New Year’s Resolution

11/14/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Birds, Plant Care, Uncategorized

Done are the columns on live Christmas trees, keeping the cut tree fresh, and all other holiday plants. The winter solstice was this week, Christmas is tomorrow and from a gardener’s perspective the spring season is only days away. However, Black Friday sales that seem to continue right through to the end of the year, party after party, last minute presents to wrap, end of school programs, and a multitude of other activities make up all the hustle and bustle that have this gardener longing for the simplicity of a day in the garden.

Needing to get away from it all, the dogs and I spent time on a clean up project in the backyard. The area was snow covered and sloppy so we didn’t get much done other than spring planning, but there was one satisfying discovery. It had to do with the edible currant bushes. The shrubs are covered with new flower buds that will erupt early in spring! Looks like that ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ we put down last fall is doing its job, and all the more confirmation that plant foods put down at the right time really do make a tremendous difference.

Stressed older evergreens and natives can use a winter kick. Most evergreens push growth only once a year, so use up any ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ 7-4-4 on the evergreens in the yard to promote more candle growth come spring. This plant food also reduces winter chlorosis, known as winter yellowing.

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In midwinter a gardener is looking for any hopeful sign of spring. The first quail are starting to gather; the beautiful males perched on top of the scrub oak are showing off their colorful breast and head feathers. As the quail coveys grow and the males become more vocal they offer a welcome indication that spring is “getting near”.

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Winter is a good time to plan for more birds. Much of my garden is dedicated to drawing more birds to the landscape. From quails and doves to finches and hummingbirds, a landscape cannot have enough birds . . . except for ravens; my gardens can have too many ravens.

In my birding sanctuary bird feeders are not the primary sources of food. I have a few decorative birdhouses, but food is provided through strategic plantings. Without the right landscape only a few birds can be attracted to the yard by a feeder. With a little planning and even without a feeder flocks of birds will call your property their home. (I’m not into bird feeders and the different mixes that bring birds to the back porch. If that culture interests you, I suggest following the exceptional columns that Eric Moore from Jay’s Bird Barn writes for The Courier every Friday. )

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Bird life varies widely through the seasons, and Arizona is one of the major migratory routes from North to South. Birds will want to rest, nest, and feed around the landscape that provides the three basic essentials: cover, water, and food.

COVER – Many new birders start by hanging up a feeder and wonder why so few birds visit it. Birds want to feel safe in the height of trees, under cover of shrubs, and welcome by the fruit and color flowers provide. Plants that provide berries, fragrant flowers, and dense cover will promote bird activity.

WATER – Birds like to bathe, drink, and play in water that is no deeper than 3 inches. A simple birdbath will suffice, but you can provide more elaborate water sources like ponds, waterfalls, and fountains. Make sure there is a spot for birds to frolic in the water features. When planning the perfect bathing area for birds think of a fine Hawaiian beach and you’ll be on the right track. That’s because birds, like people, prefer a bathing area sloping into water. As things begin to freeze in winter, water becomes more precious. Water can be kept accessible by pouring hot water into a birdbath each morning or using a birdbath heater.

FOOD – Provide a backyard habitat planted with seed- and fruit-producing trees and shrubs, mixed with a few perennial flowers. Feeders for seed, thistle socks, suet holders, and specialized feeders for hummingbirds and orioles are excellent additions. Titmice, chickadees, jays are among the species attracted to sunflower seeds, and goldfinches especially love thistle seed. Suet is enjoyed by and is a necessity in winter for all insect-eating birds.

Most native plants are utilized by different species of birds. Many shrubs that don’t look showy to us are virtual gourmet grocery stores to birds. Different types of birds feed and live at all levels of the yard. From the ground loving quail and flycatchers, to the highflying orioles and cardinals there are plants attractive to each variety. If you are interested in attracting a particular type of bird, then add more of its favorite plants. Design with plants specific to our planting zone for birds that migrate through and live in our region.

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I’ve been collecting a list of plants that attract birds. Ask for my free ‘Garden 4 Birds Plant List’ the next time you visit the garden center. Take a look at; hit the ‘Like’ button at the top of the page and you automatically will receive a copy when it posts.
Oh, almost forgot, I shot a quick video on how to prune Russian Sage that will post in a day or so.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.

Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through the web site: Ken says, “My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes.”