In winter, colorful birds and other wildlife bring the landscape to life.
We can encourage these visitors and even lend them a hand during these lean months by providing the simple necessities of life – food, water, and shelter.
A great start in attracting and assisting wildlife is by maintaining a diversity of woody plants supplemented with feeding stations. In addition, offering a flowing or heated water feature or bath will provide a fresh, unfrozen source of water for bathing and drinking.
Evergreen trees and shrubs are an excellent source of food and shelter during the winter months. Consider a landscape design that mimics the multiple layers of cover found in natural areas. Large trees provide a canopy – protecting an understory layer consisting of smaller trees, a layer of shrubs and finally herbaceous plants lying close to the ground. These levels provide a range of habitat for different species of bird, reptile and mammals.
Canopy trees might include oaks, maples, pecans and pines. The understory layer is important as it provides nesting and roosting sites for many animals. The rounded crown of Empress of China® Dogwood provides a protected shelter for wildlife behind its evergreen foliage. Later in the season, songbirds will flock to its strawberry-like fruits.
Passing by a holly tree on a winter day you are sure to interrupt the busy chatter of birds. The dense foliage of hollies serves as an ideal roost for a variety of species. Its winter fruits also attract bluebirds and other thrushes, woodpeckers, thrashers and mockingbirds. Plan for a succession of berries with multiple holly varieties starting with Robin™ Holly for fall and early winter fruit, followed by Oakland™ Holly for late winter berries. In small landscapes or tight spots, consider planting ‘Scarlet’s Peak’ Holly, which matures to a width of only three feet.
Shrubs provide fruit at different times of the year. For winter fruit production, as well as a remarkably showy display, there is no better selection than the genus Mahonia. Few plants are as graceful in the winter garden as ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. This evergreen shrub bears delicate foliage, topped in early winter by clusters of bright-yellow flowers. In mid-to-late winter, clusters of silver-blue berries draw songbirds to the garden.
Perennials and Grasses
Low-growing perennials and grasses provide valuable shelter throughout the winter. These plants provide insulated cover for nesting mammals and hibernating reptiles and amphibians. Some species even provide a source of seed to birds throughout the winter. Please consider the wildlife value of grasses and perennials before cutting these plants back in the fall.
Care for the Birds
And, after taking the time to cultivate and offer an appropriate winter habitat for your furry and feathered friends, don’t forget to also provide them with plenty of food and freshwater. They will appreciate the assistance, and you will enjoy the burst of life and color they add to the winter landscape.