Gardening for Birds and Insects – Fall/Winter Planning

Fall provides some wonderful, warm visual landscape interest after the vibrancy of spring and the lushness of summer. We often regard fall as the final days of the seasonal garden (more on winter gardening in future posts, though!). As we clean out our gardens to prepare for the next growing season, it’s important to remember that many species of birds, bees, amphibians, and multitudes of insects rely on natural as well as maintained areas for cover during the harsher months of the year. Here are a few tips to help our pollinator, decomposition-aiding, and animal friends: 

Birds – Leave tall grasses untrimmed for the winter to provide habitat and a seed source. Here at Wellfield, we also like to leave certain species, such as Echinacea, to seed out for the birds. Species that also make good “bird food” include: asters, Black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, cosmos, marigolds, dropseed grasses, chokeberries, sumac, bittersweet, and holly. A good mix of tall trees, berry-producing understory trees and shrubs, uncut grasses, and seed-producing perennials comprise an excellent winter bird sanctuary. Remember to leave a water source out in the fall, as well.

Invertebrates and Beneficial Fungi – As the trees begin to lose their leaves, resist the temptation to rake everything up for the Street Department. Personally, I like to take the leaves from the small amount of turf on my property into the garden and landscaping beds for natural mulch. Anything extra goes into the compost bin. Most garden sites will recommend shredding the leaves first to make them easier to incorporate into the soil in the spring and allow more air circulation around plants. As always, avoid using leaves from diseased plants to keep pathogens out of your beds and soil. Leaf litter mulch provides an overwintering habitat for various invertebrate species such as wooly bear caterpillars, Luna moths, many types of spiders and beetles, worms, centipedes, millipedes, snails, and slugs. The mulch also hosts toads and beneficial fungi. When clearing out my vegetable garden, I also prefer to “chop and drop” leftover (healthy) stalks and leaves directly into the garden bed. 

Bees – Early/late flowering trees and herbaceous plants (such as crocus, snowdrops, and primrose) also provide much needed energy for bee species. Many bees prefer to overwinter in dry, bare ground or rotted logs. I like to build up piles of sticks and logs around the yard to host these species. Feel free to make the display as aesthetically attractive as you’d like to add some visual interest for humans. Thanks for all that you do to keep your habitats happy and healthy!

Mary Wojcik, Horticulturist

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