Laying out the Welcome Mat for Winter Wildlife

November 17, 2013 lawanda Newspaper Columns

How are you coming along with your fall yard and garden clean-up?  Still have a ways to go?  Wouldn’t it be much easier to leave the annuals standing, the perennials uncut, the leaves unraked and the brush piles unburned?

You could just quit now and allow your yard to be a haven of shelter and food for the many creatures of winter.  Don’t feel guilty or lazy, because you’d be doing a big favor for the birds that will eat seedheads of the weeds and flowers and find shelter from winter’s cold winds in the brush pile.  Toads and other amphibians will be happy to dig in and spend the winter under a pile of brush or wood chips.  Ladybugs, that most beneficial of garden insects for the service they do in controlling aphids, like to overwinter under piles of garden debris.  Bees that don’t live in colonies need places to dig in and sleep over the winter as well.  Birds will be thrilled to use long grasses, dried vines, weeds or stems of this year’s plants to build their nests next spring.  The microorganisms that are so vital to soil health will thrive as leaves left on the lawn decompose and nourish the soil, which in turn will provide valuable nutrients to the grass.  However, a thick layer of leaves can mat down and kill the grass, so use your lawn mower to run over them a few times to shred them into smaller pieces.

Is there a dead tree on your property that you’ve been putting off cutting down?  If it’s not going to fall on your house or your neighbor’s car, save yourself the trouble.  Hollow trees give owls and other cavity-nesting birds a place to set up housekeeping.  The bark of dead trees houses a myriad of tunneling insects that feed many bird species.  The rotting trunks and branches host beneficial fungi and lichens that birds eat or use for nesting materials.

One caveat – any diseased plants or plant parts should be removed and buried or burned.

If I haven’t convinced you to let things go a bit and you prefer doing a thorough fall cleanup, you can still welcome birds this winter with a bird feeder or two.  Place the feeders in a sheltered area that you’ll be able to access to refill once the snow gets deep.  Try to place them within ten feet of trees or shrubs so the birds can escape and hide from neighborhood cats or other things that frighten them.

Use the coming winter to plan how to make your yard more welcoming to birds and other critters next year.  A variety of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers that provide berries, nuts, nectar, nesting materials and shelter will attract the most wildlife, especially if you select plants native to our region.

Gardening techniques and toolslandscapingMiscellaneous

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