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Leslie Derrenbacker


Dear Gardener Gal: I know this is caterpillar activity, but what type? I’ve entertained removing the bush/tree. What type of butterfly and tree do I have?

Thank you. Love reading your article. — Barb

Dear Barb: I’m seeing a cherry laurel with tent caterpillars. This is not a catastrophe.

First of all, these caterpillars do not usually kill the tree — though small young trees, such as yours, would be more at risk.

Secondly, cherry laurels are not exactly desirable trees (apologies if you have named it). These guys are weedy looking, spread easily and the leaves — especially when dead — are very poisonous. On my property they are chopped down and burned. I can’t take the risk of my pets, many of whom are livestock, eating them.

I suppose that was sort of a mixed message answer, but the bottom line is that you will now be able to recognize tent caterpillar activity on sight and can identify a cherry laurel tree. Hope I’ve been of help.

Dear Gardener Gal: What’s happen to the hummingbirds this year? We live south of Dunnellon on the Withlacoochee River. For over 20 years we have put out nectar in the spring, summer and fall and have always had two or three hummingbirds fighting over it everyday. This year we saw only one bird twice since March.

If you have an explanation, we would appreciate your help. Thank you. — Bob and Mary

Dear Bob and Mary: This is a very interesting question. I have also noticed less activity at my feeders. My research has not turned up a definitive answer or even confirmation that our area has a reduced population.

Here is what I do know:

  • Hummingbird populations fluctuate year to year. Some don’t make it back to Florida and our more frequent warm winters are encouraging some to stay year round. I have a female who hasn’t left for three years. (I kinda miss getting a few months’ break from feeder cleaning....) Staying could take a toll on their health. Keeping your feeder up doesn’t encourage them to stay. It is the length of days that tells them to hit the road. Why some choose to stay is a good question.
  • Even though they are super small and fast, they do have predators. Some small hawks can catch them and after a study was done with banded birds, neighborhood cats and windows took the largest amount if they lived near people. I’ve mentioned before that I have friends with tons of flowers in their screened pool area and they have found the little guys stuck in the screen. For one they sadly found it too late.

On a more upbeat note — what you and I are seeing does not necessarily reflect what’s going on with the species as a whole.

I suggest going back to basics and review your hummer feeding set up.

  • Place feeders either very close to windows or far away and not lined up directly. Don’t place your feeder where cats have low shrubs to use as a hiding place.
  • No red coloring. It isn’t needed and could be harmful. Use 4-to-1 sugar water and change it often. If sun hits your feeder or in heat of summer, you need to do a clean and add fresh mixture more than just once a week.
  • Don’t use soap or detergent to clean. Even trace amounts could hurt them. I use super hot water and pipe cleaners. My personal preference is the feeders that look like space ships. They come completely apart for easier cleaning.

Let’s try to think positive and hope an increase in flowers and more neighbors hanging out feeders is to blame for reduced flying friends.

“Gardener Gal” Leslie Derrenbacker is a Master Gardener and native Floridian. Send your questions to