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Winter Garden Gems That Benefit Wildlife

December 05, 2012 2 min read

Winter Garden Gems for Wildlife

Winter can be hard on all of us. But just think of those poor little critters out in the cold looking for food during the darkest, coldest days of the season.

Feeding wildlife with store bought food is acceptable as long as the seeds and food contained are those of native plants. Many store bought varieties contain ‘fillers’ that have little nutritional content or seeds of invasive plant species.

If at all possible, the best course of action to take is to make sure your landscape provides some native plant species. This is what wildlife should naturally be eating. As a bonus to us all, this spreads the seeds of native varieties creating more beauty and natural food abound!

Herbaceous Vegetation

Leave your prairie and meadow plants stand for an outdoor dried bouquet! Seed heads of coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, Bergamot, and Sunflowers look gorgeous with tufts of snow capping their crowns. Birds will flock to them for their scrumptious AND nutritious seeds.

Prairie grasses such as, Little Bluestem, Switchgrass, Sideoats Grama, and Canada Wildrye also look great and feed birds. Plenty more native prairie and wetland-reed species will work well. Even if not used as a primary food source, they can become secondary food sources and offer much needed places to nest and take cover from a winter storm.

Trees and Shrubs

Besides the large seed bearing trees such as the mighty Oaks, Walnuts and Hickories, there are plenty of smaller, berry producing tree and shrub varieties that will add beauty to your landscape while supporting winter wildlife.

Sumacs provide beautiful autumn color and large clusters of burgundy, bitter tasting berries. But when it’s 10 below-zero outside, they must seem mighty tasty! Hollies, Beautyberries, Saltbush and select Viburnums (depending on your climate) also have nutritious berries that persist into winter.

Small, berry producing trees provide double duty as wind breaks, higher and safer places to nest, as a well as food. Some favorite varieties consist of Mountain Ash, Hawthorns, and Hackberries.

Select evergreens may also offer food sources, but more importantly, bushy types like Spruces provide a cozy place to nest and hide during the stark winter season. Getting the most from your evergreenswill help keep your landscape and your wildlife healthy all year long.

Finally, providing water is essential for winter birds in particular. Where most sources are frozen over, water can be extremely hard to come by. Melted snow is very cold and takes a lot of energy for the body to heat itself after drinking. Using a heated bird bath might garner more wildlife action in your yard than providing ample amounts of seed. Even if you don’t have a fancy bath, just buying a heater at your garden store and using in a shallow tin pan will do wonders!

Just be sure to put it by your window. Then grab your binocs, sit back and enjoy the winter show!

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