Red Wings in the Air and Garden: Cardinal Songbirds and Cardinal FlowersBy Jacqueline Cross (libellule)
January 11, 2009
One of the most beautiful song birds to visit my gardens is the male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). They can be seen throughout the year. Whether they are bathing at the edge of the koi pond in summer or sitting on a snow covered tree branch in the middle of winter, these birds bring a touch of excitement to every landscape with their brilliant red feathers and distinctive song.
Cardinals do not migrate and therefore need habitats which are suitable for year-round living. They nest in low brush piles and shrubs. Their diet consists mostly of grains and fruits although, they will eat some insects.
Providing nesting areas, plenty of natural food as well as fresh seed in bird feeders, lots of fresh water and protection from predators such as the family cat or dog will be an open invitation for cardinals to make your place their permanent residence. Given these conditions several generations of flying red ‘blooms' will live on your property for many years to come.
If you would like bright red wings in your garden from summer well into fall, plant the popular cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). L. cardinalis puts up spikes as tall as 36 inches, covered with scarlet-red wing shaped petals that flutter in the breeze like the wings of birds.
Lobelias are easy plants to grow in the home garden. A few growing tips can be found below.
Prefers shade to partial shade but may be planted in full sun in northern zones. If planted in full sun, plants must be given plenty of water; do not allow them to dry out between watering.
Soil should be a well-balanced, fertile garden mix. Composted soil is best.
Consistently moist soil for best performance. Plant will grow in a boggy area but does quite well in good garden soil which is well-drained and kept moist.
Fertilizer and Mulch:
Fertilize in early spring with a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer.
Plants should be mulched well in summer to prevent soil from drying out. This also helps to keep weeds from taking over. In winter, especially in northern climates, mulch well to protect the crowns of this short-lived perennial.
In order to have a healthy stand of lobelia's every season, reseed the plants biannually. Crowns may also be dug and divided to rejuvenate the old and start new plants.
Pests and Disease:
L. cardinalis may be bothered by fungal rot due to their fondness for growing in moist soil. This moist soil may encourage fungal diseases. The best way to treat diseased plants is to remove them altogether. Keep weedy patches away from garden beds and allow enough space between plants for air to circulate freely.
If a sea of red alone does not appeal to you, try adding a few of the star-shaped blooms of other lobelia species. These can be found in a myriad of colors. You might also like to add lobelias with bronze or red foliage to compliment the cardinal flower. Try planting L. cardinalis ‘Alba' with L. cardinalis for a bright-white and scarlet-red profusion of blooms.
Whether you are watching the cardinals in the air or relaxing among the fluttering wings of L. cardinalis in your gardens, enjoying these two completely different cardinals is one of the simple joys in life.Happy Gardening
Photo at top right by Dave's Garden member Merrigo.
Other Lobelia photos by Dave's Garden members; Aspenbooboo, Daryl and plantaholic186.
Cardinal photos are all public domain photos from Wikipedia and Wikimedia by photographer Ken Thomas.
*Hover mouse over images for plant and photographer names.