It's time to say goodbye to the critters, pests, bugs and slugs that enjoyed our gardens this summer. Goodbye also to the red-backed salamanders and stink bugs (thankfully not many in number this year) of early autumn. With this October's shock of three tiny, early snowfalls, I'm gearing up and getting ready to welcome our two-legged feathered visitors.
While birds of various species are in the area year round (like the Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Doves, and American Goldfinch), as the seasons change, many of our birds of summer head south for warmth. Keep your feeders stocked now to give a much-needed boost to any migrating stragglers on their long trek.
Fill your feeders now for the early scouts... Soon, though, other birds will arrive from further north scouting out backyards for the best offerings. Winter birds like Black-Capped Chickadees, colorful Cardinals even Evening Grosbeak and Cedar Waxwing will soon be arriving. Even local birds who normally eat insects, like Nuthatches, will need to supplement their diet. High on all of their priority lists are food, shelter and water.
Food Setting up your backyard feeders now may take the edge off winter stress for wild birds. They will continue to forage in the natural habitat through winter. Studies show that most wild birds will die in their first year of life. But if they can survive this first year then they stand a strong chance of living for some considerable time.
To attract a broad variety of birds, provide a nice selection of feed in different types of feeders in diverse locations. Seeds, suet, nuts, and fruit are the basic foods for wintering birds. Avoid seed mixes since the birds waste much of the seed while hunting for their favorites.
White proso millet and black oil sunflower seeds appeal to a majority of birds (quail, juncos, etc.).
Niger, or thistle seed will please goldfinches and pine siskins.
Suet, or hard fat are preferred by insect-eating birds (woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc.).
Cracked nuts are attractive to many birds, but peanut-butter is a less expensive offering.
Fresh or dried fruit (apples, berries, grapes and other fruit) are favored by robins and waxwings.
Give me shelter Trees and brush nearby are important in feeder placement; birds use them to cautiously approach feeders and as escape cover from predators, but they shouldn't be so close or dense to provide ambush cover for predators like cats.
Bird feeders need regular cleaning to maintain sanitary conditions. Left alone, you may be feeding your feathered friends fungi and bacteria, that may potentially harm visiting birds.
Clean Your Feeders, whether New or Used:
Sanitize your empty feeder by soaking it in a large container filled with Audubon's recommended solution of one part bleach or vinegar to nine parts water for 30 minutes to a full hour.
Cautiously (with gloves and protective eyewear) scrub it down, then rinse thoroughly.
Let it air dry in a sunny spot before adding fresh seed.
Repeat monthly to keep your birds healthy and avoid fungus and bacteria that are easily spread by the communal feeding habits of birds.
Squirrel troubles? This is a great time of year to collect acorns and other wild nuts. When snow is blanketing the ground, offer squirrels their own food. Perhaps, just perhaps, they may leave your bird feeders alone.
Did you know...
An American robin can live up to 12 years.
Some blackbird species live for 15-plus years.
Blue jays can live for more than 18 years.
Both the great blue heron and the Canada goose can live for more than 23 years.
Quench their Thirst. Do your bird friends a favor by supplying open water for drinking and bathing. You will enjoy their antics as they bathe to clean their insulating feathers.
With a little preparation now, you'll be soon be enjoying a yard filled with feathered friends.
T hanks for time to be together, turkey, talk, and tangy weather.
H for harvest stored away, home, and hearth, and holiday. A for autumn's frosty art, and abundance in the heart. N for neighbors, and November, nice things, new things to remember. K for kitchen, kettles' croon, kith and kin expected soon. S for sizzles, sights, and sounds, and something special that about. That spells THANKS for joy in living and a jolly good Thanksgiving.
The transformation often happens gradually. The flowers slowly fade and fall leaves drop lazily as your garden drowsily transitions from colorful, lush summer to the subtle simpleness of winter.
Evergreen shrubs are an obvious pick when planting for a winter garden. As are evergreen groundcovers and vines like Boston Ivy. "Hens and Chicks" works in the winter, as well as different kinds of Euonymus.
Our Favorite Picks for Your Winter Garden: Some perennials and deciduous shrubs that excel at providing interest in your winter garden may not be show stoppers the rest of the year. Some of our favorite exceptions include ornamental grasses, Winterberry, Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus). Ornamental grasses like Miscanthus, Panicum, Blue Fescue and Blue Oat Grass, maintain their structure and some of their color during the fall and winter.
It's Got it All... Picture the Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) in your garden with a light layer of snow clinging to its delicate red branches. The picturesque branches have brightened to a deep red with the cold weather. Suddenly a black-capped chickadee alights on a branch, displacing a fluff of the light snow. The bird stretches its neck to snap up a white berry from a twig. You think back to May and June when the shrub was graced with delicate white blooms and the shrubs branches were still brown in the heat of the summer. At six feet tall, you notice that should this shrub even reach its largest height of ten feet tall, it will still provide a nice transition to the trees behind it. Red Osier Dogwoods (Cornus sericea or Cornus stolonifera) are native to North America.
Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus) is a member of the Hazel family. Some varieties do produce nuts. Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (HLWS) was first discovered in the mid-1800s in England. Its most striking feature are the twisted branches and gnarled trunk. Harry Lauder's Walking Stick is not picky about location, light, water, or soil; it also resists most diseases and pests and is not considered to be invasive. It grows sloooowly, but some varieties may reach up to ten feet and spread out to twelve feet. Like all Hazels, HLWS produces pale yellow flowers called catkins that persist well into winter and contrast nicely against the gnarly brown branches. Harry Lauder's twisty branches make great focal points for indoor arrangements.
Winterberry (Ilex Verticilata) is one of our favorites. It's a native holly that loses its leaves (deciduous), the birds love it, it's easy to grow, requires little care, has few pests, and the berries are some of the last ones that birds will eat, so they are prominent through mid-winter. Winterberry ranges in height from three to fifteen feet, and varies in width, also. In a wet area, it will spread into a dense thicket which provides shelter for birds. Given drier conditions, Winterberry will spread less.
With a light snowfall gracing its slender branches, it puts on a show comparable to the Red Twig Dogwood, but with red berries. For more berries, you'll need a harem of five female plants for each male.
Banish Boring and Bare As your garden falls asleep, the foliage browns, curls, droops, and drops, the bones of your garden stand out. If it seems boring and bare, it's time to think of these features for the colder months: Size, Bark, Silhouette, and Berries. Not just the foliage and flowers that we think of in spring and summer.
Size and Bark, Bark, Bark. Of course, with their prominent size, trees provide the largest points of interest year round. Unburdened by their cloak of leaves, their size, silhouette and bark are on display. Consider planting a Japanese Maple for its dark colored bark, or birch for its silvery sheen and layered bark. Known for their stately nature, elm trees are endowed with a lovely mottled bark. For texture, sugar maples have a deeply grooved bark.
Silhouette In addition to Henry Lauder's Walking Stick, deciduous vines like wisteria can be trained to form strange, twisting sculptures for the winter.
Berries and Seeds Feed Other trees, like Pagoda dogwood and Amelanchier, have interesting fruits or seeds that form during late summer and fall and persist well into winter.
NOTE: Although bittersweet's vines both produce berries and contort and twist, they are an invasive plant that chokes out native plants.
Adding a plant or two for winter interest will certainly work wonders to break up the dreary doldrums of winter. Renee C. Brannigan
"Give me the end of the year an' its fun When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is done; Bring all the wanderers home to the nest, Let me sit down with the ones I love best, Hear the old voices still ringin' with song, See the old faces unblemished by wrong, See the old table with all of its chairs An' I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers."
For over 20 years I have been sharing my passion for plants and gardening by operating a retail garden center and offering some of my favorite plant varieties to everyone who happens to stop by. I have enjoyed meeting many different people over the years and there are many that I now consider dear friends.