Enjoying the Wildlife in My September Garden

Barbara Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

One of my greatest joys of gardening is sitting quietly on my patio and observing and enjoying the show my backyard is providing, It's a very busy place, There is the noisy chirping of the birds busily darting in and out of trees and shrubs, splashing in the fountain and bird baths calling back and forth to one another. Occasionally, there is some minor squawking accompanied by loud wing flapping with an immediate return to whatever they were doing before the encounter. I love to watch the birds on the very tall seed heads of the grasses. They land on the tassel and the whole stalk bends down under their weight. Then, it gradually raises itself back up to it's upright position. It's the bird version of a roller coaster.

A resident chipmunk seems to think he is very welcome to run right under my lounge chair once in a while probably in pursuit of some bird seed which has fallen out of a feeder.

There are so many butterflies around the butterfly garden, I can't count them all. A couple Monarchs, a big black Swallowtail, a few bright yellow sulphurs, so many painted ladies they seem to be bumping into each other, and, of course, the ever present whites. August and September is the best time of year to see the most butterflies.

Monarchs on my September Dahlias

The constant drone of July's locusts has now been replaced with the chirping of the crickets.

As I sit here, I watch several hummingbirds zooming among the flowers. They seem to stay midair in one spot, then they can zip almost faster than you can see them to another spot. The ones we see in our area are the Ruby-throated hummingbird. There are many different varieties of hummingbirds in other areas of our country, but we just have the one. Their wings beat so fast that they seem to have a little motor. If you meet one unexpectedly face to face in the garden, that little motor seems shockingly loud!

Hummingbirds love bright tubular flowers. In my garden, two of their favorites are the nasturtiums and the flame honeysuckle. Surprisingly to me, their all-time favorite plant is the black and blue salvia. I say surprising because this is a tubular plant, but it's not bright at all. The flowers are a very dark blue. This plant is not hardy in our area, but every year, right after the frost, I cut mine to the ground, dig it up, and put it in a black plastic bag and tie it shut. Then I put it in a storage area where the temperature stays around 50 degrees all winter. In the spring, it looks dreadful, but I dig it's hole and replant it, and before you know it, it looks beautiful again. My plant right now, is about three feet tall, and just covered with blooms. You practically have to fight the hummers to get near it.

As I enjoy my garden on this September day, the color that I see is being supplied by the purple of the butterfly bush (Buddleia), and the blue of the tall verbena (Verbena Bonariensis), both very popular with the butterflies. One of my very favorite plants, bright pink Agastache 'tutti-fruiti' has been in constant bloom since the beginning of July. I haven't touched it. I have been deadheading the butterfly bush regularly, so that right now it is loaded with fresh blooms. There is orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) which is a host plant to the monarchs, Mexican sunflowers , red cannas, and pink wave petunias. Also adding color, is my rose creek Abelia, which is in full bloom, the flame honeysuckle which has been blooming since spring, and the Autumn Joy sedum which looks beautiful along with the sweet alyssum that likes to intermingle with it. Three different Crape Myrtles are blooming right now. Thanks to the cooler weather, the delphiniums are back along with a strong, revived showing of the pot marigold (Calendula) and the orange nasturtiums. If you think that gardens are done by September, come to my house. This is the middle of September, and I'm loving it!

What is the key to this very active garden? Two very important ingredients are the lack of insecticide use, and a very large diversity of plants which encourage a great diversity of insects. Believe it or not, having many insects is a good thing. About 97 percent of the insect world is beneficial to your garden. The good guys usually take care of the bad guys if you give them a chance, and don't just eradicate them because they are ugly. Always remember when you see a scary bug, it is not necessary to kill him. He may be a good guy. When you spray an insecticide, you are also killing the butterflies, all the beneficials, and, many times, the birds. Got a question about insects? Come to the Penn State Extension offices and ask a master gardener.

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