A garden is not a garden without a few feathered friends


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Birding, Gardening, Plants Map, Wildlife | Posted on 15-02-2014

For me, a garden is not a garden without a few feathered friends in the yard.

T_DSC0018he more time I spent in my garden, the more I started watching birds and learning to identify them. A few years ago I heard about the Great Backyard Bird Count and I have been participating ever since. Bird watching is probably my favorite wintertime activity. And yes, I not only make plant lists but I also make bird lists.

When I choose plants for my garden I prefer to include those that are known to provide food or shelter for birds. In a previous home landscape I had two ‘bird’ gardens: one consisting of viburnums and native berry producing shrubs and the other was primarily seed and nectar perennials. In my current backyard landscape, the overstory tree canopy is primarily tulip poplars, sweet gums, and maples.  I have mainly focused on adding a layer of understory native trees and shrubs. So far, I have a list of 27 different species of birds that have visited my yard. At the end of this year’s bird count I will post on my blog (tracybelvins.com) an update on my bird list.Garden Below are some of the best websites I have found to help create a bird friendly garden and habitat.

National Wildlife Federation: Create a Bird-friendly Habitat
This website includes tips on providing water year round, eliminating the use of insecticides, using proper nesting boxes, and if possible allowing dead tress as an important natural shelter or dwelling plus much more.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: 12 Ways to Design a Bird-Friendly Garden
This website article offers great design tips including choosing plants that provide year round food sources and creating clumps of trees of the same species together, especially conifers to provide shelter.  They also recommend limiting the size of your lawn because it is not as beneficial to birds as other habitats.

Washington State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife: Landscape Design for Wildlife
This website has a great visual on the different birds species that live at different plant layers in a habitat from ground covers, shrubs, understory trees, to the top overstory canopy.  This is known as vegetation layers and relies on a diversity of plants to attract a broad diversity of birds.

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: Native Landscaping for Birds, Bees, Butterflies, Wildlife
Choosing to incorporate native plans also means that you are providing plants that are necessary to native birds and wildlife. This OSU Extension factsheet provides a great list of Ohio native trees and shrubs. But remember that native is relative, so do a quick search of Cooperative Extensions resources for native trees and shrubs for your state.  You can also reference the North American Native Plant Society database.

Another important note in this fact sheet is to avoid using exotic (or non-native) plants because they can be harmful to native ecosystems. This can have a detrimental effect on both native vegetation as well as native wildlife.  Visit the USDA Introduced, Invasive, & Noxious Plants website for a national list as well as state lists of plants to avoid.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Best Plants and Trees for Birds
This website provides a great short list of the best Trees, Conifers, Vines, and Shrubs for birds. My favorites on this list: Serviceberries (Amelanchier species), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), and Arrowwood Viburnums (Viburnum dentatum species)

University of Missouri: Sunflower An American Native
Do you want to grow sunflowers for your own birds? This website will tell you everything you want to know about growing a crop of sunflowers. Did you know?  “Of all crops harvested for seed around the world, only one was domesticated in America: the sunflower”

And for even further reading, I also recommend Gardening for the Birds: How to Create a Bird-Friendly Backyard from Timber Press.

These are just a few of my favorite websites and resources for creating landscapes and gardens to attract a diversity of birds. If you know of others, please share and comment.

Happy gardening, planting and bird watching.



We are planting a seed: Plants Map


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Botanical Gardens, Cooperative Extension, Gardening, Plants Map, Social Gardening, Trees | Posted on 18-01-2014

What is Plants Map?

Plants Map: Discover Plants and Gardens, Be a Plant Explorer; Be a Plant Collector

Plants Map: Social Gardening: bringing people and plants together

Plants Map: A new prototype of attractive, interactive, custom plant tags that use smartphone technology to connect people with plant collections via a social plant database where users map and share gardens.

It’s a New Year and my husband and I have a new idea: Plants Map (www.plantsmap.com). We are launching Plants Map (www.plantsmap.com) this weekend at Startup Weekend Fredericksburg (http://fredericksburg.startupweekend.org).

PlantsMapWe have planted a seed! We expect www.plantsmap.com to emerge this Saturday morning ( January 18 about 10am). The website will be in ‘seedling’ mode and grow throughout the day with features so don’t just visit once.  We are inviting everyone who appreciates trees, gardens and parks to visit www.plantsmap.com & help us grow the site by creating their own profile and lists of plants in their gardens as well as lists of favorite plants at public gardens they have visited.

We envision that Plants Map will have two facets: A free, fun, interactive, social component where people can explore gardens, discover plants, and create their own plant collection lists. The plant species themselves will be the central focus.  Our idea we feel is not just for gardeners, but for anyone who enjoys and supports gardens, public and private. We want people to become ‘plant explorers’ and ‘discover’ gardens and plants & gardens they didn’t know before. We want a place for ‘plant collectors’ to share their passion for gardening. And maybe your plants earn some ‘green thumb’ ratings too.The other aspect is to create and make available interactive, affordable, attractive plant identification tags with QR codes that work with smartphone technology. We have already talked to gardeners and botanical gardens and feel their is nothing that has evolved that was easy to produce, long lasting, attractive and interactive. Our target audience is Botanical Gardens that want a better option. We feel interactive plant tags with a social website for plant species will help attract more visitors too.The social aspect is free and instead of relying on traditional advertising streams to support it we wanted to provide something of service, value and usefulness to the users like a map of their plants, or a product like a color booklet or a photo album and the core product: interactive, attractive plant tags.We have lots of ideas for the website in terms of ways this can support neighborhood and community gardens and tree programs. As part of the launch this weekend we will create a ‘wish list registry’ of plant tags for Cossey Botanical Park, a public neighborhood arboretum maintained by volunteer Master Gardeners in Fredericksburg (VA). Our idea is that there are a lot of public community gardens that don’t have budgets for tags. So we hope to see if people will ‘sponsor’ a tag (map a plant) and order one for Cossey Park.
More information about Plants Map and Startup Weekend is below.So we have planted a seed.  We are inviting as many as we can to visit www.plantsmap.com on Saturday to watch and see what emerges. We hope its big.Thanks,Tracy and Bill Blevins

Plants Map: A new prototype of attractive, interactive, custom plant tags that use smartphone technology to connect people with plant collections via a social plant database where users map and share gardens. For plant enthusiast, explorers and collectors, this visually interactive plant map database will be a social & mobile experience. Users create an ‘explorer’ profile and share their own garden collections as well as ‘discover’, virtually or in person, Botanical Gardens, arboretums, public gardens and other private gardens too. ‘Explorers’ create lists of ‘discovered’ collections, favorites, and wish lists. With a fun and easy to use site ‘Collectors’ create their own garden collections that can be organized into lists with their photos. From their own collections list the site provides services such as downloading your collection to an excel file, saving and printing a .pdf file with their photos, or ordering a higher quality, full-color printed catalog/booklet of their plants or a photo album format or even producing a map of their garden.More information about Startup Weekend 
Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. The non-profit organization is headquartered in Seattle, Washington but Startup Weekend organizers and facilitators can be found in over 200 cities around the world.  Startup Weekend Fredericksburg is January 17-19 and will be hosted at Germanna Community College Workforce & Technology Center.

The 17-year Cicadas are here! Get the nets and fire up the grill?


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening, Insects | Posted on 09-05-2013

17 year cicadas

Photo: 17-year cicada on my Rhododendron “Northern Hi-Lights” (Northern Hi-Lights Azalea). Getting his bearings I believe before the mating season heats up, baby.

The 17-year cicadas will emerge in areas of Virginia this year and specifically, in Spotsylvania County where I live.  I have seen a significant amount of holes as evidence and I have already seen at least three winged adults and several more nymphs freshly out of those holes stumbling around. Stomp!

I have done a lot of reading on these insects to prepare myself for their arrival and take necessary precautions. They leave their underground homes and make their way up to daylight when the soil is precisely 64 degrees.  I have not heard their mating call yet however.

Their peak mating season/noise will be mid May to mid June.  It is about 5 days after you hear the males only ‘sing’ to attract females that the females will begin to lay egss. This is where the situation gets unpleasant for a woody ornamental and tree lover like myself with lots of new young plants in my yard.

The females have a sawlike apparatus to slice open twigs of trees and woody ornamentals to lay their eggs in. This is where the damage occurs. This usually leads to flagging where the end or the entire twig will die. They are particularly drawn to a sturdy, woody twig that is 1/4″ minimum to a 1/2″ maximum size.  They usually seek out Maples, Oaks, Hickories, and Fruit trees including ornamental trees. They also will use berry producing trees and shrubs like Dogwoods and Serviceberries.

Older trees are usually not significantly affected by these insects and can tolerate some damage without stress. One or two cicadas aren’t going to affect a young or ornamental tree or shrub. But a heavier volume can cause significant damage. The best advice is to be aware and assess the situation before you take action.  When you hear the cicadas, and you have trees or shrubs that are of concern to you, check them every couple of days for cicadas or flagging (noticeable dying of a twig due to the split created by the female to lay eggs). If you suspect or know that you will have a heavy presence, the most recommended method for control is a net with 1/4″ or smaller openings to cover the tree or shrub.  These nets are commonly sold at lawn and garden centers as bird netting. I have also seen the use of cheesecloth used as a cover as well.

There are also some pesticides that can help as well, especially those with active ingredients Permethrin. Only use if you have significant infestation and damage and read and follow the label. And there has been some research on the active ingredient Imidacloprid used as a systemic that shows it may decrease the amount damage caused by females. For more information on control methods, see Resource links below.

They are out and about a relatively short time so that by the end of June or early July, they will all but be a memory. Where did they go? The adults die and the eggs in the twigs hatch and fall to the ground where they burrow into the soil where they will live for 17 years. And repeat.

Why do we not get so worked up about the annual cicadas? Birds typically can handle them on their own. They love  them. But the periodic cycadas usually provide such a feast that they overwhelm our feathered friends ability to consume. And fishermen? Get your cicada flies ready. Fish also love to pounce on them as well on low branches over streams. And they 17 year cicadas are known for being loud. Really really loud.

And a side note: In my research I did read a blog from a wedding website that has actually advised all brides-to-be to avoid getting married outside in June if you are in an area affected by the 17-year cicadas. If you are attending one of those outside wedding, you may want to take your own veil.

Oh, and apparently they are pretty tasty. Gag. See link at bottom of resources for recipes.

A few facts.

They are not Locusts or even related. Locusts are swarming species of short-horned  grasshoppers in the family Arcididae in the order Orthoptera. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locust

17-year cicadas are Magicicada, a genus of the 13-year and 17-year periodical cicadas of eastern North America in their only family Cicadidae and order Hemiptera. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magicicada)

Some form of cicadas do occur every year and are known as annual cicadas. Most are familiar with the species called ‘dog-days cicadas’ that come out mid summer. My mom always used to say when you heard those cicadas, it meant summer was half over. :-(

They do not eat that much. Nymphs in the ground feed on tree roots but damage is minimal and the adults feed very little during their short time mating. So damage to other perennials, annuals, vegetables or crops is not a consideration.

They do not sting or bite or swarm people or animals. They are looking for each other to mate in a short amount of time, so their activity and numbers can be creepy.

Resources for further information
(Note: Check with your state extension website for the facts on Cicadas in your area)

Virginia Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet: Periodical Cicada

Virginia Tech New: Cicadas Invasion bugs some, excites others

University of Illinois Extension: Cicadas

Are you a fan of Cicadas?  Check out this site for everything you ever wanted to know about them:  www.cicadamania.com

The Gardner’s Network: Control of the 17-year cicada

Shrub Nets for Cicadas: TGN Pumpkin Nook

Permethrin: National Pesticide Information Center: Permethrin

From the Department of Entomology, University of Maryland: Comparison of Exclusion and Imidacloprid for Reduction of Oviposition Damage to Young Trees by Periodical Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae).

If you can’t beat ’em, eat em!  See: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/cicada-cooking-pizza-tacos-jello-article-1.1314334


Tick Season


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening, Wildlife | Posted on 15-04-2013

For gardeners and pet owners, Spring and warm temperatures means the beginning of Tick season.

Links for great information on how to protect yourself and your pets. See your states Cooperative Extension website for more information as well.

CDC Ticks: http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Common Ticks of VA

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Gardening and Your Health: TICKS

Dogsandticks.com: Ticks, Dogs & Disease



Spring Plant Sales (Fredericksburg VA area)


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening | Posted on 15-04-2013

Upcoming Plant Sales in the Fredericksburg (VA) area

April 20: AHS Spring Garden Fair @ River Farm (Alexandria)

April 20-May 4: RAAI Mayfest Plant Sale; Kings Hwy

April 26 (10-1 members; 1-4 public) & Saturday, April 27 (9-4):Friends of the National Arboretum Garden Fair and Plant Sale

April 27: 9am-3pm: Tufton Farm / Monticello Heirloom Vegetables and Spring Ornamentals Open House

April 27: Maymont Plant Sale: Herbs Galore and more!

May 2-4: Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Plant Sale 

April is for Arbor Day and Earth Day


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening | Posted on 14-04-2013

Happy April!  Happy Earth Day!  Happy Arbor Day!

Are we happy yet?

Earth Day is always on April 22.  From www.earthday.org: “Each year, Earth Day — April 22 — marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.  The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air ActClean Water ActEndangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Growing out of the first Earth Day, Earth Day Network (EDN) works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.”  For more information on their programs and events in your area visit the website.

National Arbor Day is always the last Friday of April.  So in 2013, that will be April 26.  However, may states observe their own Arbor Day on different dates based on the best time to plant trees.  You can visit www.arborday.org/arborday for official dates for each state and more information on resources and programs from Arbor Day.

And for some history on Arbor Day, see www.arbor-day.net:  “The first Arbor Day took place on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska. It was the brainchild of Julius Sterling Morton (1832-1902), a Nebraska journalist and politician originally from Michigan.  Throughout his long and productive career, Morton worked to improve agricultural techniques in his adopted state and throughout the United States when he served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. But his most important legacy is Arbor Day.”

In the month of April, perform an act of kindness to the environment and either plant or hug a tree!  They do more for us than many realize.



March 23: Native Plant Sale at US Arboretum, D.C.


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening, Plant Sale | Posted on 19-03-2013

I can’t wait to check out the Native Plant Sale this weekend at the US Arboretum.  The sale is a free event and open to the public.  Admission to the Arboretum is also free.  The sale is held in conjunction with their 27th Annual Lahr Native Plant Symposium. 

From the US Arboretum (Washington, D.C.) website:

Native Plant Sale 
March 23, 9:30 am – 2:00 pm

Get a jump-start on spring by shopping at this annual sale featuring local nurseries that offer an extensive collection of high quality, locally-grown native plants. Growers will be on hand to provide expert gardening information. Held in conjunction with the Lahr Native Plant Symposium. Free admission.


Pepper Plants are looking good!


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening, Peppers, Seed | Posted on 19-03-2013

The pepper seeds I started back in February have been potted up and are looking good.  Want to see?  A picture is worth a thousand words.  But it will make you hungry.

See my new Pinterest board: 2013 Peppers from Seed

I have two trays of pansies to plant as soon as the weather permits. Working on that Pinterest board too.

Just started some tomato plants and trying something called Wonderberry.


Snow: to remove or not to remove?


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening, Trees, Weather | Posted on 06-03-2013

Snowy MapleThe mid-atlantic has experienced heavy wet snow today followed by increasing wind. This can equal a lot of damage to trees and shrubs.  There is always the debate about wether you should or shouldn’t go out and knock the snow off your highly prized woody ornamentals and trees.  I prefer to wait and see what Mother Nature can do before I intercede.

Earlier this morning the branches of my maple were dropping heavy. The winds gradually started to increase and the snow began to shake loose off the branches. I look at it now and it is totally free of snow. Same with my evergreens and little shrubs.

Snow removal is a touchy subject. If the wait and see approach doesn’t work and it is painful to watch your tree branches bent over, then most sources recommend using a broom to gently (keyword), brush with an upward stroke, the branches of your trees and shrubs. I don’t recommend going out in fowl weather, risking your own life and limb to do this.  And use caution for own safety.

The best thing that you can do to prevent a lot of winter damage, is to keep your trees an shrubs pruned properly.  It is also advised to not encourage new growth in the fall buy fertilizing or pruning.  Below are some additional resources on minimizing winter damage to your trees and shrubs. And if you do need damage control, always use a an ISA Certified Tree Care Service or Arborist.

VCE Managing Winter Injury to Trees and Shrubs

NCSU Trees: Damage



AAS Complete List of 2013 Winners


Posted by justtracy | Posted in Gardening | Posted on 05-03-2013


Look for these  AAS Winner varieties this year at your favorite retailer or they may also be available as seeds from your favorite source.

From  AAS (All-American Selections): Complete list of 2013 Flower and Vegetable AAS winners

About AAS:  “All-America Selections is a plant trialing organization using independent judges in over 60 locations across North America. Only the highest scoring new varieites are declared winners and given the “AAS Winner” designation.”

Tomato ‘Jasper’ looks good to me.