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Gardening For Wildlife
February 06, 2012

(Pictures of my many Northern Cardinals.)

Thank for the overwhelming response to last week's newsletter, even the several that canceled because of it.

I am deeply touched and was left speechless at times, even though many readers canceled due to it.

If I didn't look at the calender, I wouldn't know it was early February.

This past week, I could step outside and have it feel and even smell like late March or early April.

Temperatures have cooled down some, yet we enter another week of no snow.

Last week Sunday was the last cold and snowy day we had in SW. Michigan.

When the pressure drops and the snow flies, the birds come.

These are the days I look forward too when it comes to birds.

Especially Northern Cardinals, as they brighten any day with their color and movement.

Days when I can count at least 20 males cardinals (not to mention the females).

Unfortunately, I cannot capture the whole spread in one picture.

We are blessed, however to witness all these red birds in suburbia.

(All the green sticks you see are placed as hawk deterrents. So far, it is working for me.)

February is 'National Bird Feeding Month'.

Back on February 23, 1994, Illinois Congressman John Porter read a resolution into the Congressional Record on proclaiming February as National Bird-Feeding Month.

The rest as they say, is history.

One reason that February become National Bird Feeding month is this.........

By the time February rolls around, food sources in nature are dwindling.

In the event of bad weather, many birds have a difficult time finding food.

This is where you and I come into play, when we help our backyard birds.

True, we supply up to 25% of their daily food, it is often a life or death food source.

Some suggest that birds still get their food from nature.

While birds do feed mostly in the wild, habitat and food sources continue to shrink every year.

If you want birds, create a habitat and offer food and water.

February is also a good time of year to thin out and prune back certain shrubs and trees.

Trees and bushes are dormant now and you can see what to remove.

Cut out dead branches.

Remove a branch that may become a problem down the road.

Remove or thin out where two branches rub against each other.

Select thinning allows for sunlight to reach deep within and provides a healthier plant.

Because most insects are dormant as are many diseases, your risk of contamination is minimal as well.

For bird lovers, here is a true benefit of pruning now.

By pruning or cutting down trees and shrubs now, you wont run the risk of scaring off nesting birds or accidentally removing a bird nest.

By now, many of you know that the USDA has adjusted their hardiness zone map.

For some, it is no big deal.

For others the new map suggests warmer zones.

I think for many of us, that change is minimal.

I know I'm not running out to purchase all sorts of Zone6 plants.

Here in SW. Michigan, weather
can change drastically, and that can mean a stretch of super sub zero temperatures from late November and into December all the way through parts of March.

All it takes is one good cold snap and all the efforts are gone for naught.

Onto this week's main topic.


This week I get to write a bit on both of my passions.

Birds and Gardening.

Joe Lallo of upstate New York recently brought up an interesting topic.

He wants to know what flowers to plant to attract more birds to his yard and gardens.

This is a very good, yet multifaceted question Joe.

I will make every effort to answer and hopefully give you and many others advice on this subject.

While all the annuals we plant to give our yards a splash of color and for our eyes, they offer little to attract birds.

Annuals primarily attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators, which is always a good thing.

These insects will attract some birds, but the flowers that really attract birds will be the native wildflowers and cultivated varieties that produce seeds and small fruits.

Native flowers, when allowed to go to seed also attract seed eating birds.

The real catch here is this................

Native flowers attract more insects.

Native plants offer more of what native insects need.

This in turn brings even more insects to your gardens.

Good bugs, or beneficial insects that feed on the pests.

It is a fact, that nearly 90% of all insects are beneficial.

A Side Note:

This is where a person needs to learn to keep the pesticides in the container and not on your plants.

Yes, there is a time to use pesticides when there is a true infestation, but use with caution and care.

Pesticides don't discriminate, and kill off many of the good guys too.

Pesticides also kill off birds when they consume the insects and plant materials.

Quite often, infestations are caused by the free use pesticides and all the good guys disappear.

I don't know about you, but I can live with a few holes in my plants, if it means more pollinators and scores of birds.

Another benefit of planting natives.............................

Many native plants like Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), Wild Lupine, and scores of others are important host plants to all of our native butterflies.

If you want more butterflies to visit you pretty flowers, offer up host plants first.

During the spring and summer months, virtually all of our backyard birds prey on insects.

Some birds are strictly insectivores.

Species like warblers, swallows and many or the neotropical birds specialize in bugs.

Other birds are omnivores.

Omnivores feed on plants and animals (insects, worms, etc.)

Still other birds can change their diets from bugs and fruits, to fruits and seeds.

Even our beloved hummingbirds need the protein and feed on gnats, mosquitoes, and other small insects.

You may witness a hummer as it hovers over a zinnia, aster or other flat head flower.

If you are truly fortunate, you may witness a hummer snapping at and catching flying insects.

(Read A Hummingbird's Bill.)

Flowers and the insects they attract aren't enough to have a true bird habitat.

You must have native trees, shrubs, grasses and more.

I'm not saying you can't have a few non natives in your gardens, (most of us do and will).

I'm suggesting more native plants all the way around.

While most trees, and shrubs can be used as nesting sights, natives once again offer much for all of your wildlife.

Seeds, fruits, fruits (mast) that attracts birds and other critters.

Flowers for pollinators and foliage to host butterflies and feed insects.

There are native trees for your garden in every state and province.

Native Trees that Birds Depend on.

No need for exotic shrubs, there are attractive, Native Shrubs for every region as well.

Here is a sample.

Clethra alnifolia (Sweetbush or sweetpepper): Found in most coastal states along the Atlantic and Gulf coast.

Also found in gardens in Michigan where I live.

Attracts pollinators and small birds.

Itea virginica (Sweetspire):
Native From PA. to Iowa and south to Texas and all areas in between.

Again attracts pollinators and small birds.

Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry): Native to Canada and all but the deep southern states.

Small blooms turn into attractive white berries for birds and small mammals.

Calhcarpa americana (Beautyberry): Native to the south and southeastern United States.

An attractive shrub that produces pretty colored berries in late summer and early fall. Several species of birds are drawn to the fruits.

Vaccinium parvifolium (Evergreen huckleberry): A native of the Pacific coast.

A year round attractive shrub with dark red berries that provide food for people, birds and animals.

Berberis haematocarpa (Red barberry): This is not your Asian barberry, this plant is native to the Desert Southwest.

Attractive yellow flowers produce purple/red fruit later in the year that will feed birds and small creatures.

Physocorpus spp. (Ninebark spp.) Native Ninebarks are an attractive shrub and there is one for just about every region of North America.

Ninebarks offer interesting foliage and bark, making this a shrub of year round interest.

Ninebark offers flower heads for pollinators and seed for birds later on.

No longer do you need Japanese Ninebarks to add different colored foliage to your landscape. Such cultivars as P. Coppertina, and P. Monlo Diabalo offer copper to purple colored foliage to your landscapes.

Lose the pruners as well.

Do you really need that formal look to your gardens?

Native Grasses, ferns, and ground covers, all provide food, nesting sights and materials as well as offer protection.

Native plants unless stated, require less moisture and food supplements.

About the only thing missing now, is a source of water and possibly some feeders.

Just like that, you have a wildlife habitat and would have no problem getting it certified as such.

"There you have it Joe (and others interested)".

The basic recipe to attract birds and other readers that are interested in "Gardening For Wildlife"

Food, protection, a place to raise a family and a source of fresh water.

While lots of flowers will attract a few of our feathered friends, you really need the whole package if you want to get the most enjoyment (and benefits) from our feathered friends.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, her is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

It’s no trick loving somebody at their best. Love is loving them at their worst.

Author unknown

In my opinion, here is the definition of true love from the Bible

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

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Gardening For Wildlife.

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