In the Garden

I used to hang bird feeders in my garden, but I was forced to remove them because, to my surprise and consternation, they were attracting rats.

Even though my garden provided a wide variety of plants for food and shelter, I was worried that if I removed the feeders, my bird friends might leave to find food elsewhere. I knew that it is difficult for birds to find reliable, shallow, clean-water sources, so I added additional birdbaths to the garden. My gamble paid off big time, even though I removed the feeders.

The only birds who left the garden were the purple finches, and they always hogged the feeders, making it difficult for the smaller songbirds to get their share. Not only did the resident chickadees, bushtits, juncos and nuthatches stay put in my garden, I began to notice new bird varieties showing up for a bath.

It was great fun watching Townsend’s warblers, varied thrushes, spotted towhees and even an occasional black-headed grosbeak splashing in the bath.

One uninvited guest was a sharp-shinned hawk who shocked the living tweetle out of me when he nabbed a little chickadee just as she stepped out of the tub. To avoid a repeat of that unpleasant surprise, I moved the birdbaths into shady locations surrounded by trees and shrubs to prevent hawks from having a straight shot at them.

Make sure the water stays clean and fresh by blasting the water out of the basin with a powerful hose-end nozzle before refilling on a regular basis.

Be aware that the bathing birds can empty a shallow birdbath in a matter of hours. Don’t worry, the birds will let you know. When the water is low, the birds will peep at you nonstop until you replenish their supply.

Reconsider timing of lavender pruning

Most of us prune lavender back hard in spring in order to prevent the formation of bare, unsightly stems that always seem to occur at the base. Then in summer, after the blooms fade, we normally shear them lightly to remove the spent flower buds and to keep the plant looking neat and attractive through the winter.

Some lavender experts are now recommending hard pruning in summer, right after the blooms fade, rather than waiting to do it in spring. Instead of simply shearing to remove spent flower stalks, the new idea is to prune back to within a half-inch of the bare stems.

Hard pruning in summer should induce a flush of new attractive growth that will look great all winter long. Then, rather than pruning hard in spring, all that is required is a light trimming to tidy up the plant and remove any winter damage.

According to the advocates of this method, lavender pruned hard in summer should remain compact and bushy, and such pruning also will inhibit the development of unsightly bare stems at the base.

Keep in mind that for this method to be successful, it’s necessary to do the hard summer pruning right after the blooms fade. If you wait too long, the flush of new growth may not have time to harden off enough to withstand winter, especially if we experience an early freeze.

If that happens, you won’t have to worry about bare stems at the base because the entire plant will be bare, and you’ll be shopping for a replacement next spring.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.