Trumpet honeysuckle

Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), also known as coral honeysuckle and woodbine, is a twining, perennial vine originally native to the southeastern United States. Having naturalized to many more northern and western regions, it is now also considered native in many northeastern and midwestern states, including Connecticut. 

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May 2023: Chokeberry

This month’s Homegrown Habitat plants are the chokeberries. Write to author Sarah Middeleer at homegrown@ctaudubon.org. Red and black chokeberries are two closely related shrubs that are highly attractive to birds and pollinators but are also appealing additions to the garden. They are both native to our region and are tolerant of widely varying growing conditions.

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April 2023: Serviceberry

Homegrown Habitat’s native plant for April is serviceberry, which blooms throughout Conneticut’s woods this time of year. Homegrown Habitat is written by Sarah W. Middeleer, a landscape designer whose work focuses on ecology and designing for wildlife. She serves as vice chair of the Connecticut Audubon Board of Directors. Write to her at homegrown@ctaudubon.org. Serviceberries […]

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March 2023: Pussy Willow

For March, Sarah W. Middeleer writes about a native plant whose flowers signal early spring. Sarah is a landscape designer whose work focuses on ecology and designing for wildlife. She serves as vice chair of the Connecticut Audubon Board of Directors.

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Homegrown Habitat answers the mail

February 27, 2023
Sarah Middeleer is happy to answer your questions about how to make your property more attractive to birds. Write to her at homegrown@ctaudubon.org. Most recently she’s gotten questions about winterberry and native shrubs.

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February 2023: Redosier Dogwood

February 21, 2023 — Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea), also known as red-twig or red-stem dogwood, is a handsome shrub form of the genus Cornus. The fruit of the dogwood genus (Cornus) is eaten by at least 95 species of birds.

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January 2023: Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a handsome evergreen conifer that offers structure and winter interest to our gardens. It is often overlooked, but cedar has much to offer the home gardener and is a magnet for birds and many species of butterflies and moths.

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December 2022: Winterberry

  Homegrown Habitat provides advice on what and where to plant, one per month, written by Sarah W. Middeleer, a landscape designer whose work focuses on ecology and designing for wildlife. Sarah serves as vice chair of the Connecticut Audubon Board of Directors. Write to her at homegrown@ctaudubon.org. Winterberry Ilex verticillata December 15, 2022 — […]

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November 2022: Witch Hazel—A native plant with deep roots in Connecticut’s history

November 17, 2022 — Common witch hazel is, in the words of Edwin Way Teale, “a botanical individualist.” As I researched this remarkable plant, I couldn’t agree more. I would add that its individuality extends to historical and cultural realms as well. This large deciduous shrub is the last plant to come into bloom each year in the Northeast; its Y-shaped branches have been used as divining rods to discover underground water; it has played a fascinating role in Connecticut’s industrial history; and its extract has been hailed for hundreds of years as a balm for irritated skin, among other maladies, and continues to be used in cosmetics and personal care products to this day.

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October 2022: Tupelo

October 24, 2022 — Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is native to so many regions (from Ontario south to Florida, Texas and Mexico, and west to Michigan and Wisconsin) that it has many other common names, including nyssa, sour gum, black gum, and pepperidge. This elegant deciduous tree is at its ornamental best in fall, when its foliage transitions from yellow to apricot, orange, and bright scarlet.

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This Invasive Plant Symposium can help you improve your property for birds

October 24, 2022 — The Connecticut Audubon Society is co-sponsoring an upcoming symposium that can help you improve your property for birds and plants. The theme is Strategies for Managing Invasive Plants: Assess, Remove, Replace, and Restore.

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September 2022: American Hazelnut

The series starts with a plant that is at its best in autumn — the American hazelnut. Also known as American filbert, this hazelnut is a native shrub that produces nutritious nuts similar in flavor to its cousin the European filbert. But it’s often grown to serve birds and other wildlife.

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Video: practical advice from Pete Picone of the CT DEEP

Peter Picone, who has worked as a wildlife biologist for more than three decades for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, spoke at our 2020 Annual Meeting. His talk, “Wildlife and Habitat Are Inextricably Linked: Enhancing Habitat One Native Plant At A Time,” is filled with practical ways for you to improve your […]

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