November 3, 2016

Feeding the Birds During Garden Cleanup

by Toni Leland
Finches on Purple Coneflowers
Finches on Purple Coneflowers

Fall is the time for garden cleanup and, for those naturalists who advocate not cutting back perennials, the chore is an easy one!

Tidying the garden beds is a task that has several benefits:
  • The garden looks nicer during winter (most popular reason for many gardeners)
  • Prolific self-seeding plants will populate your garden with unwanted volunteers
  • Clearing away debris on the ground eliminates hiding places for unwanted pests like voles, mice, and many insects that overwinter.
  • A clean, stark palette allows a gardener to assess the health of shrubs and perennials, and make plans for new plantings and moving things around.
Cutting back those perennials has one large drawback: we are removing a natural source of nutrition for our winter birds.

Here's an easy solution!

Perennials with good seed production can still be used for our feathered friends. Simply cut them back, leaving long stems, then tuck the "bouquet" into shrubbery around your garden.
Seed heads in shrubbery
Purple Coneflower seed heads in Burning Bush

Birds are prey animals. If you spend much time watching birds at a feeder, you'll notice that they take a bite, look around, take a bite, look around. Birds never feel safe out in the open, so one rule is to place your feeders near shrubs or trees where the birds can take cover.

The same goes for those sheaves of seed heads. Tucked into the branches of a shrub, the birds will feel safer while they stock up on fuel.

Seed heads in shrubbery
Black-eyed Susans in Forsythia

A few examples of long-stemmed plants that are bird favorites:
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)
  • Sweet Hyssop (Agastache)
  • Zinnias
  • Gayfeather (Liatris)
  • Beardtongue (Penstemon)
  • Goldenrod (Soladago)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium)
  • Sedum 
Seed heads in shrubbery
Sweet Hyssop in Burning Bush

Our gardens contain many other food sources for the birds, many of which we leave for the winter, but getting the most out of your seed-producing plants is an added bonus.

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