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Mon, Sept. 23

Clematis and grape vines are beautiful additions to any garden for attracting birds

Whenever asked about which plants would attract and keep birds in our landscape yet be beautiful, I'm amazed that more people don't realize the easiest, fastest growing and, I feel, one of the best vines is the grape. The most beautiful, with almost dazzling flowers is the Clematis. The delicate-looking vines are actually very sturdy, giving the owner years and years of continual bloom with little maintenance.

Grapes are vigorous growers, yet take to pruning depending on how you want to grow them. As far as longevity, the first few years are the most important to allow the vine to gain strength and vigor, forming the scaffolding branches or arms for support and better grape production. Their needs are simple: sunlight, decent soil, feeding with Ammonium sulfate and deep watering throughout the growing season with 3-4 weekly deep waterings during winter. Well-drained soil is a must, as with any perennial plant or vine. You may train grapes to cover an arbor, patio, espalier a wall or fence or just ramble in a mound, cascade down a hill or train up a sturdy trellis. Grape and Virginia Creeper vines can hide a multitude of sins, ranging from old outbuildings to car bodies, although they don't quite resemble "yard art."

Grapes provide the easiest fruit to attract birds of all kinds, along with squirrels and butterflies, who will feed on the fruit. These vines are wonderful nesting places for birds if you don't prune radically, allowing a dense network of aged vines to hold nests and provide protection from predatory cats. Hummingbirds find grapes and Pyracantha wonderful hiding places to nest and rear young. If you're lucky you might also be able to enjoy the fruit of your efforts. This year, I'm certain grape vines kept many birds happy and healthy with places to raise their young.

Wisteria and trumpet vines are wonderful, showy examples of what we can grow here. Unfortunately, not many people have the space or structures capable of supporting the dense trunks these vines produce as they age. Some species of Wisteria need many years to perform or bloom well and often require radical "root cutting" to make bloom. Check with your nursery before taking an ax to the base of your plants to make them bloom next spring. The problem may be that they are just too young yet or need additional phosphoric acid, as do many blooming vines, trees, shrubs and perennials. Your best option may be to incorporate a Clematis or two for added vertical beauty plus ease of growing.

Clematis may look delicate in their growth habit, as their smaller vines appear brittle. They are, somewhat, but actually are considerably tougher than they look. The flowers are stunning with colors that will knock your socks off. A wall of Clematis in brilliant blue, intertwined with pink or deep red, planted next to purple may sound garish, but trust me, you'll get comments. If you're especially patriotic, why not plant two trellises, side by side with a red, white and blue clematis as a showstopper!

I spotted a magnificent Clematis at Watter's a few weeks ago named "Multi-Blue" that was truly a must-have for any garden. The larger flowers were an electric blue, but what got me was the center of the flower. Even with the blue petals gone it was still gorgeous in the same electric blue color. Another lovely was the Niobe in a rich, deep red. Even if the flowers did not tempt you, the wispy seeds, swirling around, would. These vines make dense habitat for hummingbirds, also. Just remember, the tops of clematis like to be in the sun and the roots kept cool in the shade.

Clematis need to be kept slightly more moist than some vines, like grapes, but the addition of mulch will keep them happy until they are watered. The first year, as they grow, prune the vines back to about eight inches to make the vines thicker. I know it's hard to do, but the vine will be better, trust me. Light feedings of fertilizer, at least three times a year will keep them healthy. A pinch of Epsom Salts in a five gallon bucket will help acidify, as will additional mulch during the year.

Yesterday I happened to spot a gardening show on the tube while I was cleaning my kitchen walls (luckily my cleaning attacks don't last long). The show was filmed in Canada with the main topic being "how to dig and divide Iris." The one thing that bothered me was his assumption that Iris don't need to be dug more than every 4-5 years. Perhaps, in Canada that is about all the increase one could expect. When the gentleman explained that the clump he dug was a "large" clump, I was surprised, as there were only about 5-6 increases. He pulled them apart, trimmed the fans then dug a little hole and immediately planted them back without trimming the roots much. He did mention "some people add amendments like mulch and harden off rhizomes by placing them in the sun for a time."

Please, if you happen to catch the show, do not put your rhizomes in the sun to dry. Put them in shade till rhizomes callus over, preventing soft rot.

In our area it is necessary to add additional mulch and fertilizer if we expect any bulb to bloom well next spring. Spring blooming bulbs, on sale now, are a great addition to Iris beds, as they will bloom before, during and sometimes slightly after the Iris. Allow them to go dormant after bloom, as they do not require much additional water during hot summer months.

September and early October are the best months to apply Fertilome's Winterizer. Cover with additional much before you water the fertilizer in. This will do wonders for the garden, allowing plants to store the additional food in roots before leaves fall. Next spring plants will be better able to withstand the rigors of new spring growth if they're fed now and DEEP WATERED OCCASIONALLY DURING WINTER. I wish my readers could see all the letters I receive from homeowners who didn't water much, if at all, during winter who now have a dead or dying landscape. Monthly, deep watering could have saved their investment and all the years lost as they grew. Trees can be replaced, but not years lost.

Keep those hummer feeders clean and filled for the next few months, PLEEEEZE! I know I repeat myself, but I don't want to miss even one reader.

Also, it will take a full year for weed seeds to develop, enabling birds to survive on what is naturally growing, so keep your seed and thistle feeders filled. Thistle feeders are great 'cause the seed will not germinate as it is irradiated, keeping the area around the feeders weed free.

It is not too late to spray Finale on new weeds that have germinated since recent rains. You might want to get ahead of them before they form seed heads, which will make more next spring. I'd spray a pre-emergent now, then, in a few days spray with Finale. Roundup does not work well as the temperature drops but Finale will.

(Kate King is a longtime Yavapai County resident and Master Gardener. Contact her at

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