Red Buckeye: a hummingbird favorite!


By Jane Malec, EMGV

The are many great reasons to put a red buckeye tree in your landscape. This small tree will help you attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. It was a past winner of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Gold Medal Plant award. The bright flowers along with the light brown flaky bark and the coarse open habit make for an interesting ornamental plant. Plus, and here’s some great news, it is very deer resistant!

The Aesculus pavia has several common names – red buckeye, Scarlet buckeye and firecracker plant – and is considered a large shrub or a small tree. It’s common name, buckeye, comes from its seeds which are dark brown with a pale scar and resemble the eye of a male deer.

There are several cultivars including the Spendens which is smaller growing, 8-12”H x 5-12”W, and the Humilis which can grow over 30’ in the wild. The growing habit will differ with its location. The Red buckeye loves the sun and will grow its tallest in this environment. However, it will be susceptible to leaf scorch if it gets too much of our brutal afternoon sun. Keep it mulched and water in order to keep the roots cool. As always the best advice is morning sun and afternoon shade!

The Red buckeye will adapt to a shady spot as well which will result in a more open shrub-like habit and fewer flowers but it will thrive.

Speaking of flowers, hummingbirds and butterflies love this plant! The flower buds will emerge with spring foliage growth. They are 1-1/2 long, usually a beautiful bright red and in clusters of 6 to 10” tall when fully open. Red buckeye is one of the first plants of the season with red tubular flowers. You can expect the panicles to emerge from mid-March to mid-April. Operation Hummingbird in York County, SC ranks this plant in the top ten best hummingbird-attracting plants. Bees will also love the nectar producing flowers.

So, here is one strong word of caution when deciding to include this plant in your landscape. The often quite abundant fruit is highly toxic. The shiny nuts can be attractive to small children and some pets and will cause kidney failure. Keep the Red Buckeye close enough to enjoy the wild life that are attracted to it but far from the active places in your environment. Creating a welcome habitat for nectar loving friends doesn’t mean every plant must be close to your home.

A final note – when looking for feedback on this article, I received encouragement from a wise person from Ohio. She ended her comments with “anything Buckeye made her happy”. That probably isn’t true for those who are fond of Wolverines but as for me…I will be planting Buckeyes!



Pollinator Week

This week (June 15 – 21) marks National Pollinator Week. According to,

  • About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of
    animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to
    plant for fertilization.
  • About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds,
    bats, and small mammals.
  • Most pollinators (about 200,000 species) are beneficial
    insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies,
    moths, and bees.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is presenting Saving Our Pollinators, a four-month exhibition which features 29 events, including workshops, exhibits, talks, and tours that highlight the acute plight of pollinators, including bees, birds, bats, and butterflies. Details are here.

You can help pollinators in your own yard by planting flowers and keeping them free of pesticides. Include native perennials to attract our native bees. Native bees, like honeybees, are declining in numbers. To provide the most benefit to pollinators, plant a variety of flowers so there are blooms from early spring until fall. Lists of pollinator-friendly plants (such as the link shared in this post) can be found online, or ask a Master Gardener Volunteer or staff member at your favorite garden center.

Growing a backyard grocery for wildlife

by Nan Len

The cardinals who live in our backyard have brightened up many days this winter. In the summer, I am delighted to watch the hummingbirds buzz around our feeder and the bees methodically going from bloom to bloom. From spring to fall, four or five toads hang out on our driveway at night. I have watched a luna moth emerge out of its cocoon and I feel quite clever when I catch sight of a praying mantis. A couple of turtles, some snakes, and a fox have traversed our backyard.

I want more – more birds, more insects, more turtles, more toads and more mammals. This desire led me to read “Bringing nature home” by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press, 2007)

Tallamy, a professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, brought up a point that I had never considered: insects are the main food for many species of wildlife. The best source of food for many insects is native plants. In order for me to sustain and expand the diversity of wildlife in my backyard, I need to start thinking like a neighborhood grocer.

There is something deceitful about my seemingly benign grocery analogy. It is a ruthless little neighborhood where I am stocking the shelves. Many of my customers are also the daily special.

By making sure I have food and shelter for bees, butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders, I am providing a meal for small mammals, toads, and birds, which are themselves a meal for snakes, bigger birds and mammals. These food chains make up the food web.

Most of these distressing events may take place out of my sight, but I fail as a grocer if I neglect the food preferences of anyone in my neighborhood. A test of my success is how diverse my customers are.

When you buy your next plant, reconsider your choice if it is labeled “pest free”. If nothing wants to nibble on that plant, isn’t that like your grocery store manager replacing your favorite apple with plastic fruit? If most of your landscape is pest free, then you have a grocery of beautifully packaged, cellophane wrapped, processed stuff with few interesting customers stopping by.

The statistics on the loss of natural habitats are distressing. I cannot change the years of unintended consequences of humans being humans. But by planting native plants, I can do my part to build a resilient food web. I will get to see more of my wildlife neighbors and they will find a good meal. I’ll settle for that.

Learn With Us, week of March 15

Integrated Pest Management – Complete Extension Gardener Series
Tuesday, Mar 17, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Where: Durham County Cooperative Extension, 721 Foster Street, Durham, NC
Managing pests in the landscape involves more than just spraying a few chemicals. Learn about pest prevention, the importance of healthy growing systems, and resorting to chemicals only as a last resort.
Free/ Registration required.
contact: Pana Jones – 919-560-0525

Organic Sustainable Vegetable Gardening – Durham Garden Forum
Tuesday, Mar 17, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Where: Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson Street, Durham, NC
Speaker: Keith Baldwin, Ph.D., farm services coordinator, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
$10.00 fee per class or annual membership fee.
Registration required.

Getting Dirty with Durham County Master Gardeners Radio Show  –
MARCH 17 2:00 pm- Dr. Carl Maytac, of the NC Cooperative Extension Service is the County Extension Director for Orange County, NC.  He holds a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Maytac spoke to our new Master Gardener class about identifying plant diseases, how to prevent them, and options for treatment.  Lise Jenkins asked him before class started what steps gardeners can take to discourage diseases from getting a hold of their garden this season.
Broadcasts Tuesdays at 2:00 pm on WCOM 103.5  Can be heard live or replayed any time at

Attracting Bee, Butterflies & Birds
Thursday, Mar 19, 2015 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Where: Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson Street, Durham, NC
If you plant it, they will come. Learn about the basic principles of developing a pollinator garden.
Free/Registration required.
Contact: 919-668-1707


Last week was National Pollinator Week. While internet outages and family obligations prevented this post from going live in the correct week, our pollinators deserve an extended celebration.

Bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds all serve as pollinators for plants in our landscape. Here are a few tips to help you attract a variety of pollinators to your garden.

  • Plant flowers that are attractive to different kinds of pollinators. Each pollinator has preferences that can include flower shape, color, and scent. Plant native plants to attract native pollinators.
  • Try to have flowers blooming throughout the entire growing season – spring, summer, and fall. Having multiple plants blooming at any time is best.
  • Provide a habitat for pollinators’ young. Plant host plants for caterpillars, provide cover and nesting areas for birds and bees.
  • Use Integrated Pest Management. Remove pests manually if possible. Avoid or use pesticides minimally, following all labeled instructions. If pesticide use is necessary, spray when pollinators are less active.
  • Provide a water source. A birdbath, pond, or shallow basin allows pollinators to have a drink or bathe while visiting your garden.

If you haven’t “liked” the NC Extension Master Gardeners page on Facebook, I recommend it: There were so many fascinating posts about pollinators last week.

For more information, including plant lists and pollinator photos, visit

Additional Sources:

-Ann Barnes