Attracting Birds in Winter

CardinalDo you want more birds around your yard this winter? Create a habitat with water, food sources, nesting sites and cover from predators. Pay special attention to providing fresh water and food during the coldest months.

You can supply food by offering plants with seeds that persist through the winter months or by filling feeders. Birds depend on many varieties of native plants for nutrition; good choices include chokeberry, bayberry, sumac, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, and coreopsis.

If putting out supplemental food, opt for high-quality offerings such as black-oil sunflower seed, which attracts the widest variety of seed-eating birds. Safflower is another good choice and is a favorite of cardinals, grosbeaks, chickadees, and native sparrows. This seed works well in tray and hopper feeders, which cardinals and grosbeaks prefer. Finches are attracted to black Nyger seed. Avoid feed mixes with a high percentage of golden millet, red millet, or flax, among others. These are often used as ‘filler’ seed and most birds shun them. They make a mess on the ground and can breed bacteria and fungus if uneaten.

Squirrels can be a major nuisance and may steal all of the seed if allowed to. If feeders are installed on a pole, or hanging down, baffles can be mounted either above or below them to make it more difficult to access. Make sure posts are at least 5ft. tall and 7-8 feet from surrounding trees or structures; otherwise, squirrels will launch themselves and gain access. There are a wide variety of feeders designed to deter squirrels.

Lack of fresh water can be even more problematic than lack of food. Birds can eat snow, but it takes more energy to warm it to body temperature than it does to drink unfrozen water. Water is important for hydration, and also helps birds preen their feathers. Preening keeps feathers aligned in a way that insulates birds from the cold.

Birds may have to fly great distances in winter to find open water. We can help by providing a heated birdbath or adding a heating element to an existing birdbath.

Invite birds to winter in your yard with a few small changes in plant choices and feeding and watering practices. Not only will the birds be enjoyable to watch, but you may also better their chances of survival.

November To Do List

  • Landscape To Do ListContinue to cut grass until it has stopped growing (air temps consistently below 50 degrees F)
  • Apply winter screening (burlap, wire cages, etc.) to protect plants from cold and pest damage
  • Cut back perennial garden after several killing frosts; leave up plants with winter interest or wildlife value
  • Clean up any remaining leaves in the landscape; try to incorporate back into planting beds or mulch into lawn if possible
  • Take a soil sample from problem areas of the yard and send for analysis of pH and nutrient levels
  • Make sure hoses are drained and put away for the season
  • Clean, sharpen, and oil hand tools to keep lubricated and prevent rust

Winter Protection for Landscape Ornamentals

winter gardenWinter can be a tough time for landscape plants, especially those that aren’t native to this climate. Damage can include freezing, frost cracks, physical breakage, salt damage and desiccation (water loss). There are steps that can be taken to minimize these effects, though, and fall is the best time to do it.

Freezing injury and late spring frost damage are common problems on plants that are not completely hardy in northern climates. To avoid these, it is best to plant only species and cultivars known to be hardy here. For spring frosts, shading the plant may help to prevent damage—by keeping the warming rays of the sun off the plant, bud break may be delayed up to 10 days, which may be long enough to protect tender flowers and shoots. This may be practical only with smaller plants, however.

Frost cracks and sunscald can be a problem on newly-planted, thin barked trees. Damage usually occurs on the southwest side. Winter sun warms the bark during the day. Temperatures then plummet at night, causing the outer bark to cool and contract faster that the inner tissue, which causes splitting of the bark. Newly-planted species that are prone to damage can be shaded or the bark wrapped with light-colored material to reduce risk.

Physical damage from snow load can be avoided by either wrapping susceptible plants with twine or chicken wire, or covering with a constructed snow-shield.  Pruning trees when they are young to eliminate weak, V-shaped branch attachments can also help reduce the likelihood of breakage.

Avoid planting species susceptible to salt damage in high-traffic areas. Otherwise, burlap or canvas screens can be constructed to protect them from salt spray.

Desiccation can occur on evergreens on bright, sunny winter days. The sun warms the foliage, and moisture is lost to the surrounding dry air. Because the ground is frozen, the roots are unable to take up moisture to replace the loss, and foliage browns and dies. Watering plants well into the fall (until the ground freezes) can help, as well as siting sensitive plants where a building, fence, or other plants will supply winter shade. A sun shield can also be constructed to provide shade.

Planting appropriate species and taking steps to avoid winter injury will ensure longer-lived, healthier plants in the landscape.

October To Do List

  • Landscape To Do ListPant spring-blooming bulbs
  • Continue to water landscape plants until the ground is frozen
  • Prune back roses and cover root flares/trunks with mulch
  • Place protective mulch or pine boughs over tender perennials
  • Blow out irrigations system and drain lines
  • Drain and winterize water features; clean out ponds
  • Lower mower height to prepare turf for winterizing
  • Do a fall clean-up
  • Clean, organize, and store garden tools for the season

Plant of the Month – Crimson Spire Oak

Crimson Spire OakA hardy, fast growing oak tree with a narrow columnar habit, this selection is ideal as a formal screen or as a stand-alone specimen in the landscape. A hybrid of our native White oak and English oak, this versatile tree is adaptable to many different soil types and is disease resistant, making it well-suited to urban landscapes.  Sturdy dark green leaves turn a rusty to bright red in mid to late fall. Grows to 45’ tall and 15’ wide in 20 years.

Dividing Perennials

dividing perennialsWhy Divide?

There are three main reasons to divide perennials: 1) to rejuvenate plant growth, 2) to control a plant’s size or spread, and 3) to increase the number of desired plants.

Signs that division may be necessary include:

  • Middle of plant dying out; roots densely overcrowded
  • Smaller-sized flowers or less vigorous growth than expected
  • Plant growing beyond intended space in the garden

Regular division will restore health and vigor to aging perennials and keep your perennial border neat, healthy, and in peak bloom.

When to Divide

Opinions vary about the optimal time of year to divide a perennial, but it is critical to avoid division while the plant is flowering. Consider dividing spring-blooming perennials in late summer/early fall, and summer and fall-blooming perennials in the early spring. Do spring dividing as new growth is emerging—root systems will be full of stored energy and the plant will have a full growing season to recover from stress. Make fall divisions late August through September, allowing 4—6 weeks for roots to re-establish before the ground freezes.

Many species will benefit from division every 3—5 years while others may only need to be divided every 8—10 years. Some plants will not respond well to division and should be left alone. Check with your local extension office or horticulturist for specific guidelines for plants in your garden.

How to Divide

If it’s been dry, water plants a day or two before you plan to divide them. If moving the divisions to another part of the garden, prepare this spot before lifting the parent plant. Using a sharp spade, dig down around the entire plant, about 4-6 inches from the foliage line, and lift the whole plant. (Cut into sections if plant is too large or heavy.) It may help to hose off soil from root systems, so sections can be cut with a sharp spade or knife. Discard old and diseased sections and any soft or rotting roots. Replant at the same depth, and water well to settle soil.

 Plants to avoid dividing

Common plants that resent division include butterfly weed, euphorbias, Japanese anemones, false indigo, and columbines.

Finding the Right Tree For Your Landscape

TreeWhat do you want the tree to do?

Is it shade you’re after, wind protection, wildlife cover, or do you just want the tree for its ornamental qualities? Every species has its own strengths and weaknesses—choose one that fits your needs.

Get to know your site well

What kind of exposure to sunlight, wind, wildlife and traffic are unique to your site? What is the soil like—does it drain well? Is it sandy, heavy clay, or somewhere in between? Soils in this region are often highly alkaline, which can contribute to iron deficiency in species such as Pin Oak, River Birch, and Red Maple. Get a soil test to for a good sense of your soil composition, and choose plants that will grow well in your conditions. Another key consideration, depending on the site, is possible damage from foraging deer and rabbits. Without protection, some tree species are not suitable if these pressures are high.

Plan for root needs & mature size

Some trees have shallow, aggressive roots and should be planted away from sidewalks and driveways. Pay attention to the tree’s expected size when fully grown. Though site characteristics will affect ultimate size, genetics are key. Plant the tree where it won’t interfere with power lines, rooflines, or adjoining property.

Is the tree fast growing? Long lived?

Faster-growing trees are often shorter-lived and more prone to insect and disease damage and weaker wood. Health and longevity, though, are influenced by the planting site and the care that it receives. If the tree is kept healthy and pruned to ensure a strong mature branching structure, these problems can be minimized.

Does the tree need maintenance?

All trees drop leaves and other debris, but some are messier than others. Choose according to your tolerance for upkeep. Still undecided? Contact a landscape professional or your local extension office. We will help you pick a tree to enjoy for years to come.

 

Plant of the Month – Little Devil Ninebark

little-devil-ninebark imageA new selection of Ninebark (a shrub) that retains the tough-as-nails characteristics of the species, but adds compactness (to only 4’), and smaller red/purple leaves. Blending well with many different perennials and annuals, the dark foliage is offset by small white flowers in June. A trouble-free addition to smaller gardens that tolerates a wide range of soil conditions in sun or part-shade. Hardy to zone 3.

Multiplication and Division: Garden Edition

plant divisionDividing perennials is a great way to rejuvenate plants and gain additional plants for your garden or to share with friends.

Why Divide?

The three main reasons to divide a perennial are to rejuvenate plant growth, control a plant’s size or spread, and to increase the number of desired plants. Some signs that division may be necessary include:

  • Middle of plant is dying out; roots are densely overcrowded
  • Smaller-sized flowers or less vigorous growth than expected
  • Plant is growing beyond the intended space in the garden

Regular division will restore health and vigor to aging perennials and keep your perennial border neat, healthy, and in peak bloom.

When to Divide?

There are varying opinions about the absolute best time of year to divide a perennial, but the most important point to remember is that division should not take place when the plant is flowering. It may be best, then, to divide spring-blooming perennials in late summer/early fall, and summer and fall-blooming perennials in the early spring. If dividing in spring, do so just as new growth is emerging—root systems will be full of stored energy at this time, and the plant will have an entire growing season to recover from the stress of division. Fall division should take place from late August through September, allowing four to six weeks for the roots to re-establish before the ground freezes.
Many species will benefit from division every 3-5 years while others may only need to be divided every 8-10 years. Some plants will not respond well to division and should be left alone. Check with your local extension office or horticulturist for specific guidelines for plants in your garden.
dividing perennials

How to Divide

If it’s been dry, water plants a day or two before you plan to divide them. If you are moving the divisions to another part of the garden, be sure to prepare this spot before you lift the parent plant. Use a sharp spade to dig down on all four sides of the plant, about 4-6 inches from the foliage line, and lift the whole plant (or cut into sections if plant is too large or heavy). It may be helpful to hose off soil from root systems, so sections can be cut with a sharp spade or knife. Discard old and diseased sections, and any roots that are soft or rotting. Replant at the same depth, and water well to settle soil.

Do Not Divide These

Some common plants that resent division include butterfly weed (Asclepias), euphorbias, Japanese anemones, false indigo (Baptisia), and columbines (Aquilegia).

September To Do List for Your Yard

To Do List

  • Shear/prune hedges (privet, boxwood, yews, etc.) for the last time by September 15th
  • Install fall annuals by mid-September (mums, aster, kale, etc.)
  • Treat Phragmites (weedy grass) to eliminate species
  • Assess lawn condition and work on repairs
  • Dethatch or powerake lawn if excessive thatch is present
  • Aerate lawn; overseed if desired
  • Divide overgrown perennials such as daylilies, iris, peonies, and hosta