Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
December, 2001
Regional Report

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Birds such as this chickadee will provide you with hours of enjoyment -- if you provide them with food and water.

For the Birds

One of the most precious elements in my landscape is the bird population so I've tried to plant shrubs, trees, flowers and grasses to keep them interested in staying here.

Attracting birds is not just a matter of sticking in few plants with berries. Although any little bit will help, to truly establish a stable, mixed bird population takes commitment to providing food, shelter, water and nesting materials.

Create a Refuge

No matter how small an area you have, you can make it a wildlife refuge for birds as well as rabbits, raccoons, butterflies, squirrels, chipmunks, toads, butterflies and deer. The key is diversity and stability in the plant community. This means planting for the long-term, using many different types of plants and allowing natural succession to occur. The side benefit of this type of landscape is that it doesn't need intensive maintenance.

Provide Year-round Food Supply

Fruit-bearing plants such as serviceberry, dogwood, filberts, grapes and blackberries certainly feed the birds in summer and fall, but it's also important to remember to plant for food in winter when it's not readily abundant. My yard is filled with birches, alders, junipers, crabapples, cranberry viburnums, chokeberries, sumac and bittersweet, all of which provide food in winter.

It's also critical to plant shrubs such as cotoneaster, all types of viburnum, shrub roses, juniper, crabapple and dogwood to provide protection from predators and cold and to provide nesting sites in spring.

Flowers for Birds

Perennial and annual flowers that bear large seed heads such as purple coneflower, sedum, black-eyed Susan, marigolds, coreopsis, beebalm, sunflower and cosmos all feed the birds if left standing in winter. They also provide an attractive focus for the landscape when the seedheads are crowned with snow after every storm.

Feeders and Birdbaths

I do keep feeders going in the summer although I'm careful to keep my feeders clean to prevent mold and disease. I try to keep them well stocked although sometimes it's a challenge to keep them full with so many birds and squirrels around. I use black oil sunflower seed, a high quality seed mix, and black Niger thistle seed. This choice of seed along with a diverse population of plants draws cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees, grosbeaks, titmice, juncos, indigo buntings, purple finches, orioles, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers to our feeding stations and landscape.

We also have a birdbath near the feeders that we clean regularly and keep full of fresh water. It's especially important to change the water often in hot weather since algae grows quickly. The birds don't seem to mind a murky birdbath, but I can't help but think about just what's living in the water. I have a birdbath heater for winter to keep the water open for them.

With all these bits of attention paid to keeping the birds happy, they respond by providing me with constant entertainment and color.

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