Ask the Experts
How birds survive storms, when to deadhead coneflowers and more.
QI have two large butterfly bushes and no butterflies. There are petunias nearby— do some plants repel butterflies? Melinda: Both petunias and butterfly bushes are butterfly favorites. I’ve found that the number of winged visitors to my plantings varies from year to year, depending on the previous winter, wind patterns and other environmental factors. If this is a yearly problem, consider placing a flat stone in a sunny spot in the garden for butterflies to warm up and recharge. Sink a bucket of damp sand in the garden and add a pinch of sea salt or wood ash. This provides a gathering place for butterflies to lap up some needed minerals.
QBees and butterflies covered this plant, which I’ve been told is a buttonbush. How big does it get? Can I buy it at a nursery? Holly Harnly MYERSTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
Melinda: As you observed, buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a fantastic pollinator plant. It reaches 12 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 3 to 11. Fragrant white flowers develop into ball-shaped fruits that persist into winter. Look for it growing naturally in marshy and wet areas. At a nursery, you’ll find native species and compact varieties like Sugar Shack, Ping Pong and Fiber Optics. Grow buttonbush in full sun to part shade. Q Should I deadhead my coneflowers? Mike Homan TOPEKA, KANSAS
Melinda: You’ll have an impressive display of flowers whether you deadhead them or not. Removing faded flowers allows new blooms to shine and creates a tidier appearance. So it depends on how much effort you want to expend for your desired results. Stop deadheading in late summer to allow seedheads to develop. The seeds provide food for the birds and winter interest in the landscape. Just be aware that you’ll have lots of seedlings sprouting from fallen seed in spring.
Q Bee guards didn’t keep bees away from my sugar-water feeders, so I took them down. The bees came back once I put the feeders up again. What else can I do? Teresa Crihfield ELKVIEW, WEST VIRGINIA
Kenn and Kimberly: Try using a saucerstyle feeder that keeps nectar farther away from the feeding ports. If you’re still having trouble, reduce the nectar ratio to 5 parts water to 1 part sugar. Clean any spillage off feeding ports after refilling the feeder, and move your feeders into the shade. (Bees and wasps prefer to eat in sunny areas.) Avoid using pesticides, petroleum oil and cooking oil on feeding ports—they’re harmful to these important pollinators and hummingbirds.
Q Do birds that have multiple broods in a season reuse the same nest? Liza Peniston AUGUSTA, KANSAS Kenn and Kimberly: depends on the species. In general, most multibrooded birds do not reuse the same nest because the materials aren’t durable enough to last through more than one brood. There are some exceptions, though. Barn swallows may reuse an old nest, cleaning out some of the debris from the first brood and adding a new layer of mud to the rim. Other songbirds occasionally reuse a nest if it’s still in good shape. Large birds like eagles may reuse the same nest, but these species raise only one brood per year.
Q I saw this bird hopping around on lily pads in a swampy area at Kensington Metropark in Michigan last August. I thought it might be a greater yellowlegs, but my sources show that bird with an upturned bill, while this one’s bill is slightly downturned. What is it?
Philip Goode NORTHVILLE, MICHIGAN
Kenn and Kimberly: Your first guess was close! Although it’s not a greater yellowlegs, it is a related bird, the solitary sandpiper. Smaller than either the greater or lesser yellowlegs, solitary sandpipers are also a little darker and have shorter, greener legs. The white ring around the eye is a good mark. These birds live up to their name: Other kinds of sandpipers often fly around in flocks, but solitary sandpipers are usually seen one at a time. In August in Michigan, this bird would have been migrating south from breeding grounds in Canada.
Eastern tiger swallowtail on butterfly bush
It American robins may have up to three broods in one season.