By Jeff Osmundson
Greetings Skagit Audubon members and friends -
Not everybody has a yard or garden on the property where they live. But, if you do, there is a growing trend to be a little less tidy and a little messier. Colleen and I have been gardening longer than we have been birding and we have often had a vegetable garden as well as lawn and permanent plantings. In the past we felt we were good stewards of the garden when we cleaned up each fall and planted cover crops, usually annual ryegrass of some sort. But no longer. For a number of reasons the vegetable garden has been left fallow for a couple of years and has rewarded us with volunteer potatoes, sunflowers and cosmos. The yard and plantings are messier now in the fall to provide feed and cover for our winter birds and bugs. We now try to minimize our cleanup to things that really need to be done. For example, our big leaf maple drops leaves that mat on the yard and those need to be ground up and spread out.
In general, plants that offer those gorgeous flowers in the summer can also provide both cover and food for the winter residents of the yard. We constantly see juncos, towhee, white crowned sparrows, goldfinch, house and purple finches as well as a few others checking for seed and bugs in the litter left from the summer growth. Instead of gathering all of those trimmings and limbs from early fall winds we try to create a few little piles of brush for cover and shelter during our cold and rainy months.
What a great excuse cutting down our fall chores! There are a number of resources out there to help you learn more about sliding into fall with a little less work. Audubon, the Nature Conservancy, Habitat Network, the Cornell Lab and other organizations offer advice. A quick summary of their suggestions follows;
- Leave your leaves on the property
- Allow the gorgeous dried flower heads to stay standing in your garden
- Let the grass grow tall and seed
- Build a brush pile with fallen branches instead of removing them
- Forget the chemicals
- Leave snags on your property
- Delay garden clean-up until spring, after several 50℉ (10℃) days, which allows overwintering pollinators to “wake-up” for spring and move on
Thanks for listening. If you’re like me you might plan a few more birding days instead of cleaning up the garden. Or, if it is like today and really raining hard, getting a few inside chores done.