Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

January/February 2019 California Bountiful magazine

As a California Bountiful reader, you have the opportunity to get your seasonal gardening questions answered by gardening expert Pat Rubin. Here are a few questions from our readers.

I'm torn as to whether I should keep putting hummingbird food or birdseed out during the winter. Will it keep the birds from migrating? Will it make them dependent on me for their food rather than find it in the wild?

Those are questions I have struggled with, too. I have a hummingbird feeder as well as a finch feeder. I want to give Mother Nature a hand, but at the same time I don't want to be responsible for changing the natural patterns of our wild neighbors. Don't worry: Bird experts say the sugar water is a supplemental food for hummingbirds, and they will leave once the insect population in the area drops below what they need to survive. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says you can feed wild birds year-round, and it won't make them "lazy" or "dependent." So I left my feeders up. But I also made sure I planted a few chaparral currant plants (Ribes malvaceum). It's a California native that comes out of dormancy as soon as the rains start each fall and is a favorite nectar plant for migrating hummingbirds.

However, I do draw the line at leaving anything out that might draw other wildlife to my house (such as leaving cat food out, since it attracts raccoons). Some wild animals should never be lured into urban areas. They will absolutely decide to move in, and in the end it will only get them into trouble.

I planted a couple long rows of ornamental grasses—miscanthus and Calamagrostis—at my house. They were beautiful all spring and summer and fall. In fact, the fall colors were the best. But now they are falling apart all over the place. It's a mess, and I'm discouraged. Are they dead? What did I do wrong?

You did nothing wrong! But ornamental grasses need to be cut back once their fall colors begin to fade, because, as you learned, the next thing that happens is the plants fall apart, and the foliage gets scattered everywhere. Sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, cut them to the ground. They'll reward you with amazing foliage the coming year.

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