Let that fall garden cleanup slide a bit

By Lynette L. Walther | Sep 17, 2020
Photos by: Lynette L. Walther Sunflowers, a sunny favorite of gardeners and wild birds too, are easy to start from seed.

Beauty can be in the eye of the beholder. Take for instance, your yard and gardens. At this time of year, many of us are busy cutting back perennials, pulling spent annuals and generally tidying up the place for the months of dormancy to come. While it may not be pretty to you, it will be to some.

“To help the birds this winter, go easy on fall yard work,” suggests the Audubon Society.

The American Garden Seed Association notes: “Your yard can be a feast for songbirds, even if it is just a small urban plot! Choose your plants well, and don’t be too quick to tidy up after the blooms have faded. You’ll be helping to sustain finches, grosbeaks, chickadees, cardinals, siskins and the many other birds that inhabit your garden year-round.”

The association notes that not only do different birds have different dietary needs, but they might change, depending on the season. These preferences can determine their migration behaviors.

Most species of warblers and vireos primarily eat insects. For them, fall migration is a necessity. Omnivorous birds such as sparrows eat insects, seeds and fruits which gives them plenty of flexibility. For them the fall migration can occur much later in the season. Yet other birds, like chickadees for example, have digestive systems that allow them to switch from a summer insect diet to one of available fruits and seeds in the fall and winter.

We know that sunflowers are a top choice for many birds, and there are many flowering sunflowers from which to choose when it comes to growing them. The towering "Mammoth" heads produce a prodigious amount of seeds.

There are also multi-branching varieties like "Valentine" that are not so apt to crash in windy conditions. "Peredovik" black oil sunflowers are often sold as a foraging crop, and this variety bears thin-shelled seeds that are high in energy and they are easily cracked by birds, the seed association points out.

By leaving seed heads in the garden, we not only provide sustenance to wild birds, we also add a touch of contrast and texture to the often barren landscape. Echinacea or coneflower seed heads capture snow and add interest to the landscape.

Here’s a list of easy-to-grow from seed flowering plants that a popular with birds and pollinators:

Anise hyssop — short-lived perennial that also attracts pollinators.

Bachelor buttons — thrive in full sun, even in poor soil.

Black-eyed Susans — bloom the first year from seed.

Calelendula - brilliant blooms, also a medicinal and tea herb.

Verbena Bonariensis — favorite of butterflies.

Coneflower — seed heads a favorite of goldfinches.

Cosmos — attract birds and butterflies.

Indian blanket flower — pom-pom-like seed heads.

Love lies bleeding — prodigious producer of seeds.

Mexican sunflower — attracts Monarch butterflies.

Pear millet — fuzzy seed heads.

Tickseed — free-blooming and easy to start from seed perennial.

Zinnias — one of the easiest and most colorful annual flowers.

When ordering garden vegetable seeds this winter, consider adding some flowers to the mix. The flowering annuals will help attract valuable pollinators to the plot to help insure a bountiful crop.

In addition, many beneficial insects nest in leafy edges of the landscape, prompting many to forgo a complete “scorched earth” garden cleanup. Of course we want to clear those fall leaves away from the lawn because if left they could damage the grass or leave dead spots. But by all means leave those leaves around the edges and under shrubs for over-wintering locations for beneficial insects. Isn’t it nice to know what lightening up our fall-cleanup load is actually a good thing for wildlife and us too?

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at waldo.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at waldo.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (1)
Posted by: Robin Gabe | Sep 17, 2020 15:59

I've also read that some types of bees over-winter in dead flower stalks and have seen recommendation about clearing these from gardens until spring (which just made me realize that I have automatically been pulling out the dead day lily stalks, for shame!).



If you wish to comment, please login.