Watching birds in the garden in summertime is one of my favorite pastimes, now that fall is here some birds plan their migration to warmer climates and some even make stopovers from far northern regions to the south. So what should we do to accommodate our feathered friends that are passing through along with the native residents as we prepare for winter?
Make sure to clean out feeders from the spring and summer. Make any repairs if needed. Tighten any loose screws or replace hooks. Don’t forget to clean out any grime and old food.
Keep a steady supply of food In the feeders. For the many birds that remain in the region they are preparing for winter. That means they need foods higher in protein and fat. Seed mixes that include hulled peanuts, nyjer, white millet and black oiled sunflower seed are ideal for a wide variety of birds. Suet cakes are another great food source. They have a higher in fat content and calorie count than seed. During the winter months birds tend to burn more calories staying warm. According to the national wildlife association ” Suet is considered a high energy food because it consists of fat that has 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein.”
In addition to using feeders birds can feed naturally in the garden. During the fall birds don’t need to rely on feeders as their primary food source. They feed on the natural resources like berries, fruits and seeds. My garden is a flutter of bird activity this time of year with a variety of Sparrows, Blue Jays, Cardinals, and Finches, just to name a few. They are enjoying a bountiful garden. Plants like Viburnum, American Beautyberry, and Winterberry Holly are filled with berries now. Ornamental grasses are another great food source for their seed heads. The Finches love to feed on the seed heads from the Echinacea, Lavender and Rudbeckia plants in the garden. One thing I have noticed through the years is that my Bridal Wreath Spirea seems to be a popular source for a variety of Sparrows. They flock to it all season long. It may be the seeds they are feeding on or the shelter it provides.
Providing shelter for birds is equally important as feeding. Keep feeders in a sheltered location away from potential predators. According to the Humane Society Of The United States, “Place feeders twelve feet from a brush pile, evergreen tree, or bush. Birds can quickly fly twelve feet to reach the safe cover, yet predators cannot use it to hide within striking range of the feeder. ” You can also pile leaves around the base of the tree to provide shelter on the ground as well.
Water is essential for birds. We have experienced a very dry summer in Pennsylvania that has turned into a very dry fall. Keep birdbaths filled with clean water. As the winter and freezing temperatures approach make sure water doesn’t freeze over. Use a birdbath de-icer or heater to prevent water from freezing.
Have your binoculars ready! Fall is a great time for backyard bird watching. You may be surprised with the different species of birds that are migrating through your yard from the north to south this time of year.
1) Refresh your garden this fall and plant cool season veggies, these include a wide assortment of lettuce and cole crops. Cole crops are vegetables in the brassica family, such as broccoli, kohlrabi, mustard greens, kale, just to name a few. These crops have the shortest growing season and tolerate a light frost from time to time. They can be planted now and ready for harvest beginning in October through November, even the early part of December.
Below are some of my favorite cool season veggies to grow right now! General rule of thumb is; If you like and you eat it, then grow It!
2) Create a festive harvest arrangement. Cool season annuals, like ornamental cabbage, mums and fall pansies are a great way to add fresh color to tired container gardens. For a bit of height and drama add an ornamental grass, or wild branches. Complete the arrangement with a few mini pumpkins and gourds strategically placed in the container garden. These few techniques will take your container garden from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
3) Add shrubs to give your garden winter interest. Too often the garden is forgotten in the winter and void of color. Adding these three shrubs you can bring your garden to life this winter season. Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly, is a deciduous holly covered with red berries. Grows 15 ft tall. Zones 3-9
Hammamalis sp. Witch hazel is another deciduous shrub that blooms late winter to early spring. Its delicate threadlike petals range in color from yellow, red to copper orange. Grows 15 -20 ft. Zones 3-9
Hardy Camellia is an evergreen shrub that blooms in late winter, early spring. Its rose like flowers range in color from pale pinks to fuchsia. Grows 10 ft tall. Zones 6b-9
Fall is a great time to get outdoors before the winter chill hits. I hope some of these ideas inspire you to do so.
1. Cut back and clean up perennial beds…most perennials can be cut back to the ground, leaving 3-4 inches at the base, but perennials like, ornamental grasses, sedum, and hellebores should be left to provide winter interest.
2. Cut back shrub roses
6. Cover strawberry beds with an inch or so of straw once the ground freezes.
7. Thoroughly clean bird feeders and fill them with birdseed. Clean birdbaths and consider a heating unit to provide fresh water throughout the winter.
9. Trim existing asparagus foliage to the ground after the first hard frost and mulch beds.
10. Plant spring flowering bulbs, before ground freezes.
11. Clean out planters of any dead material leftover from summer and fall. Scrub inside with coarse bristle brush, bleach and water solution, invert and store for the winter.
12. Plant Paper white and Amaryllis bulbs for the Christmas holiday.
Fall is a great time to plan your spring garden and there isn’t a better way than planting spring flowering bulbs.
Hardy bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinth are just a few varieties of bulbs that can be planted in the fall when the soil temperature cools.
When choosing bulbs be selective. Make sure the bulbs are firm and not soft, or have a moldy white powdery coating. Bulbs with mold are not healthy or viable and should be discarded.
Plant in a sunny location, most bulbs prefer full sun to part shade. Even the healthiest plants don’t have a chance for survival if they are not planted in the proper location.
When planting know which end is up and how deep. Some of the most common mistakes made when planting bulbs is not planting the bulbs with the right side up and at the right depth.
Always plant with the pointed side up and flat side in the earth. Most bulbs have dried roots showing on the bottom.
Dig hole for bulbs 2-3 times the size of the bulb, if bulb 3″ plant 6-9″ deep. By 6″- 12″ wide. There are exceptions to the rule do always check the recommendations on the package.
Prepare the soil by adding organic matter. By adding compost you are helping to condition and add nutrients to the existing soil.
Protect bulbs by adding a layer of chicken wire over top of bulbs. Cover with soil and add 2-3″ layer of mulch. This will help keep squirrels and rabbits from digging up what you have already planted.
Don’t forget to water in the bulbs. Bulbs are plants too. They need light and water just like your other plantings.
But keep in mind to water on the light side. Bulbs sitting in cold wet soil for a long period of time can lead to rotting and decay, thus resulting in no spring blooms.
Tips for lifting tender bulbs such as Canna, Dahlia, Colocasia etc. before first frost.
Cut off any top foliage at the crown and dig bulbs up from the ground and remove any excess soil.
Allow bulbs to dry out thoroughly.
Once bulbs have dried place in a brown paper with peat moss.
Store bulbs in a cool dry location, where temps do not get below freezing. Temps ranging in the forties are ideal.
Keep away from warm temps and light to allow bulbs to remain dormant till next spring.
As a horticulturalist and avid grower of many types of plants I am always sad to see, the end of the growing season. The threat of frost or hard freeze is always looming as we approach the late days of October which makes me feel anxious to take inventory of my tropical plant collection and prepare the indoors for their long winters stay. I don’t have a greenhouse, nor a sunroom,but that doesn’t stop me from bringing in all my favorite tropical houseplants and succulent gardens.
Follow the Sun
Take note of where the sun plays upon the rooms in your home. Most tropicals prefer warm, bright surroundings. Bright light with temps in the 60 -70 degree range during the day is ideal. Temperatures above 80 degrees can cause poor air circulation, which can lead to insect problems down the road.
Cut back any plants that are too tall.
Try and be selective when deciding what plants you want to over winter. For example, take serious inventory of your potted tropicals. Bring in only what you have room for. If you are overwintering hibiscus decide if that plant will have enough light to continue actively growing and flowering during the winter. If not consider cutting the plant back approximately 1/3 and let it go dormant. If you are considering bringing in annuals, like geraniums, lantana, or coleus, find the sunniest location and modestly cut back, and or take cuttings from them. Tropical foliage plants are great to over winter, because they enhance the beauty and air quality in your home. Succulents are the easiest to maintain and can adapt to, not only bright light indirect, but moderate light as well.
Allow plants to dry thoroughly between each watering. Allowing plants to dry out minimizes fungus gnat problems. Be sure to hose down the plants with water and add a granular systemic to the soil every 4-6 weeks to ensure your plants stay happy and healthy.
Overwintering tropicals can be a fun project for the winter months. It will keep your hands in the soil and your passion for gardening the entire year.
Here’s a link to my FIG Doylestown article which was just published.