Your garden may look boring and bleak to you, but to winter wildlife it’s a veritable safe haven brimming with food and shelter from the elements.
South Texas gardeners enjoying a brief winter break from tending plants can direct their nurturing instincts to wildlife. Here are seven ways to help birds and small animals left out in the cold:
- Be attentive to your birdbath, keeping it filled with clean water. A good host offers drinks to guests, wildlife visitors appreciate the same hospitality. Adding a dripper or mister will make it more attractive to the animals.
- Provide high-protein, high-energy food such as sunflower seed or suet for birds. Choose hulled seeds if you don’t want debris scattered under feeders. Otherwise, put out black-oil sunflower seeds with the shells on. Suet dough is preferable to plain suet, which melts on warm days.
- Birds brake for berries. Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), hollies (Ilex spp.) and agarita (Berberis trifoliolata) are among the shrubs that will provide berries for birds to eat.
- Birds will also eat seed from native grasses such as Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and perennials such as purple coneflower (Echancea purpurea).
- Hold off on pruning even if plants are past their prime. The barren brown stems and dried seed heads are inviting to birds, animals and beneficial insects seeking food and shelter.
- Give them shelter. Evergreens in the large tree/small shrub category give birds a place to hunker down in chilly weather. Consider choices such as evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) and standard yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria).
- Hang a few birdhouses to decorate the landscape and offer shelter. Some birds will duck into them to keep warm and dry.
Tracy Hobson Lehmann is a garden writer and occasional guest contributor to GardenStyleSA.