Birds in the garden

Depending on the time of the year, most birds eat insects in addition to seeds, fruits and nuts. Some birds eat nothing but bugs. Birds are attracted to seasonal food. They will stay longer in a garden if it contains plants that flower or fruit at different times of the year. For example, hollies and roses provide winter fruit. Chokeberries and serviceberries offer late-spring berries. Mulberries and blueberries bear summer fruit, and honeysuckle and pyracantha round out the fruit season in the autumn.

Birds are attracted to trees and plants that provide shelter—a safe haven from predators, protective cover from harsh weather, or a place to settle in for the night. Pine trees provide evergreen shelter year-round. Chickadees favor their nourishing pine seeds. Low-growing junipers not only hide birds from imminent danger, they also offer harbor for ground insect-feeding birds such as towhees, wrens and juncos. They provide berries for waxwings and titmice. Some vines and shrubs like clematis, serviceberry and privet are multifunctional plants. Towhees, sparrows and larks enjoy the seed heads of their spent flowers, while fruit-eating birds such as robins, tangers and thrushes gorge on their berries.

When a bird's natural plant food supply has waned, a few well-placed feeders can entice it to stay in the area. Thistle seeds whet the appetite of jays, chickadees, goldfinches, redpolls and buntings. Jays, chickadees and juncos love shelled peanuts and cracked corn.

In planting and developing the garden, consider grouping plants in layers. This creates a multilevel habitat of food and shelter for a variety of birds, whether they feed on the ground, in trees and shrubs, or in the air. Include fruit-bearing shrubs, deciduous trees and evergreens of all heights in the upper layers. At ground level, consider planting ground covers as well as perennials and annuals for color. Fill the layers in between with ornamental grasses, low-growing shrubs, and annuals and perennials for seasonal color accents. The garden may become the birds' favorite place. In addition to being helpful, birds add flashes of color to the overall landscape.

HORT Shorts

  • If you haven't pruned your vines and fruit trees, you'll want to do this right away. Muscadine grapes should have been pruned in December, but January is not too late.
  • Fruit and nut trees should be planted before the end of February. Good home orchard fruits include blueberries, Muscadine and bunch grapes, plums, strawberries, blackberries, figs, Japanese persimmons, dwarf apples and peaches.
  • Nut trees make good lawn trees and provide good eating. Pecan trees are the most popular in the South, but Chinese chestnuts and black walnuts also do well and are gaining in popularity.
  • Now's the time to apply dormant sprays on apples, peaches, bunch grapes and berries. You will find a selection of sprays at garden nurseries and supply houses. Follow their advice, or contact your local county Cooperative Extension office.
  • It is best to prune flowering vines right after they have bloomed so developing flower buds will not be removed later.
  • Spring-flowering quince needs special treatment – very little pruning, except thinning. If pruned severely, there's the chance that next season's bloom count will be severely reduced in number.
  • To produce well-shaped plants, young camellias may need some pruning before they begin blooming. Older plants are pruned to remove dead or diseased branches and to limit plant size—especially foundation plants. Prune after blooming but before new growth begins. Some pruning can be done when cutting blossoms for indoor use.
  • Never shear a camellia. Remove individual branches at a point within the plant.
  • Dwarf azaleas benefit from a light pruning which results in better shaped plants and more showy blooms.
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