Ask the Ex­perts

Our pros iden­tify mys­tery blooms, of­fer a DIY suet recipe and more.

Birds & Blooms - - Contents - Ra­mona Anaya ALGER, MICHI­GAN

I of­ten see com­ments from peo­ple who are sur­prised to see pileated wood­peck­ers. Are they rare? I have three that visit my suet feeder daily. Kenn and Kimberly: Pileated wood­peck­ers had be­come rare in many ar­eas dur­ing past cen­turies when forests were be­ing cut down on a large scale. In re­cent decades they have made a good come­back. How­ever, they still re­quire some kind of for­est cover with big trees, so they don’t ap­pear in most peo­ple’s yards. Even when they live close to peo­ple, it seems to take a while for pileated wood­peck­ers to be­come ac­cus­tomed to bird feed­ers. You are lucky to have them as reg­u­lar visi­tors!

Q I planted three peren­nial hi­bis­cus shrubs, and I’ve read con­flict­ing sto­ries about prun­ing and win­ter­iz­ing. What is the right way to care for them? Kathryn Small SIMPSONVILLE, KEN­TUCKY

Melinda: I as­sume you are speak­ing of Hi­bis­cus syr­i­a­cus, com­monly called rose of Sharon or shrub althea. It is hardy in Zones 5 to 8 or 9, although it may suf­fer se­vere in­jury or death when tem­per­a­tures dip to 20 de­grees below zero. Proper sit­ing and care should be suf­fi­cient to pre­pare these plants for your win­ter. Prune young plants to en­cour­age bal­anced growth and branch­ing if needed. Once es­tab­lished, these plants need min­i­mal prun­ing. Just re­move any win­ter dieback. Be­cause this plant blooms on new growth, it can be pruned any­time dur­ing the dor­mant sea­son. I pre­fer late win­ter or early spring be­fore growth be­gins. That way you can re­move any win­ter in­jury while manag­ing the size and shape of the plant.

Q What hap­pens to birds dur­ing hur­ri­canes or heavy storms? Do they know bad weather is ap­proach­ing? Lori Reiser ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA

Kenn and Kimberly: Birds rec­og­nize changes in air pres­sure, which are of­ten signs that weather is about to change. If they sense an ap­proach­ing storm, they tend to for­age more, of­ten com­ing to feed­ers for the eas­i­est source of food. When bad weather hits, birds gen­er­ally seek shel­ter from wind and rain in dense shrubs or thick­ets, next to heavy tree trunks, and on the down­wind side of woods and forests. Cav­ity-nest­ing birds hun­ker down in nest boxes and nat­u­ral cav­i­ties to ride out storms.

Q I have a large old cherry tree that pro­duces leaves in the spring but drops them in July. The leaves are gone by Septem­ber. And then in Oc­to­ber, beau­ti­ful white blooms and new leaves ap­pear un­til the first frost. Is it com­mon for a cherry tree to bloom but have no fruit? Do­rina De­vaughn LENOIR CITY, TEN­NESSEE

Melinda: Stress­ful weather, leaf spot dis­eases and in­sect in­fes­ta­tions cause trees to drop their leaves pre­ma­turely. Of­ten the plant is tricked into a false dor­mancy, bloom­ing off-sea­son as it re­cov­ers from the stress. A lack of a com­pat­i­ble pollinator, poor bee ac­tiv­ity or frost can pre­vent the pol­li­na­tion a fruit tree needs for fruit to form. Take a look at the fallen leaves for clues to the cause. Con­sult your lo­cal ex­ten­sion of­fice or nurs­ery for so­lu­tions.

Q Two young downy wood­peck­ers vis­ited my su­gar-wa­ter feeder sev­eral times a day. Small hum­ming­birds had a tough time chas­ing them away. Is it com­mon for wood­peck­ers to sip su­gar wa­ter? Bernard Dudek DOWN­ERS GROVE, ILLI­NOIS

Kenn and Kimberly: Hum­ming­birds and ori­oles aren’t the only birds with a han­ker­ing for nec­tar or su­gar wa­ter. Some wood­peck­ers like it, too. This is es­pe­cially true for red-bel­lied, golden-fronted and Gila wood­peck­ers, which have quite var­ied di­ets. Downy wood­peck­ers also par­take of the sweet stuff, so it’s no sur­prise that they’ll take ad­van­tage of an easy source like a hum­ming­bird feeder when they find one. We sug­gest that you in­vest in an­other feeder for the wood­peck­ers if they’re dis­cour­ag­ing your other birds from feed­ing.

Q This flower bloomed in Oc­to­ber out­side of a Taos, New Mex­ico, res­tau­rant. What is it? Christie Win­ter LOMA LINDA, CAL­I­FOR­NIA

Melinda: This climb­ing beauty, Lon­icera sem­per­virens, has sev­eral com­mon names, in­clud­ing co­ral hon­ey­suckle, trum­pet hon­ey­suckle and wood­bine. It is hardy in Zones 4 to 9, flow­ers through­out the sum­mer and grows best in full sun to par­tial shade. A na­tive, it tol­er­ates clay soil and black wal­nut tox­i­c­ity, and the deer tend to leave it be. The blooms are a fa­vorite nec­tar source of bees, hum­ming­birds and but­ter­flies. Late sum­mer red berries at­tract robins, pur­ple finches, goldfinches, quail and her­mit thrushes.

Q My in­door hoya plant used to bloom all the time, but when I moved, I had to cut 3 feet off the bot­tom. It seems happy in its new lo­ca­tion, and yet it hasn’t bloomed. Why? Mary Ann Fecteau WOODSTOWN, NEW JER­SEY

Melinda: Con­grat­u­la­tions on grow­ing a hoya that bloomed not once but sev­eral times through­out the year. You ob­vi­ously had a great lo­ca­tion and pro­vided proper care. Se­vere prun­ing of any plant, in­clud­ing your hoya, stim­u­lates veg­e­ta­tive growth (leaves and stems) and de­lays flow­er­ing. Pro­vide the same care and be pa­tient. It may take a few years for your plant to ad­just to its new home and switch back into a re­pro­duc­tive, or flow­er­ing, mode.

Prune hi­bis­cus, like this new Pol­lypetite, in late win­ter or early spring.

A thirsty downy wood­pecker sneaks a sip from a sug­ar­wa­ter feeder.

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