Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
January, 2009
Regional Report

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The blooms of this serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Princess Diana') will produce juicy fruit in May, when birds are nesting and food is still scarce.

Keep the Flutter in the Garden

Dashing outside this January morning, barefoot and pajama-clad to check the rain gauge, I noticed the garden was full of birds. From the look of things, the night's heavy rain (a full inch for my drought-plagued garden) and the morning's mild temperature (more than 50 degrees F) pleased them, as much as me.

While a Carolina wren warbled a loud, enthusiastic tune from the porch railing, a female cardinal splashed with abandon in the fountain. Her mate, flashing his red plumage, watched from the rooftop of the garden shed, and nearby, a black-capped chickadee took an eager turn at one of the many feeders, spilling seed for several song sparrows pecking among the leaf litter below.

Simply put, birds make me happy. Their antics are an endless source of amusement. From the tiny house wrens that build their nests in my hanging baskets, to the funny little finches fighting at the feeders, birds connect me to the wonders and mysteries of nature more than any other creature. Making places for them to nest, eat, wash, and drink in my garden gives me great satisfaction. Providing for birds is a pleasure, and a daily reminder to be grateful for my own comfort.

Grow a Hospitable Habitat
When choosing new trees and shrubs for the landscape, consider their wildlife value. Adding plants that provide food, cover, and nesting spots will easily double or triple the number of bird varieties you'll see.

Dogwood, holly, cedar, crabapple, barberry, cotoneaster, and many viburnums such as cranberry (V. trilobum) and nannyberry (V. prunifolium), are all excellent food sources.

I also grow two serviceberry trees (Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Princess Diana'), which bloom with white flowers in early spring and provide plump, juicy fruit in May, when birds are nesting and food is still scarce. As a bonus, the leaves of this cultivar turn golden-orange in autumn, adding to the colorful display of the season.

For cover, birds usually select nesting and resting places that are between 5 feet and 20 feet above the ground. Because trees with strong, stout limbs are more easily accessed by predators such as raccoons and cats, choose some trees which are twiggy, thorny, or otherwise more difficult to climb.

Add Water
Fresh water in a shallow pool is often hard to come by, so birds will travel long distances to find a spot for drinking and bathing. Some birds which are not attracted to feeders, such as robins, will be drawn to a garden for its clean water.

My landscape has a birdbath, centered with a large stone to provide safe perches, and a tiered fountain that drips water from one basin to another. While both are useful and add to the garden's charm, the moving water is a bird magnet. In late afternoon, the fountain's rim is sure to be crowed with bathers.

Provide Seed and Feed
Supplying one feeder with a single type of seed will attract only a limited assortment of birds, so it's best to offer several. In my garden, a large feeder of safflower seed draws an abundance of cardinals, while a smaller tube feeder of black oil sunflower seed is a favorite of wrens, sparrows, and finches. I also hang a thistle feeder, and eagerly watch the goldfinches that will exchange their drab winter colors for bright yellow plumage as the season wears on.

The feeder that attracts the most interesting birds, however, is a suet cage. Hanging in a 'Yoshino' cherry just outside my bedroom window, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and Carolina wrens all prefer this feeder for its high-fat fuel.

This suet recipe, concocted by a Master Gardener friend and fellow bird fanatic, is a tried-and-true favorite.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Suet

  • 1 cup lard

  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

  • 2 cups uncooked quick oats

  • 2 cups cornmeal

  • 2 cups raisins (the jelly!)

  • Optional: dry dog food, nuts, pretzels, seeds

Soften the lard and peanut butter in the microwave or on the stove top, then add other ingredients and mix. Make small cakes in plastic sandwich containers, refrigerating to solidify, or spread the soft mix immediately on the bark of trees.

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