By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
It’s surprising how many winter birds grace our dormant gardens with their graceful flight and beautiful sounds. Many have migrated from far cooler climates in the north, and actually find Prescott weather to be sunshiny and warm! It’s nice to put out bird feeders with seed and suet to attract birds to our yards, but birds need to forage and find their own food. It’s especially important to have food for them to find when feeders are empty. There are many wonderful plants with fruits and berries that birds like during our cold months. Many of these plants are available at the nursery right now, but less often recognized are the garden flowers that have seed most birds gobble up with gusto. Along with nourishment, many plants provide shelter and nesting materials.
It’s not too late to plant some of our most popular local perennials that winter birds find so attractive. If you have these in the yard already, wait until March to cut them back so birds have time to find and use them. The same goes for new plantings. A couple of these hardy perennials are evergreen, but even the varieties that aren’t should be planted and left uncut until the birds make it through the harshest part of winter.
As a bird gardener, here are my top plant picks to attract and help local bird species:
Sedum – Most of us keep dried sedums in our gardens for winter interest. They seem to start re-growing as soon as the old leaves die. Even the ground hugging Sedum varieties are popular with pretty much all types of feathered seedeaters.
Coreopsis – If you thought all that cheerful yellow throughout the summer was the only contribution your coreopsis plants make to your garden, watch for the many winter songbirds attracted to their seeds.
Black Eyed Susan, or Rudbeckia – Like coneflowers, black-eyed Susans are prairie garden staples that remain standing through most of the winter. American goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, sparrows, and towhees feed enthusiastically on Rudbeckia seeds
Goldenrod, or Saladgo – A valuable addition to a bird-lover’s garden, goldenrod packs a double punch. Several birds, like finches, pine siskins, yellow-rumped warblers, and indigo buntings munch on its seeds. But it’s also a popular overwintering site for insects that are relished in a winter bird’s diet. So birds get a well-balanced meal from one plant!
Silphium – Cup plant, prairie dock, and compass plant are some of the many common names for this tall, daisy-like flower. It can be quite a sight in the garden with flowers abloom way at the top of its long stems. Birds, especially finches, prefer their seeds as they are beginning to dry.
Zinnia – If you’ve grown zinnias and collected their seeds, you know how many there are in each flower. The tiny seeds on a single plant can keep sparrows or goldfinches busy for an entire afternoon! Other annuals to keep around for seed include impatiens and autumn marigolds.
Evergreens – I know that evergreens are not flowers, but don’t overlook the amount of shelter a nice strong spruce, cypress, or cedar can provide for winter birds. If you are into decorating for the holidays the birds will REALLY appreciate your decorated evergreen. There are several species will congregate under the heat and welcome extra warmth provided by all those lights. So dress up that outdoor tree; the birds will be all the happier, and so will the neighborhood.
Thanksgiving – From our family to yours, we hope that you will enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving Day, our uniquely American holiday.
Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.