January 7, 2013

Gardening in Winter

By Eric D’Aleo, Naturalist

Who gardens in the winter? Not many people do, unless they have a heated greenhouse or live in a tropical zone. Most of us garden vicariously over the winter by thumbing through plant and seed catalogs and thinking about next spring. Although winter may not be the best time for flowers to bloom, this season can be a fine time to enjoy your garden, particularly if you did some planning and work during the past year.

Perhaps you planted a native grass with a seed tuft which looks spectacular under a light snowfall or a red osier dogwood with bark that stands out against the snow in the late afternoon sunlight. Maybe the windbreak of fir or spruce you planted near the old stone wall highlights a nice comparison of texture and color. But did you remember to include the birds when you’re planning what colors, textures, and patterns you might want in your garden for the winter season? Having plantings in your garden that provide food, cover, and shelter for our avian neighbors can help keep it a frequented area of activity, even in winter.

Perennial flowers such as purple coneflower, aster, blackeyed susan, and goldenrod will provide a source of seeds for Goldfinches, Juncos, Tree Sparrows, and other small song birds. Shrubs and small trees like high bush cranberry, winterberry holly, chokecherry, and hawthorns may provide food for Waxwings, Robins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Sparrows during the late winter months. Conifers like balsam fir, white spruce, white pine, and hemlock may provide food for Chickadees, Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, and the occasional Crossbills. Evergreens also provide shelter for birds and other wildlife from the harsh winter weather and the eyes of hungry predators.

As you page through catalogs and plan your garden look for plants that are a native winter food source for birds. It may require a bit more effort, but when you spot a flock of Waxwings gorging on the high bush cranberries you planted, the time spent will definitely be worth it.

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