Getting Your Garden Ready For Winter

Winter Wren; Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel


It’s fall – what should you be doing with your garden? If you want your native plants and shrubs to thrive next spring and your garden to be a wildlife haven all winter, here are a few things to do now:

1 – Don’t clean up your yard! Clipping back the underbrush removes valuable hiding habitat and windbreaks for birds and other wildlife. Raking up leaves often removes butterfly eggs that are laid underneath them. Clipping back stems of native plants removes the seeds they provide for birds in the fall. Plus letting the stems fall on the ground protects the soil and keeps it moist and fertile. The basic rule of thumb here – a perfectly manicured garden won’t attract a lot of wildlife.


2 – You can plant native shrubs and trees until the ground freezes. And, planting them in fall will give them a chance to stabilize themselves over the winter so in spring they will take off!


3 – Bring that heated birdbath out of the garage and make sure the heater works. Once the temperature drops below freezing, birds will need water, and you may be the only game in town. Don’t let them down! Birds dehydrate very quickly in cold weather, so always keep clean, open water out in your yard for them year-round.


4 – Take a look at the seeds you want to sow in your native plant garden. Do some of them require being in the ground over the winter to freeze? If so, plant them now, so the cold winter will get them started for you.

5 – If you are pruning trees or shrubs, don’t throw out the branches! Create a brushpile to give birds and other wildlife a place to hide from predators and stay out of the elements.This is a terrific way to recycle these branches and you will be amazed at how many birds routinely use this haven.

6 -Maybe with all the feeders and native plants in your yard you are beginning to wonder if you should be counting the birds? A great winter project is to sign up for Cornell’s Project FeederWatch and become a citizen scientist by counting the birds that come to your feeders from November to April.