(See last paragraph for details on the Great Backyard Bird Count).
While some birds migrate south for the winter, more species are ‘overwintering’ here due to climate change and milder winter months.
TO FEED OR NOT TO FEED
Before you even decide whether to put out supplemental food for your backyard birds, the thing that is most important is a clean, unfrozen source of water. You should change the water every 3 to 4 days in winter (more often in summer due to bacterial growth). The use of a plug in de-icer (available in our shop) will keep the water from freezing. You will be amazed at how much activity takes place at the bird bath. Put it where you can enjoy the show.
Last winter you may have been surprised to see a lot of local trees covered with green leaves. Except they weren’t on the branches, they were all along the trunk of the tree and headed for the sky. While the sight of green might cheer you in the winter time, what you are seeing is English Ivy, which is an invasive menace. It was introduced during colonial times, and is now seen throughout North America.
Can I keep my rosemary plant happy all winter? This question comes up every fall. The easy answer is, “You can try.” There are also things you can do to improve your chances of success with keeping rosemary over the winter.
Just because it has been hot and humid well into September, don’t let that fool you. Fall is just about here and it’s a great time for planting.
Winter Garden Damage – What Now?
Winter can offer obstacles for our gardens. Cold, snow, ice, freeze/thaw cycles, wind, salt from treating roads and sidewalks are a few that spring to mind. Most of those obstacles can be readily overcome, but some are more challenging.
Cold, Snow, Freeze/Thaw Cycles – In Other Words, Normal Winter For Cold Winter Climates
What does suited to the location mean? It means if you have a place where the wind tends to come whistling through the garden, don’t plant something that is susceptible to wind damage. Put that plant in a spot where it is protected from wind. If a plant doesn’t like wet feet, don’t plant it in the low, wet spot in your garden. Putting each plant in a spot where it can thrive leads to good plant health. And healthy plants are much better able to survive adverse winter conditions than unhealthy plants
Unusually Cold Temperatures
After the Cold has Passed
Annuals – if the foliage is brown and or mushy, remove it and compost or discard it. Plan on replacing your plants in spring.
Herbaceous Perennials –Remove brown and mushy foliage. However, do NOT assume that the plants are dead. Even if you are used to the plants remaining green throughput the winter, they may not be dead. Many perennials are “root hardy” which means that although the foliage and stems are dead, the plant will regrow from the root system. In spring, be lazy and wait a bit. Give the “dead” plants time to regrow from the roots before replacing them with new plant material.
Shrubs – Do nothing. This is another great time to be a lazy gardener. Resist the temptation to help and just wait for spring. See what new growth emerges and prune after you can see the true damage to your plants. If there are obviously broken branches, you can remove them, but other than that – hands off. Pruning now could encourage new growth too early, which can harm the plant. Branches that may appear to be dead, may not be. Once spring gets here and the shrub leafs out with new growth, you will then know for sure which parts of the shrub are dead and can be safely removed.
Ice is pretty much the cruelest thing that can happen to your garden in winter. The sheer weight can be devastating. You are going to want to try and rush out and help your plants. Resist that urge. Do NOT try to help. Take a deep breath and procrastinate. Do not knock ice off branches; channel your grade school days and keep your hands to yourself. Allow the ice to naturally melt. The branches beneath the ice will be brittle, trying to remove the ice is most likely going to lead to more damage to the plant, not help.
The rest can be pruned to shape, if needed or if you want to. This may mean sacrificing blooms on spring blooming shrubs. If you don’t mind a somewhat bedraggled shrub in your landscape, wait until after the spring blooming shrubs flower and then prune to shape.
Trees: Remove downed branches or trees, if you can safely do so, or hire someone with experience to take care of this task. For broken branches and additional pruning, it is best to hire a certified arborist to assess and service the plants. Trees are a long term investment and much harm can be done by accident. Let the professionals handle it.
You may already recognize that salt really isn’t all that great for plants. Salt applied by road crews or on sidewalks by homeowners can end up in nearby garden beds. There are a couple of ways to deal with this issue.
If you can reasonably assume that salt will be applied regularly, consider choosing plants that can withstand a bit of salt (yes, we have circled back around to Right Plant, Right Place). Internet searches will yield good results for plants lists.
If salt is unlikely to be an issue, then you may prefer not to limit your plant selection. The best way to deal with an unusual application of salt to plants is water. Once the temps warm up and snow cover melts, lightly spray off plants to wash off any salt that might be on foliage. Then in early spring, water the affected areas heavily to wash the salts out of the main root zone of the plants. You want to soak at least 6 inches of soil. This will allow the majority of roots to reside in soil where the salt has been flushed out.
The Winter Need to Feed
Birds seek out yards that offer food, water and cover, and they thrive in those that offer safety from harmful pesticides, chemicals, predators and other dangers in our human-dominated world.
With freezing weather, limited natural food sources, and migration, feeding will save birds’ lives. Most birds that visit backyards in snowy weather thrive on seeds, since insects and fruit are harder to find naturally during the winter. The best foods to offer birds in colder weather have a high fat or oil content that will provide abundant energy for winter survival. Giordano’s carries what birds like most:
With the right seed and feeder you could be visited by dozens of different backyard bird species during the winter months. The most common winter birds in our area include:
- House finches
- House sparrows
- Tufted titmice
- American goldfinches
- Pine siskins
- Downy woodpeckers
- Black-capped chickadees
- Northern cardinals
- Dark-eyed juncos
- American robins
While easy birdfeeders such as hopper and platform designs are always popular, the feeders you use during the winter should have several characteristics in common.
- Cover: Feeders will be most useful in the winter if they have a wide cover over feeding ports, perches and dispensing trays so seed is not buried during snowfalls or storms. Fly-through platform feeders are especially good designs for winter bird feeding. The cover should extend several inches over the edge of the feeder to ensure protection from all but the most serious storms.
- Placement: Ideally, winter birdfeeders should be placed in sheltered locations out of the most severe winds. Placing feeders closer to the house will be effective and will help keep the birds visible for indoor birdwatching. At the same time, feeders should be placed near protective cover such as hedges or a brush pile to offer birds safety from predators. To minimize window collisions, place feeders no more than five feet away from a wall or window, and use window clings or other techniques to prevent collisions.
- Capacity: For birders’ convenience, large capacity feeders are preferred for winter feeding because they do not need to be refilled as frequently. This is only viable, however, if the seed is protected from moisture, otherwise it may grow mold before it is consumed. Covered feeders with large capacities are suitable, but platform feeders should be emptied and refilled daily to prevent mildew and spoilage.
More Winter Feeding Tips for Birds
- Clean off feeders, platforms and perches after each storm so seed is easily accessible.
- Leave fruit and berries on trees, hedges and bushes to provide a natural source of food throughout the winter.
- Add a heated birdbath to your backyard or place a safe heating element in a regular birdbath to provide birds with liquid water.
- Stamp or shovel snow around feeders to provide easier access to spilled seed for ground feeding birds.
- Leave nesting boxes and birdhouses up all year round to provide winter roosting sites.
With care and consideration, backyard birding can be an exhilarating hobby throughout the winter, with birdsong and backyard visits to brighten the coldest, darkest days of the season.
How to Care for Your Farm-Grown
When a Christmas tree is cut, more than half its weight is water. With proper care, you can maintain the quality of your tree. Below are a number of tips on caring for your tree.
Which one do you have in your lawn or garden?
Wild Garlic Wild Onion
Both are perennial, spread by seed, bulb, and bulblet. Wild garlic has 2–4 long narrow leaves that are round and hollow. The bulb has a yellowish-brown outer membrane with vertical fibers including several bulblets. Wild onion has more than 2 leaves, long and narrow but are flat, solid and slightly convex. The bulbs are brown with a pattern. There are 1–3 bulblets and the cut surface of the bulb will turn red when exposed to air.
The control is the same for both. For small patches pull or dig it out making sure you get all the bulbs and throw away in the trash. The bulbs can survive for several years so DO NOT COMPOST!
In the lawn you can slow the spread of both of these weeds by mowing regularly. It will help weaken the plant and decrease it’s seed production.
A post emergent herbicide can be applied when the weeds are actively growing in the fall, winter and spring. Treat plants when the greens are between 2 and 8 inches tall. In the garden make sure you protect nearby desirable plants when using an herbicide.
Mulching up to a depth of 4 inches has shown some success but that can create other problems in your garden.
Giordano’s can help you select the right Bonide treatment for your problem area!
STOP! Don’t dig it up!
Despite that it looks rather devastating, turns out it’s best to wait when you have winter burn damage on conifers and other evergreens. The primary symptoms are needle/leaf browning, particularly on evergreens that are out in the open and not clustered with other trees. However, this is NOT an indicator as to the health of your conifer! The only way to tell is by selecting a section of stem and scraping off the outer layer of bark. If you find green inside and the stem to be supple, your conifer is going to be just fine. If, on the other hand, it’s brittle and dead, then you’re one of the few who are simply out of luck.
Plants that are likely to be affected:
- Schip Laurel
- Otto Luyken Laurel
- Manhattan Euonymous
Soo… Why does this happen?
Turns out it’s science! Evergreens are doing a whole lot more work during the winter than their deciduous cousins. Since their leaves (or needles) are still green, they are still photosynthesizing all Winter long. Photosynthesis requires water, sunlight & carbon dioxide. So as evergreens take in CO2 and create O2, the leaves/needles are using water. Normally evergreens draw water up through the roots to replace what is used in the process of photosynthesis + what water evaporates through the leaf/needle membranes and the cycle of photosynthesis continues. However, during winter months where the ground is frozen, water may not be readily available and thus, the strategy (and only option) for the evergreen is to allow their leaves/needles to die and preserve what little water they have left. The result, as I mentioned before, looks rather devastating… brown, dead-looking needles/leaves that are dry and brittle. Often due to the severity of appearance, winter burn is misdiagnosed as a disease, when it is actually more likely for the plant to make a full recovery!
Prevention & Treatment
Prevention: It’s as simple as pouring hot water on the frozen ground at the base of your conifers on a bi-weekly basis while temperatures remain below freezing. The idea here is that the hot water unfreezes the ground temporarily and allows your evergreens to drink until it freezes up again. Some people have also reported success with placing a thick layer of hay with mulch on top around the base of your evergreens for the winter to insulate the ground around them. In extreme cases you can also wrap evergreens in burlap to shield from wind during winter storms.
Treatment: There are of course some steps you can take to treat winter burn. Two methods in particular seem to be the most effective.
- Trim dead sections down to the point where you scrape the bark off and find green underneath
- Wait for new growth to begin and allow the evergreen to shed it’s dead leaves naturally
It is important to make sure that your evergreens are properly fertilized and watered after a Winter burn event. Subsequent unfavorable conditions (such as a hot, dry summer with little water) can further weaken your plants and make them more susceptible to disease and increases the chance they will not survive a second round of Winter burn the following Winter.