By Mike Lorenc, Conservation Garden Park
Take a look out any window in your home. What do you see? A sea of dormant lawn by chance? If so, this winter is a great time of year to start the planning process to change your yard into a Localscape. Localscaping offers a wide range of benefits to humans and creates habitat for birds and other creatures for whom lawn is a foodless desert. The planting areas in a Localscape provide year-round interest for people but also precious shelter and sustenance for our feathered friends. Winter is the best time to start planning for next season, and with the addition of some new plants that produce seeds or berries, this time next year, your yard could come alive with the active movement of birds outside your window.
Create Shelter. When creating landscapes that are inviting to birds, shelter is the first thing to consider. It takes more than food to create habitat. Birds need a place to hide from weather and predators to feel safe while eating. Evergreens are a great way to accomplish this. They look great in the winter, provide shelter, and attract insects, which birds also eat. There are many evergreens to choose from. Junipers, pines, spruces, or arborvitaes come in enough shapes, sizes, and even colors to brighten up any winter landscape. Broadleaf evergreens like Oregon grape or Freemont mahonia provide deep cover as well as berries. Anything with thorns is good as well. Thorny shrubs like barberry, pyracantha, or even yucca or cactus give protection against cats or other predators, and birds look for these to dash into while searching for food.
Provide Natural Food. While putting out birdseed is good, providing more sustainable sources through plants is even better. For instance, gamble oak and pinyon pines are both native to northern Utah, and both attract the local Jays with acorns and pine nuts. Native plants are more likely to attract native birds, but adapted plants can also provide nourishment. You’ll also need to plant things that have seeds, and the wider the variety of seeds, the better. Ornamental grasses, coneflowers, false indigo, black-eyed-Susan, and sunflowers all have different small seeds that attract different birds. Berries are also a great food source. Crabapples, snowberries, Washington hawthorns and chokeberry shrubs all have berries that persist well into winter. As a bonus, those berries brighten up your winter landscape.
Leave some yard waste. This plan to provide food doesn’t work if you clean up too much, so leave the leaf-litter in the planting beds (not on the lawn) for overwintering insects to hide in. Birds will be constantly scratching around eating them. Seed heads on your perennials are also an important food source, so no deadheading late in the year. A birdbath with non-frozen water is a bonus as well.
The Conservation Garden Park is an oasis in the city for birds and wildlife through the winter. Stop in for a visit during our winter hours schedule, Monday-Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. More information at conservationgardenpark.org.