Paula's Patch: A Minnesota Garden

Come wander in; my gate is always open! Gardening / Birding

Creating a Yard That Attracts Wildlife September 23, 2014

red-bellied_woodpecker_photo_collage | | paula bonelli

red-bellied woodpecker

Any effort you make to add plantings to your yard will attract all sorts of wildlife. When we bought our small town lot 20+ years ago, there was no landscaping of any sort — no trees, shrubs, or flowers.

Slowly over the years, we’ve added beds, trees, shrubs, and flowers and have been amazed at what comes to our yard! We’ve had small animals like a woodchuck, raccoon, and baby skunk. We’ve also attracted many varieties of birds from woodpeckers to hummingbirds. All in town on a small little lot.

So go ahead, add some plants and flowers even if you add them in pots around a balcony or deck — see what comes to visit! 😉

Check out the latest issue of my online paper Paula’s Garden Patch News and find tips for creating a habitat in your own backyard that will attract all kinds of wildlife.


Serenaded by a Red-winged Blackbird April 24, 2012

Each Spring, I wait for the “rush hour” of migration. This usually means that for several days, migrating birds are passing through and filling up at my feeders. By now I have my jelly, nectar and plenty of tray and hopper feeders full, in anticipation.

Even though I have no body of water nearby, each Spring I’m serenaded by a Red-winged Blackbird. I have no idea why he stops by my yard. He doesn’t eat any of the feeder food, he just rests in my tree and sings to me. 🙂

red-winged blackbird | | paula bonelli

red-winged blackbird

Nesting activity:
Several weeks ago a pair of Mourning Doves built a nest in a pine tree at the back of the yard. They were incubating 2 eggs. As part of my NestWatch participation, I’m monitoring the nests in and near my yard. Last evening, I didn’t notice any activity on the nest. Evening is a time when birds sit in their nests on their eggs, so I thought it was odd that they weren’t around. This morning, no sign of them either. Since the birds were not present*, I got out the ladder and looked to see if the eggs were still there. No eggs! 😦 I’ve seen a squirrel around that area and in that tree. I think he ate the eggs. Ugh. Squirrel beware! I’ve got your number…

I did hear them cooing in the front yard this morning, so I hope they’ll build another nest in the front pine.
*Don’t disturb nests while a bird is present. Doing so may frighten the parent(s) and may disturb the eggs. In some cases, the birds may abandon a nest if they feel threatened.

I’m also watching a pair of Tree Swallows build a nest in one of our nest boxes. They return each year to raise their young. They’ve been in the vicinity checking out the box they usually use.

tree swallow | nesting in nestbox | | paula bonelli

tree swallow nesting

Today I saw them with nesting materials. Won’t be long before we have eggs!

If you haven’t checked in on the Red-tailed Hawk nestcam, the first egg hatched and #2 and #3 are beginning…find the link under the Birding/Nestcams tab in the upper right corner of this page.

What birds have you seen in your yard lately? Any migrating species?

P.S. When we were in Kansas last week watching my son compete in a Decathlon event at University of Kansas, we watched a Red-tailed Hawk soaring above Memorial Stadium for several days. Like the Cornell Red-tailed Hawk, the nest is on a light pole high above the athletic field. We watched both the male and female on the nest and got to see the male eating a rodent in a nearby tree. Very cool!


Can Your Garden Qualify as a Certified Wildlife Habitat? April 15, 2012

I didn’t start out with the thought that I would attract wildlife, birds, etc. As I naturally planned and landscaped adding trees, shrubs and plants to a once-bare yard, I ended up with a sustainable garden where wildlife find habitat — food, water, cover, and nesting.

Now my garden is certified! I’ve met The National Wildlife Federation guidelines and my yard is mini-refuge #155,794.

National Wildlife Certification | | paula bonelli

Think your yard qualifies? Check out the guidelines at NWF and join the growing number of mini-refuges in the world.


Lowdown on Gardening Apps April 13, 2012

mobile phone | apps | | paula bonelliipad 2 white | apps | | paula bonelli

My dear husband graciously gave me an iPad for Christmas. Wow, I was stunned! Thanks, DH! 😀 I tell you, I use it for everything! It’s not 3G capable; but WiFi-enabled suits my needs jut fine. The best part? All the apps that make my work simpler and play much more fun!

The New York Times recently had a good review of apps for gardeners and landscapers. There are a couple for both Apple and Android that are free and worth a look. The Gardening Guide from Mother Earth News (free on Apple and on Android, as Garden Guide), and Gardening How-To (free on iPad and Android) made by The National Home Gardening Club of which I’m a Lifetime Member. I’m also going to try Gardener (free on Android; not available on Apple).

Garden Guide – limited information about growing all kinds of plants and vegetables, hints and tips along with a small resource section. I have it on my iPad, but it’s sized for a smartphone; easy to navigate.

garden_guide_app_image | | paula bonelli

Gardening How-To – this full color magazine app covers all aspects of gardening as well as outdoor spaces, member garden highlights, and gardening products. Great on the iPad.

garden how-to app image | | paula bonelli

Gardener  – a journal app where you can record, track and manage all your plants. You can keep track of work done, as well as keep pictures and details of your blooms. The timeline feature allows you to see the progress of your plantings and helps you plan for future tasks such as pruning, fertilizing, even watering, by issuing reminders on due dates. Woohoo! No more paper journals or trying to remember to write on my blog journal page.

gardener_app_image | | paula bonelli

Do you use any gardening apps? Which do you find most useful?

This touches on only a few simple apps; there are a lot more gardening and landscaping apps on the market. Do a search in either the Android or Apple app marketplaces for a complete list with prices and reviews. I’m cheap and usually only get the free apps, but there are more robust apps out there for a fee.


Winter Bird Feeding February 8, 2012

nuthatch | | paula bonelli

Nuthatch | © Paula Bonelli

Feeding the birds is one way of making sure your garden is a lively place even during the gray days of winter. It’s best to establish feeding areas in late-Fall, but any time will do.

Birds will always opt for natural food when they can get it. After a storm or blanket of snow, they will depend on your feeders as an additional food source. I’ve found that a variety of seeds, fruit and nuts attract the most wanted birds.

I have feeders in my yard year-round, but move them closer to my windows for winter viewing. That way I don’t miss a thing! I have a small yard so this does not disturb the birds too much since the feeders aren’t very far away from their summer locations. If you have a large yard and move a feeder some distance, it may take the birds days or weeks to find the new spot.

In the northern Midwest, these birds are in my yard year-round: Woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied), Northern Cardinal, Bluejay, House Sparrow*, House Finch*, Black-Capped Chickadee.

Here’s what works for me come Winter:

  • Black-oiled sunflower (tube feeder): Juncos, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers Cardinals, and sometimes Finches and Sparrows
  • Unsalted peanut pieces (tube feeder): Chickadees, Nuthatches
  • Safflower (large tray/platform feeder , hopper feeder): Nuthatches, Cardinals, Sparrows, Finches, Chickadees
  • Whole Peanuts in the shell (small tray/platform feeder): Bluejays
  • Suet (bottom-access-only feeder–see nuthatch image above): Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Chickadees
  • Orange halves (on nails): House Finches

*House Sparrows and House Finches can be a nuisance if they are abundant because they can clean out your feeders in a hurry and intimidate the songbirds. Squirrels can also be a trouble. Avoiding wild bird food mix or cracked corn can reduce the number of these bullies. The seeds above do a pretty good job of keeping these visitors to a minimum.

dark-eyed junco | | paula bonelli

Dark-eyed Junco | © Paula Bonelli

Set up your dining stations near trees and shrubs for protection from wind and predators. To keep the birds visiting your yard, keep your feeders full. There are many places you can find bird food — online (pros=delivery to your door; cons=shipping can be expensive), big box stores and garden centers. In our area (MN), Mills Fleet Farm has the best deal; large bags, economical prices, good variety.

Create a sanctuary in your yard and you’ll get endless entertainment from the antics of your backyard birds!

What types of food attracts your winter birds?

The links to feeders in this post are for a partner of mine. If you click through and buy one, I will earn a small referral fee.


Coming Soon: Home & Garden Show February 3, 2012

The Home & Garden show is coming to the Minneapolis Convention Center February 29 through March 4. My husband and I usually have a date to go. By this time of year, we’re ready for it to feel even more like Spring with the anticipation of enjoying our own backyard garden just around the corner. It’s a treat for all the senses.

There is quite a lot happening at this show from home interiors, gardening, remodeling, decor ideas to kitchen gadgets.

  • Explore the glorious gardens created by top local landscapers and garden centers.
  • Visit Innovation Alley to see the newest products in home, décor, kitchen & bath, and outdoor living.
  • The Green Scene has the latest in “green” products to make your home earth-friendly.
  • Experience the latest in outdoor living at the Ultimate Backyard Lounge.
  • Get expert advice from the gardeners at The Minnesota Horticultural Society, buy bulbs or browse their gift shop.
  • Tour the 2012 Idea Home designed with the empty nester in mind — perfect for us.

We go to look mostly at the garden spaces, stop for a bite of lunch and even enjoy a glass of wine or mug of beer as we walk around. We make a day of it!

On Sunday (the last day), they have a pancake breakfast from 9am-Noon. If you stick around until 5pm, you can buy the unique plants used in the feature gardens at the plant sale.

Ticket info and details for the show
Minneapolis Home and Garden Show
February 29 – March 4, 2012
Minneapolis Convention Center
Adults $13 at door (online purchase save $2); Children 6-12 $4.00; Thursday is Senior Day (60+)

Maybe I’ll see you there!


Household Garden Remedies for Unwanted Critters November 7, 2011

This time of year has me thinking about how to keep the squirrels from digging all the bulbs I just planted, and how to keep my shrubs and trees protected from rabbits when it snows.

My husband and I have tried any number of things to keep them both out of our yard. Some have been successful, like live trapping. This has significantly cut down on our squirrel population. While it’s had some impact on our rabbit population, they are less likely to go into the trap. See below for a trick to try with pet hair.

We will be putting 4-foot high chicken wire (ugly?!) around our vulnerable shrubs and trees before it snows to protect them from being rabbit meals come winter. And I’ve been sprinkling garlic powder around the areas I don’t want the squirrels digging. Cayenne pepper works too.

Jerry Baker, master gardener, is the king at providing natural solutions for all kinds of garden and household problems.

Try these solutions, made from common household items, to help keep rodents and deer out of your garden.

For rabbits:

rabbit image | paula bonelli |

image courtesy of

  • Pet hair in old pantyhose – fill old hose with pet hair and hang in various parts of your garden.
  • Hot sauce mixture – mix 2 ounces of hot sauce with 6 ounces of water. Spray on and around the plants you want to protect.

For squirrels:

  • Cayenne pepper mixture – mix 2 tablespoons of cayenne pepper and 1 tablespoon of dish soap into 1 quart of water. Spray around problem areas.
  • Garlic powder – sprinkle around problem areas.

For gophers, voles and moles:

  • Ammonia-soaked dryer sheets – place them in the tunnels, seal the hole and they’ll scram!
  • Castor oil and soap mixture – mix 1/2 cup of castor oil and 1/2 cup of dishwashing liquid in a 20-gallon sprayer. Saturate the area around trees and shrubs in affected area(s).

For deer:

  • Rotten egg mixture – pureé 2 raw eggs, 2 cups of water, 1-4 cloves of garlic, and 2 tablespoons of hot sauce. Allow to sit covered for several days (preferably outside of the house!), and sprinkle or pour over vulnerable plants.
  • Scented soap – put scented soap in old pantyhose and hang in deer-troubled areas.

What pests are you trying to keep out of your garden? Got any natural solutions you can share?


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