Feeding Birds Through the Colder Months
By Heather O’Bryan
A few months ago I wrote about planting butterfly islands to support beneficial insects, but these same plants can serve a dual purpose; they can feed birds when they need it most. Leaving the seed heads up for the fowl passing by or residing in your area through winter can help them get through tough times.
Happy birds offer many rewards. The Audubon Society mentions that not only do birds eat and distribute seeds, but they also help pollinate flowers and return nutrients back into the soil. To keep your birds happy, follow this list of types of seeds, the birds that eat them and how to offer them the seed they need.
Perennial Seed Heads
Some perennials are better for seed eating birds than others. The best species to keep up after the blooms have faded are echinacea (coneflower), Rudbeckia (black eyed susan), Coreopsis (tickseed), Autumn Joy Sedum and Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) . The majority of birds that eat off perennials are songbirds and finches. Leaving the seed heads up will help feed these birds in fall and early winter while they last.
Nyjer and Thistle
This seed is tiny in nature and thus, tiny birds like finches and buntings love it. There are several types of bird feeders made to hold and distribute these little seeds including finch feeders and nyjer socks.
Another plant that is great left up after it has bloomed. There are two main sunflower seeds that birds eat, black oil and striped and a plethora of birds that love them. You can buy either of these seeds in the store, but black oil is easier to find. Birds such as cardinals, finches, chickadees and the adorable tufted titmouse all love black oil seeds while striped seeds attract jays, woodpeckers and the sunflower seed connoisseur, the cardinal.
Bird feeders for this type of seed is plentiful, but keep in mind that squirrels love sunflowers too. Check out this squirrel proof feeder that can protect your bird food while still letting the birds safely eat it.
This one is found in most mixed seed bags but is the least eaten from the feeder. Just watch any little finch at the feeding station and you’ll see it shoveling out the millet to get to the good stuff. But look on the ground and you will see the mourning doves having a down home feast in the grass (or snow) so don’t worry about whether your mix has some of this included. Ground birds need food too!
The good news with this seed is that not only do certain birds like cardinals, sparrows and finches love it, but squirrels don’t seem to be interested in it. This would be a good seed to put in an open air bird feeder with no squirrel-proofing.
Feed the Berry Lovers
Not all winter birds are seed eaters. Some prefer fruits so having winter trees and shrubs that have berries are a must for birds like orioles, bluebirds and yes, cardinals. Plant hollies, viburnum, beauty berry and hawthorn to offer a berry buffet for fruit loving birds.
When caring for cold weather birds, make sure to choose the right food for the ones in your area. If using a store bought bird seed, clean all bird feeders in a water/bleach solution to kill any disease that may have lived on the feeder from the year before. Choose a spot where the family can see the carnival of cold weather birds from your nice warm home and enjoy!
5 Ways to Spark Children’s Imagination in the Garden
By O’Bryan, Horticulturalist
Gardening is an art that is passed down through the ages. But many times, children just don’t have the same interests as we adults do, making it difficult to pass the knowledge on. Thinking outside the garden box, so to speak, can brighten their little minds and spark imagination and interest.
One easy way to accomplish this is through planting by the 5 senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Below are planting suggestions for engaging your child in the garden.
This is an easy one. Bright colors and funky patterns dazzle the eyes of everyone. But for a child, it is fun to plant a garden based on their favorite color. Involve them in all aspects of the planning process including choosing the plants, arranging them and engaging them in the planting process. We did this for my daughter when she was little and her favorite color was blue at the time. We chose Ajuga, Tradescantia and a blue Clematis to spark her interest.
Bringing sound into the garden is a bit more difficult. To grow plants for the sense of sound, you may have to think even more out of the “garden box” and come up with ways plants sound when the wind catches them or the rain splashes on them. Plant grasses that will swoosh in the breeze. There are plenty of pollinator plants that attract buzzy friends. These include Shasta Daisy, Echinacea and Caryopteris, which sounds as though it might lift off in flight when it is in bloom due to the bumblebees that love it.
This, by far should be the easiest way to get the kiddos in the garden. A sweet-smelling rose will attract not only the finest pollinators but will capture children’s attention. Some of the best smelling plants are indeed roses, but there are others that can stimulate the sense of smell. Look for hardy Gardenia, Hyacinth and Lilacs.
Sweet smells aren’t the only scent plants can produce. To get a well-rounded sniff, see if your local agriculture college has a corpse plant. They only bloom once every 7-10 years, but I wouldn’t recommend one for your home. It smells of rotten flesh when it blooms as to attract flies for pollination.
Herbs are a great way to involve children in the garden. By showing them that plants have interesting tastes, it can spark a love of food beyond chicken nuggets. There are many herbs that can be planted in your children’s garden. Lavender and rosemary will be evergreen staples while you can plant mint, oregano and thyme for a tasty buffet for kids to explore. Don’t forget the basil, which goes great with some tomato plants.
This is a fun one. Plants that have a fuzzy texture such as lamb’s ears and Dusty Miller are huge hits. Sedum and ferns have interesting textures as well. Children will enjoy rolling their hands through moss and lush grasses. Try planting some of these and watch your children’s eyes light up.
When you plant your children’s garden, remember to get a soil test to ensure your new plants have a good foundation to grow in. We offer a well-rounded soil test here. You will also want to add some compost and plant food to all holes when planting perennials.
Getting children involved in the garden is not only easy, but fun as well. Young and old alike will love planting by the 5 senses and experiencing the garden in a new and exciting way.