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Garden Q&A: Where did the birds of spring go? And what’s wrong with the irises?

Southern magnolia is a popular planting to attract birds.
Southern magnolia is a popular planting to attract birds. (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

My yard was full of birds this spring, singing their heads off. Now I hardly hear a peep. Was that all about establishing territories? Have they moved on? I miss the music!

Yes, birds do sing more in spring to establish territories and attract mates, but almost a third of our birds (29%) have disappeared in the past 50 years. Not just rare birds, but common backyard birds like robins or sparrows. The cause is complex, however pesticides and loss of habitat are key.

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The good news is that a backyard can be a bird habitat. Bring your landscape up to at least 50% native plants. Plant specifically for birds with local native and berry-bearing plants. Cornell’s top suggestions for the mid-Atlantic and southeast are: elderberry, serviceberry, silky dogwood (shrub), southern arrowwood viburnum, blueberry and spicebush.

Crabapple, winterberry, the Southern magnolia (pictured) — which produces big juicy seed clusters also good for decorating during the holidays — if you plant it, they will come.

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My iris bloomed beautifully but now the foliage looks spotty and dead areas are extending down the entire leaf. Seems to occur in patches. Should I be concerned? Cut them back? I was so glad to find a flower that deer don’t eat!

Iris leaf spot is a fungus whose spores survive winter on old leaves. Clean up the bed thoroughly early next spring. Put old leaves in the trash or bury far from the bed. Sanitation is the main strategy here.

Right now you can cut below the leaf spots and dead foliage to improve appearance of the bed, but don’t neglect spring clean-up. It’s likely that some of your iris varieties are less disease resistant that others. They may fade out over the years, while the tougher ones multiply and fill in.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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