2014 Habitat Hero Applications are in!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Inspiration from the Applications

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

We’re still evaluating Habitat Hero applications, but we thought we’d share a few photos from some of the applications to inspire you about how creative wildscapes and habitat-gardening can be.

Who needs a Suburban lawn?

Beautiful and great habitat--you can't go wrong with that combination.

Beautiful plant combinations that provide great habitat–you can’t go wrong with that combination!

Lawn? Not when you could have this diverse and flourishing landscape with many different kinds of flowers blooming throughout the year, plus water for birds, a charming array of bird boxes, brush piles, shrubs, and trees. It’s a cottage garden on steroids (except it uses no chemicals whatsoever).

Edibles and Pollinators in a City Yard

No wonder they owners of this city garden have seen more than 30 different kinds of bees already!

No wonder they owners of this city garden have seen more than 30 different kinds of bees already!

Look at this first-year backyard edible garden with a flourishing border for pollinators along side. The front yard features a wide new wildscape border that replaced lawn with habitat that has the neighbors buzzing (in a good way).

Cold-Desert Sheltered Garden

Look what you can do in zone 4 with 8 inches of annual precipitation (and wind--note the wind generator in the background)!

Look what you can do in zone 4 with 8 inches of annual precipitation (and wind–note the wind generator in the background)!

On the windy and very cold shrub-steppe of northern Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin, this couple enclosed their yard with a low stucco wall for shelter and created a hummingbird paradise that also attracts songbirds, butterflies and smaller pollinators.

Habitat beautifies a Busy City Corner

Who could pass this garden by without stopping to admire it--or feed from the flowers and seeds it provides?

Who could pass this garden by without stopping to admire it–or feed from the flowers and seeds it provides?

Instead of high-water, high-fertilizer annuals, this landscape designer and infill developer chose to honor the site of Denver’s first botanic gardens with perennial beds that feed and shelter pollinators and hummingbirds. And foster a sense of community through the volunteer garden group that maintains them and educates neighborhood residents about the gardens.

From Pfitzer Junipers and Lawn to Front-Yard Wildscape

Much more appealing than the overgrown junipers and raggedy lawn that were there in 2010.

Much more curb appeal than the overgrown junipers and ragged lawn that grew here in 2010.

… In only four years! We guess the butterflies and hummingbirds are much happier with this front yard than the old one. Another suburban habitat standout, and it’s also xeric and chemical free.

A Schoolyard Garden Recreates Natural Habitats

The prairie garden, visible from every hallway in the school.

The prairie garden, visible from every hallway in the school.

Three gardens in the center of this grade school replaced grass and gravel with a prairie, woodland, and a conifer forest. The habitat gardens are younger than the grade-schoolers who planted them, but already provide inspiration and education to the kids and their teachers.

A Small-Town Trail (once a Railroad Grade) Restored to Habitat Corridor

Conservation Corps members built and installed bluebird boxes along a stretch of the trail being restored to native mountain prairie.

Conservation Corps members built and installed bluebird boxes along a stretch of the trail being restored to native mountain prairie.

Inspired by the urban creek restoration project of one of the original Habitat Heroes featured in Colorado Wildscapes, a small-town trail system faced with growing invasive weed and fire-prevention issues decided to see the problems as an opportunity to restore 2.5 miles of trail as a linear habitat, a corridor for people and wildlife.

More to Come…

The photos and brief descriptions above are only a sampling of the many applications we received. We’re evaluating them now, and will announce the 2014 Habitat Hero Awards in November. Stay tuned for more inspiring stories and landscapes.

Thanks to all who applied!

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Habitat Hero Transformation

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Preview of Coming Habitat Hero Attractions

Since Habitat Hero Award applications are due today, October 15th (yes, you procrastinators, now’s the time to apply!), we thought we’d give you a bit of a preview of the magic that can happen when you transform an otherwise boring yard into a Habitat Hero wildscape.

Bindweed Manor Then…

The front yard at Bindweed Manor before….

The very unappealing front yard at Bindweed Manor before….

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that we featured a habitat-garden-in-progress outside Boulder, Colorado, almost exactly a year ago. When we last saw Bindweed Manor, as Pam and Joe Piombino only partly jokingly labeled their property east of the Front Range foothills, the front yard was mainly bindweed, a terrible weed in the clayey soils of the Colorado Front Range, with tufts of smooth brome (a European pasture-grass) left over from when a plains grassland was plowed and seeded for hay pasture.

A curving wall adds some definition to the yard without obscuring views.

A wall adds some definition to the yard.

Passionate birders and members of Boulder County Audubon Society, Pam and Joe could see the possibilities for wildlife habitat. First they built an undulating wall to give themselves some shelter and privacy without obscuring their expansive views.

…And Now

And then they planted. With the help of a creative designer and a lot of their own sweat and persistence, Pam and Joe transformed that wasteland into a garden that sips water and welcomes songbirds and pollinators.

Inside the wall, looking southwest to the Foothills. Courtesy photo

Inside the wall, looking southwest to the Foothills. Courtesy photo

Just look at those Agastache! You know they had the hummingbirds zipping around and sipping nectar. And the golden yarrow, which draws butterflies of all sorts. In the background by the wall is Blonde Ambition blue grama, with its beautiful seed heads that delight goldfinches and siskins in late fall and early winter.

Low succulents along the base of the house wall, and Agastaches, evening primrose and a glorious variety of other wildscape plant between the path and the wall. Courtesy photo

Low succulents along the base of the house wall, and Agastaches, evening primrose and a glorious variety of other wildscape plant between the path and the wall. Courtesy photo

There’s Missouri evening primrose, its huge yellow flowers still in bloom in early October and a delight to hovering, evening-flying sphinx moths; Russian sage, beloved of bees of all sorts; Smoky Hills skullcap, its deep purple-blue flowers favored by bumblebees; and many other plants that will provide food, shelter and cover for hummingbirds, songbirds and all manner of pollinators. Plus a long season of bloom to delight the human inhabitants.

Congratulations, Pam and Joe Piombino, on transforming your weedy former pasture into beautiful and abundant habitat! We think it’s time to rename the place though: Bindweed Manor no longer applies….

This section was planted last, after the driveway was relocated--now that's a transformation!

This section was planted last, after the driveway it had been was relocated–now that’s a transformation!  Courtesy photo

Apply Now!

Does your garden, park, landscape, schoolyard, farm or other working landscape provide significant habitat for wildlife, especially songbirds and pollinators? Apply now for the Habitat Hero Awards. As Susan Clotfelter wrote in the Denver Post, among other benefits, you get “a heap of bragging rights”! Applications are due October 15th.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Plant Select® Loves Habitat Heroes!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Join us--be a Habitat Hero!

Join us–be a Habitat Hero!

Habitat Heroes Speak at Plant Smarter Conference

Thanks to our partner, Plant Select®, four Habitat Heroes inspired their peers and received some love for their work at Plant Select®’s fall “Plant Smarter” conference at Denver Botanic Gardens yesterday.

Lauren Springer Ogden's habitat-for-nothing before restoration. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Lauren Springer Ogden’s habitat-for-nothing before restoration. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Passionate plantswoman and author Lauren Springer Ogden talked about transforming her suburban Fort Collins yard from “habitat for nothing” into layers and ecotones that mimic the larger landscape from desert and plains, to foothills woodland and mountain forest.

Lauren's prairie with woodland edges after (same view). Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Lauren’s prairie with woodland edges after (same view). Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Her wildscape yard not only hides the view of the neighboring houses, it provides habitat to wildlife from nesting mallard ducks to Cooper’s hawks and sulphur butterflies.

The perennial borders at Legacy Ridge Golf Course, Westminster, Colorado, a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Shalene Hiller

The perennial borders at Legacy Ridge Golf Course, Westminster, Colorado, a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Shalene Hiller

City of Westminster Horticulturist Shalene Hiller gave a visual tour of the habitat she has created at Legacy Ridge Golf Course, where coyotes help keep the cottontail population under control and hummingbirds flock to the perennial borders around the clubhouse, providing a show for golfers and guests.

Fall colors in the Wyoscape garden.

Fall colors in the Wyoscape garden.

Donna Hoffman of Natrona County (Wyo.) Extension showed off the mountain-to-plains-to-river habitat garden she and her predecessor created on the linear “hellstrip” mound dividing the parking lot of the extension building from the main street into the Natrona County Fairgrounds.

When snow covers your wildscape, open water is more important than ever. (Photo: Natrona County Agricultural Resource & Learning Center Wyoscape Garden, a Habitat Hero garden in Casper, Wyoming.)

Natrona County Agricultural Resource & Learning Center’s Wyoscape Garden in Casper, Wyoming in a spring blizzard.

The linear “Wyoscape” garden is an example of how resilient habitat gardens can be: the garden has thrived through spring blizzards and summer hail, and continues to inspire despite losing 15 feet along one edge to road and utility construction.

Native penstemons attract hummingbirds and butterflies to a formal garden.

Native penstemons attract hummingbirds and butterflies to the SE Colorado Water Conservancy District’s xeriscape garden.

Liz Catt of SE Colorado Water Conservancy District pictured the changing view from her office window of their xeriscape/native garden through the seasons. The Water Conservancy’s garden, located in an industrial park by the Pueblo Airport, not only hosts tours for water wise gardening and Master Gardener Workshops; Liz noted it has become a refuge for all sorts of Southern Plains wildlife, from the hummingbirds that are so easy to love to the lizards and snakes some don’t appreciate.

The sign of real habitat!

The sign of authentic habitat!

Plant It and They Will Come

All four Habitat Hero panelists illustrated our motto: Plant it and they will come.

Wildlife habitat can be restored anywhere, whether in the midst of the habitat-deserts or suburban lawns, on a golf course, between a road and parking lot, or in an industrial park. The right plants in the right place not only form resilient, beautiful gardens, they weave the habitat that wildlife large and small recognize as home.

Apply for the Habitat Hero Awards

Skunkbrush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) brightens a Habitat Hero sign along a restored urban creek. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Skunkbrush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) brightens a Habitat Hero sign along a restored urban creek. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Does your garden, park, landscape, schoolyard, farm or other working landscape provide significant habitat for wildlife, especially songbirds and pollinators? Apply now for the Habitat Hero Awards. Applications are due October 15th.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Fall: It’s that time!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Fall in the Rockies opens with aspens turning, a great way to announce the season!

Aspen leaves turning announce fall in the Rockies. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Time to Tidy Up the Garden & Apply for the Habitat Hero Award

But don’t be too tidy. As we’ve said in this space before, it’s important to leave mulch on the soil as winter cover, and seed heads on the flowers and grasses as winter food for all the birds that will hang out in your wildscape because you’re providing such great habitat.

Seedheads of Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), our state grass.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Seedheads of Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), our state grass. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Leave the Leaf Litter!

As the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s YardMap newsletter points out, there are other important reasons to avoid being too tidy. Take leaf litter: it’s home to all sorts of insect eggs, larvae, adults and pupa waiting out the cold weather.

Isn’t that a reason to rake? Nope. Those “hidden” insects provide important protein sources for wintering birds, who will scuffle about through the leaves looking for them. (If you’ve ever watched a thrasher in action, kicking up leaves with its feet and raking with its beak, you know what we mean.)

Aspen leaf mulch accumulates under the trees.

Take your cue from nature: aspen leaf mulch accumulates under the trees.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

If you must rake the leaves, layer them under shrubs, trees and perennials as thermal cover for the soil. Many species of birds probe the soil for insect larvae in winter–if it’s not frozen. (Don’t pile the leaves too deep though, or birds’ beaks won’t be able to reach through.)

What About Pruning?

Fall is a great time to prune trees and shrubs, as long as you’re not pruning away clusters of the berries birds depend on in winter, or pruning away thermal cover they need on the coldest or snowiest nights.

Western mountain ash berries are high in antioxidants and beloved of many species of birds.

Western mountain ash berries are high in antioxidants and beloved of many species of birds.

So ease up on the rake and pruners. Let your garden do what it does best: be great habitat for songbirds and pollinators.

Time to Apply for the Habitat Hero Awards

In the time you save, why not apply for the Habitat Hero Awards? Applications are due by October 15th.

It’s not hard to apply:

  1. Read the guidelines.
  2. Answer the two questions.
  3. Pick three to five photos that give a sense of why your garden, park, golf course, or working landscape qualifies.
  4. Give us your contact info; tell us if you belong to National Audubon, and if so, what chapter; and give us permission to use your photos for educational and promotional purposes.
  5. Attach your text file (in Word format please) and your photos (medium rather than high-resolution is best) to an email and send it to habheroes@gmail.com

Why Apply?

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

  • To have your work recognized. Awardees get our cool yard sign to let the world know that they’re Habitat Heroes. Habitat Hero gardens are also featured on this blog and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
  • To help educate others. The yard sign gets noticed, and it’s a great talking point about gardens as a way to restore habitat for pollinators and songbirds, save species, save water and energy, and counter global climate change.
  • To get your own copy of our Colorado Wildscapes book, a wonderful reference for inspiration and ideas about habitat gardening.
  • And for the satisfaction of knowing what you’re doing is making a difference!

    Colorado Wildscapes Guide

    Colorado Wildscapes Guide

So join us. Apply to be recognized as a Habitat Hero!

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Blonde Ambition “Steals the Show” in Fall Gardens

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Our monthly Plant Profiles from Plant Select® feature plants that thrive in the Rocky Mountain region and also provide critical needs for wildlife. (Thanks to Diana Reavis for this post.)

Low-Growing, Low-Maintenance But a Stand-Out Nonetheless

Blue Grama lawn in spring  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Blue Grama lawn in spring Photo: Susan J. Tweit

There’s a lot to be said for the grass called Blue Grama (Boutelous gracilis). It’s an iconic native plant of short grass prairies of the Great Plains and the official state grass of Colorado, but it’s also native to much of the U.S and Canada. It’s a warm season bunch grass long known for its forage quality and as a low water-requiring, fine textured lawn for homeowners.

Not until recently however has Blue Grama been noted for its stand-alone appearance. That came to a head (no pun intended!) in 2007 with the discovery of an outstanding specimen growing within a stand of robust Hachita Blue Grama near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A Blue Grama A Head Above the Others

Blonde Ambition in fall with cotoneaster and yucca. Photo: David Salman

Blonde Ambition in fall with cotoneaster and yucca. Photo: David Salman

The discovery was made by David Salman of High Country Gardens. He noticed this particular individual was taller than the standard, its leaves were a bright bluish-green and its distinctive flag-like flowers were chartreuse rather than the usual black or brown, and they were held appealingly at a 90 degree angle to the leaves. It was apparent this was a plant that could stand on its own as an ornamental.

Blonde Ambition flower head close-up  Photo: Steve Castorini

Blonde Ambition flower head close-up Photo: Steve Castorini

As this particular plant went through trials, researchers discovered that the chartreuse flowers turned blonde as the season progressed. The rigid flower stems popped back up after being weighed down by snow rather than remaining prostrate, another benefit for gardeners in cold climates.

As a result its season of attractiveness lasted well into the winter. It seemed as though this tall blonde had “ambition,” hence its name, ‘Blonde Ambition’ Blue Grama.

Blonde Ambition in a border at Denver Botanic Garden  Photo: David Winger

Blonde Ambition in a border at Denver Botanic Garden Photo: David Winger

Since its introduction in 2011 through Plant Select®, Blonde Ambition is now being used extensively in wildflower plantings, city medians and commercial projects across the country. It especially shines here in the Rocky Mountain region, including the high plains and high desert, where the grass is most at home.

Wildlife benefits:  Blue Grama grass offers shelter, nesting materials and edible seeds to many songbirds. (Siskins and goldfinches in particular will often perch on the ground and pull the flower stalks down toward them with their beaks so they can pick out the seeds.) The foliage is also the host plant eaten by caterpillars of several species of skipper butterflies, named for their rapid, skipping flight, and important pollinators.

Growing tips: Adapts well to a very wide range of conditions, even to moderately high elevations. Needs at least 4 hours of sun, and can take it quite dry once established.

How to Use:  Unique ornamental grass for wildflower mosaics, natural-style landscapes, and for weaving among other late summer perennials. It combines will with other grasses including Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem and Blue Avena grass. It blends beautifully with most late-season perennials including Cherry Sage (Salvia greggi), fall asters, Black-Eyed Susan, and most wildflowers. Also adds interest to mixed borders including dwarf conifers, shrub roses and many other smaller-shrubs.

Early foliage of Bouteloua Gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' Photo: David Salman

Early foliage of Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo: David Salman

Blonde Ambition Blue Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ PP 22,048)
At a glance:

  • Size: 30-36″ tall x  30-36″ wide
  • Blooms: July to October
  • Cultural tips: Moderate to dry soil in full sun to partial shade, USDA zones 4-9 in most soil types
  • Growth habit: Upright clumping ornamental

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Late-Summer Composites: Natural Bird Feeders

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Tough Plants that Flower Into Fall — And Provide Bird Seed Too

Painted lady butterflies feeding on a rabbitbrush in the butterfly garden at the City of Aurora Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. Photo: City of Aurora

Painted lady butterflies feeding on a rabbitbrush in the butterfly garden at the City of Aurora Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. Photo: City of Aurora

By the time late summer arrives, many gardens and landscapes look a little tired, with few plants flowering. But there’s one group of plants native to the Rocky Mountain region that holds forth with blooms up to and beyond the first snows: Composites, wildflowers and shrubs in the Aster or Daisy family.

(What appears to be one flower in these plants is actually a “composite,” a head composed of many flowers. Each petal on a daisy, for instance, is single flowers. The central disk is itself packed full of tiny flowers lacking petals entirely.)

Rubber Rabbitbrush flower heads close up, feeding a late-flying painted lady butterfly. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Rubber Rabbitbrush flower heads close up, feeding a late-flying painted lady butterfly. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

The hundreds species of flowers in this group bloom all season long, but many, like the Rubber Rabbitbrush in the photos above, are the last flowers to bloom at the end of the season, providing not only beauty in the late-season garden, but also food for pollinators when nothing else is available.

After they’re done blooming, the seeds from those composite heads remain on the plant for weeks or months, providing crucial natural food for seed-eating songbirds including goldfinches, House and Purple finches, sparrows, juncos, redpolls and siskins.

American Goldfinch feeding on seeds from a sunflower head. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Male American Goldfinch feeding on seeds from a sunflower head. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

A Few Favorite Composites 

In addition to Rubber Rabbitbrush, a tough and drought-hardy native shrub that can be as tall as five or more feet, or stay small and tidy in form like Plant Select®’s Baby Blue variety, what other composites bloom late and provide a reliable food source? Here are a few favorites of the many, many species:

Tansyleaf Aster or Tahoka Daisy (Machaeranthera tanicetifolia)

Tansyleaf aster in a wild setting.

Tansyleaf aster in a wild setting.

A small drift-forming annual or short-lived perennial with purple flowers that bloom from mid-summer until the first snows. Tansyleaf aster attracts butterflies, small native bees and pollinating beetles, and its billowy seed heads feed smaller birds including juncos, siskins and sparrows.

Tansyleaf Aster seed heads, with one purple flower still blooming. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Tansyleaf Aster seed heads, with one purple flower still blooming. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)

Mexican Hat flower heads in two color morphs. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Mexican Hat flower heads in two color morphs. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

The curious extended “cone” of Mexican Hat flower heads with their fringe of yellow or mahogany ray flowers is charming in the garden and attracts butterflies in summer. When the flowers dry out, seed-eating birds—especially siskins—pry out the papery seeds. Best for meadow or prairie plantings, these Southern Plains natives are self-seeders.

Showy Goldeneye (Viguera or Heliomeris multiflora)

Showy Goldeneye flower heads form a prairie-style drift.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Showy Goldeneye flower heads form a prairie-style drift. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Looking like miniature sunflowers on thread-like stems, Showy Goldeneye’s lemon yellow flower heads stand out in prairie or meadow plantings. Small butterflies, especially checkerspots and blues, often nectar on these smaller-statured composites. Like their much larger sunflower cousins, Showy Goldeneye seeds are in demand by siskins, goldfinches and other narrow-beaked seed eating birds.

Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflower head packed with seeds, still green.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Sunflower head packed with seeds, still green. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

And of course, the common sunflower, an annual that is the easiest to grow of any of our native composites. Its flowers attract native bees and honeybees by the score (the appropriately named sunflower bee is a native bee that specializes in sunflowers) and whose densely packed heads of nutritious seeds act as natural bird-feeders.

Add some late-season composites to your garden and reap the harvest in fall blooms, butterflies and other pollinators, and natural bird-feeders!

IT’S TIME TO APPLY FOR THIS YEAR’S HABITAT HERO AWARDS….

Does your garden provide habitat for songbirds and pollinators? Apply today!

Fall composites--asters and gum weed--in a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Fall composites–Tansyleaf Asters and gumweed–in a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Climate Change and Habitat Heroes

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Climate Change Is Here

Mountain bluebird perches on a garden bench after a snowstorm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Mountain bluebird perches on a garden bench after a late spring snowstorm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

This week, the World Meteorological Organization reported that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at an all-time high. Carbon dioxide increased last year at the fastest rate in 30 years.

Global climate change is here. There’s no denying it.

Wildflower Blooming Season Changes

Colorado Blue Columbine finishing blooming in a mountain meadow. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Colorado Blue Columbine finishing blooming in a mountain meadow. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

A story in this week’s High Country News reports that the flowering season in the blossom-filled mountain meadows the Rockies are famous for has lengthened by 35 days.

That may sound like a good thing, but as researcher David Inouye points out, a longer flowering season doesn’t necessarily mean more flowers. It means the blooms are spread out over a longer time, which could mean that when the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds migrate north from southern Mexico, cued by lengthening days, the wildflowers the hummers depend for fuel on might not be blooming.

Birds on the Brink

Juvenile male rufous hummingbird fluffed up to stay warm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Juvenile male rufous hummingbird fluffed up to stay warm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

National Audubon Society this week released a sobering report showing that nearly half of North America’s bird species, fully 314 species, will be imperiled by climate change by 2080. The species most affected aren’t necessarily rare, either. They include our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle, which could see its range decline by 75 percent, and the tiny and feisty rufous hummingbird, along with the Common Loon and white-throated sparrow.

Habitat Heroes Can Help

We may not individually have the power to halt climate change. But collectively, our actions matter.

A sunken stock tank attracts wildlife, surrounding gardens provide food and shelter.

A sunken stock tank attracts wildlife, surrounding gardens provide food and shelter.

How can you help? By restoring habitat in your yard, neighborhood park, commercial landscaping, golf course, or farm or other working landscape.

Small patches can weave a larger whole

Hummingbird visits native ‘Mexican Bluffs’ Vermillion sage at the City of Westminster’s Legacy Ridge Golf Course. Photo: Shalene Hiller

Hummingbird visits native ‘Mexican Bluffs’ Vermillion sage at the City of Westminster’s Legacy Ridge Golf Course. Photo: Shalene Hiller

Your patch of habitat may not save a bald eagle. But your wildscape or habitat garden can form part of a network of habitat that does sustain a species.

Equally important, if you’re following the habitat hero guidelines, you’re reducing the carbon footprint of your garden or landscape.

Prairie yard dotted with trees for cover and shelter.

A prairie yard of native grasses dotted with trees for cover and shelter.

Less fuel: Every bit of lawn you convert to habitat means less mowing, edging, blowing, and weed whacking. Power tools, whether they’re gas or electric, use fossil fuels and contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. (Most small engines are inefficient and thus add more CO2 than you’d image for their size.)

Fewer chemicals: Forgoing chemical fertilizers and instead relying on locally sourced compost, aged manure or other natural fertilizers also reduces your landscape’s carbon footprint. Chemical fertilizers are made from fossil fuels and require more energy still in manufacture, packaging and transport.

Water running into a home sink

Water running into a home sink

Less water: Every time you turn on the tap or the faucet, you’re using fossil fuels. How? It takes energy to pump water out of the ground or from a lake or river. On the way, it’s filtered (more energy required), treated with chlorine and other chemicals (which take energy to produce and dispense), and the lines are pressurized (requiring more energy).

Thus, the less water you use on your landscape, the less carbon dioxide you contribute to the atmosphere. And the more water you save for healthy streams and rivers, which contribute directly to habitat.

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

So make a positive change. Restore habitat where you live, work and play, and help keep this remarkable blue planet healthy for birds, bees and every one of us.  Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens: Be a Habitat Hero.

Resources: Plant, Bird, Insect Identification

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

What’s That … ?

... Bright red flower in that front-yard meadow? (Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush, or Castilleja integra)  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

… Bright red flower in that front-yard meadow? (Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush, or Castilleja integra) Photo: Susan J. Tweit

We get lots of questions about identifying plants, birds and insects. So we thought we’d share a few of our favorite web-based resources for knowing what’s what and who’s who.

Plants

Mock bearberry Arctostaphylos sprawling over a rock mulch. Photo: David Winger for Plant Select®

Mock bearberry Arctostaphylos sprawling over a rock mulch. Photo: David Winger for Plant Select®

  • Plant Select: If the plant you’re trying to identify is one introduced by our partner Plant Select, the most fun way to figure it out is to go to the digital version of their A Guide to Plants for Western Gardens and Beyond. You can search the full-color booklet, or just click “full screen” and flip through the pages.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Looking for a native plant? Their online Plants database is complete and includes a host of gardener-friendly information about each species. You can search by common or scientific name, or if you have no idea what you’re looking at, try their “Combination Search” feature. Put in as many characteristics as you know and then browse the thumbnail photos for one that looks right.
  • PLANTS Database: Not sure if your plant is native or not? Try the USDA Plants Database. You can search for a plant, or in the right-hand “I want to know” column, take a short cut like “learn invasive and noxious plants.” That takes you to a page with links to all sorts of kinds of invasive and noxious plant lists, including the lists for Colorado and Wyoming. Click on the scientific name to go to photos and other information about the plant (common names are listed next to the scientific name).

Birds

American Goldfinch feeding on seeds from a sunflower head. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

American Goldfinch feeding on seeds from a sunflower head. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

  • All About Birds: The most comprehensive (and fun) guide is Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site. The search page gives you options to look at popular birds, search by shape and name, or taxonomy. You can look at photos of different sexes and plumages, listen to calls and songs, and learn all sorts of fun facts about birds’ lives and habits. The site includes information about nest boxes and habitat, plus the opportunity to be involved in citizen science projects, including Project NestWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is a cooperative project with Audubon.
  • The Online Guide to North American Birds: Another great resource, this one from Audubon. You can search by silhouette or family or common name, and there are helpful resources on how to identify birds and birding itself. The main Audubon site also includes loads of other information, including gardening for hummingbirds and how to create bird-healthy yards.

Insects

White-lined sphinx moth caterpillar Photo: Susan J. Tweit

White-lined sphinx moth caterpillar Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Insects are a little harder to identify online, simply because there are so many different kinds of them. (For instance, there are about 4,000 species of native bees in the US north of Mexico, and 946 of those are found in Colorado.)

Bumblebee feeding on a Salvia. Photo: Rhonda Thompson Leonard

Bumblebee feeding on a Salvia. Photo: Rhonda Thompson Leonard

  • BugGuide is a good general resource. You can click on the silhouette of the insect in the left-hand column on the first page to go to guides for that type of insect, and work your way to more specific IDs from there. (When you click on the dragonfly silhouette, for instance, you get to the main page for these hawk-like insects.) You can also submit a photo for identification. (You have to register to submit, but it’s free and not hard.)
  • The Xerces Society has published a beautiful online PDF booklet of western native bumblebees. You can scroll through and look at the photos until you find the right one, or read and learn more about these amazing pollinators and garden friends.
  • Colorado State University offers a series of fact sheets on insects and other pests, which despite the typecasting as “pests,” contain lots of useful information.

What are your favorite sites for identifying plants, birds or insects? Let us know!

It’s time to apply for This year’s HABITAT HERO AWARDs….

We at the Habitat Hero project want to recognize the work of dedicated habitat gardeners. Apply today!

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Prairie Zinnia – native late summer treasure

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Our monthly Plant Profiles from Plant Select® feature plants that thrive in the Rocky Mountain region and also provide critical needs for wildlife.

Great for gardens — Prairie Zinnia

'Gold on Blue' Prairie Zinnia  (Zinnia grandiflora 'Gold on Blue') Photo: David Salman

‘Gold on Blue’ Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora ‘Gold on Blue’) Photo: David Salman

Great things are sometimes just off the beaten path, and only found by serendipity. That was the case fora particularly beautiful and vigorous form of our western native Prairie Zinnia that plantsman David Salman discovered just off the highway in southern Colorado. Read the full story in David’s blog post.

Durable and Hardy in the Wild

In the wild, Prairie Zinnia is a rugged, durable plant, flourishing on extreme sites characterized by rocky and sandy soils, severe heat, and strong winds, and often is fully exposed winter’s coldest temperatures. It adapts by having very deep roots that reach water well below the soil surface, as well as by going completely dormant during winter, emerging only when temperatures rise and spring moisture reappears.

Prairie Zinnia is native to southeastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska, western Oklahoma and Texas, New Mexico and eastern Arizona.

A Vigorous Carpet in Hot Garden Spots

Prairie Zinnia just getting established on a "hellstrip" between a sidewalk and street. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Prairie Zinnia just getting established on a “hellstrip” between a sidewalk and street. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

In the garden or landscape, Prairie Zinnia is vigorous and long-lasting. It often carpets large swaths of ground in the toughest spots, including south-facing slopes and along hot driveways and sidewalks.

Blooming in late summer through fall, the golden-flowers with orange centers cover the finely textured foliage. After first frosts, the flowers fade to a creamy beige and remain on the plants until carried away by winds. Another plus: deer seem to avoid grazing Prairie Zinnia.

David’s ‘Gold on Blue’ Form

Several years ago, David brought his discovery to Plant Select®. After two years of trials at Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens, it was selected to be introduced in 2014 as Zinnia grandiflora ‘Gold on Blue’.

'Gold on Blue' Prairie Zinnia up close Photo: David Salman

‘Gold on Blue’ Prairie Zinnia up close Photo: David Salman

Side-by-side comparisons to the “standard” form show that the flowers are larger and more numerous, the foliage is bluer and the plants nearly twice as vigorous. These are ideal characteristics for both home gardens and commercial landscapes because the plants will fill in faster and offer more color and foliage interest.

A Blue butterfly (one of a group named for that azure blue color) suns on a Prairie Zinnia flower head. Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

A Blue butterfly (one of a group named for that azure blue color) suns on a Prairie Zinnia flower head. Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

Wildlife benefits: Like all yellow composites (members of the daisy family), Prairie Zinnia attracts butterflies to feed on the nectar in its compact heads of multiple flowers. The papery seeds are eaten by goldfinches, juncos, house finches, sparrows and other small seed-eating birds.

Growing tips: Plant in summer when plants are actively growing. Water well to establish, but reduce water as plants fill out. Once established no additional irrigation is needed. Well-drained, sandy or rocky soils are best.

A checkerspot butterfly feeds on Prairie Zinnia. Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

A checkerspot butterfly feeds on Prairie Zinnia. Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

At a glance:

  • Gold on Blue Prairie Zinnia  (Zinnia grandiflora ‘Gold on Blue’)
  • Size: 8-10” tall x 18” or more wide
  • Growth habit: low-growing, dense groundcover spreading by underground runners
  • Deer-resistant
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8
  • How to Use: for hot dry slopes, along driveways: in the hottest, driest spots

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

The Hero Part of Habitat Hero

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

… Is You!

Water-saving front stoop gardens full of flowers for pollinators and songbirds.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Water-saving front stoop gardens provide food and cover for pollinators and songbirds. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

We’ve talked before about what the “habitat” part of Habitat Hero means. But who are these heroes?

They’re you, your neighbors, the people who planted the pollinator garden at the community garden or CSA farm, the designer of the wildscape at the nearby park, the volunteers who replaced the unused lawn or overgrown shrubs at the community building with hummingbird plants….

Jim Ray in his garden with his watering cans, well-spigot, and hose for filling the cans.

Jim Ray in his Habitat Hero garden, which is entirely watered by hand.

Habitat Heroes are all around, and most of them are ordinary folks like all of us, gardeners who have a vision of making their bit of earth not just more beautiful, but also healthier.

We hope you’ll help us find more Habitat Heroes. Please encourage the habitat-gardeners you know in the Rocky Mountain region to apply for the Habitat Hero Award so we can recognize and thank them.

Unsung Heroes

Here’s an example of a group of volunteers who are transforming the landscaping at their townhouse complex in southeast Denver to save a lot of water, improve property values by beautifying their neighborhood, and add habitat for pollinators and songbirds.

The Cherry Creek 3 heroes in the community garden they started as part of their landscape improvement work. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

The Cherry Creek 3 volunteers in the community garden they started as part of their landscape improvement work. (Don Ireland, Julie Barnes, Lynn Ireland, Mary Paschal, Brian Barnes) Photo: Susan J. Tweit

These aren’t experts: The group includes a couple who relocated from Pittsburgh and found that gardening in the Rockies is well, challenging. So they started taking classes at Tagawa Gardens.

Lynn's demonstration garden five years ago.

Lynn’s demonstration garden five years ago. Courtesy photo

It started with water-saving….

A series on water-saving landscaping that introduced them to Plant Select®’s line of regionally adapted plants, and the encouragement of an HOA board member inspired Don and Lynn to plant an experimental garden at the end of their building using shrubs and flowers that were adapted to the clay soil and difficult climate.

The demonstration garden five years later. (The wood edging of the original garden area is visible in left center.) Courtesy photo

Lynn’s demonstration garden this July. (The wood edging of the original garden area is visible in left center.) Courtesy photo

One thing led to another, as happens with gardening, and eventually the Homeowner’s Association entered into a five-year water conservation agreement with Denver Water that paid for new landscaping throughout the complex using rebates based on annual savings on water use.

It didn’t all happen at once

Poodle bush and lava rock landscaping, ala 1965.... Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Poodle bush and lava rock landscaping, ala 1965…. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Fast-forward five years, and volunteers at the town-home complex have replaced 200 of the 250 front-stoop gardens in front of each unit, removing “poodle bushes” (1960s-style junipers pruned into bulbous shapes) and lava rock, and replacing that with a variety of perennial ground covers, flowers, grasses, and shrubs.

A row of water-saving and beautiful habitat gardens. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

A row of water-saving and beautiful habitat gardens. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Habitat right at home

The effect is not only lovely, it provides rows of front-stoop habitat for hummingbirds, native bees, and seed-eating songbirds. (The group also attended our Wildscape 101 workshop sponsored by Denver Water this summer, and came away further inspired.)

Habitat in the hell-strip between a parking lot and a building. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Habitat in the hell-strip between a parking lot and a building. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

The group has also renovated hell-strips between the parking lots and buildings, replaced unused sod areas with water-saving habitat areas, and set up a community edible garden with individual and group plots on what was underused lawn.

These unsung heroes’ creative vision and hard work has not only beautified the complex, their water use has dropped from 36 million gallons a year to 22 million, and their property values are at an all-time high.

A Hunt's bumblebee feeding on Caryopteris on a breezy afternoon. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

A Hunt’s bumblebee feeding on Caryopteris on a breezy afternoon. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

It’s made some hummingbirds, butterflies and bumblebees pretty happy too.

That’s what heroes do: create habitat right at home, save water, and make their neighborhood–and our world–a healthier and more beautiful place.

Apply for the Habitat Hero Award….

That’s why we at the Habitat Hero project want to recognize the work of these dedicated habitat gardeners. For all you heroes out there: apply today!

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.