Do you put seed out for birds in winter? Millions of Americans enjoy this hobby, even those who might not otherwise be nature-lovers. We string up suet for woodpeckers and scatter sunflower seed, millet, or corn to attract our personal favorites, perhaps the cardinal, or goldfinches. Some birds are finicky about visiting feeders, and we delight in adding another species to our list – mine is currently at eleven for 2017, but should reach fifteen or so before winter is over. I like to watch the Red-bellied woodpeckers, which are much more numerous this year than last. They are expanding their range further north as our winters grow more mild.
When I visit my mother in Vermont in a few days, I look forward to seeing her regular birds, so different from mine: crossbills and snow buntings, and red-breasted nuthatch. I might see a Cooper’s hawk in either location as they too have expanded their range, to prey on the birds that we attract to our feeders!
Some of you may wonder, is it necessary to feed birds, and can it be harmful? There are no conclusive data showing its benefit or harm to bird populations, although centralized feeding areas can be reservoirs for the spread of disease. It is a good idea to scrub down your feeder periodically, and to offer fresh water if you are providing any. The availability of water is a limiting factor for bird distribution, especially during freezes in winter, when I find dense concentrations of birds near flowing streams. Will the birds starve if you stop feeding them or miss a few days? Unlikely. Their numbers are determined by many factors in addition to food, and birds are adapted to move and forage over a wide area.
It is more important to support birds with a healthy habitat of native trees and plants than it is to provide supplementary foods in any season. Trees moderate our climate, provide shade and shelter and seed, and most critically, harbor vast numbers of insects. Some birds are almost entirely insectivorous, like the Eastern bluebird, while others depend upon insects for short periods of growth and transition. According to entomologist Doug Tallamy, ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds rear their young on insects, especially caterpillars. Many non-native plants do not support the kind or number of caterpillars that birds need, and when those plants become numerous enough to compete with native plants for space and light, the number of birds on the landscape will be diminished. Even non-native plants that appear to feed birds, like Asiatic bittersweet, can be low-quality food sources that provide less nutrition than native plants. We have seen a tremendous increase in the number and diversity of birds at the Armstrong Preserve and Education Center after we replaced our invasive non-native plants with native species.
Here is a list of things you can do to attract songbirds to your property, including suggested native plants for food sources, taken in part from bird habitat specialist Dr. Stephen Kress:
- Maintain a border of native trees and shrubs around lawns, and minimize the area of lawn.
- Create a brush pile.
- Remove invasive plants.
- Rake leaves under shrubs to create feeding areas.
- Clean out bird nesting boxes in early spring.
- Create a water source for bathing and drinking.
- Clean feeders with a 10% non-chlorine bleach solution.
- Keep cats indoors.
Spring and Summer Seed Producers = Red maple, American elm
Early Summer Fruit Producers = Black raspberry, High and Lowbush blueberry, Pokeweed, Shadbush
Autumn Seed Producers = Sugar maple, Eastern hophornbeam, the ashes
Autumn Fruit Producers = viburnums, dogwoods, Common elderberry, Spicebush
Winter Fruit Producers = Bayberry, Eastern red-cedar, Highbush cranberry, American holly, Inkberry, chokeberry, Wild grape, Virginia creeper, Winterberry, Staghorn sumac
Herbaceous plants = asters, Black-eyed susan, thistles, phloxes, sunflowers, goldenrods
Nectar Plants for Hummingbirds = Jewelweed, Cardinal flower, Trumpet honeysuckle, Indian paintbrush, Tulip tree
A dozen community members assisted in native plant restoration at Halle Ravine at our most recent Volunteer Work Session on October 1. A lively group of students, neighbors, town officials, and PRLC board members spent the morning working on and off trails in the north end of the Preserve and along the steep bank of the eastern side of the ravine. They cleared invasive weeds, planted a variety of native plants that will better support wildlife, and fenced valuable trees and shrubs from deer browse. Our aim is to encourage more shade cover in the Preserve to protect soils from erosion and drought and to provide for the needs of animals. Come out for a tour with us next summer and see the results!
We also completed the installation of a new staircase along the steepest section of trail in the Preserve. Help is still needed to carry out construction materials and begin bridge repairs, so please join us on Saturday November 5, 10am-noon to lend a hand.
These projects were supported by funding from the Land Trust Alliance Conservation Partnership Program and by private donors.
Home gardeners and land stewards are interested in growing easy-care, ground cover plants to protect soil and to prevent areas from becoming infested by invasive weeds. Native plants are the best choice for natural environments because they are adapted to local conditions and better support wildlife. If native ground covers have grown beneath your radar, or if you need suggestions for filling in a tough spot, read on for my recommendations to add beauty and value to the landscape in southern New York.
Ground covers are low-growing plants that tend to spread by rhizomes (roots underground) or by stolons (roots sent out along the soil surface). Many of these plants are aggressive spreaders that may eventually need control if given too much space. Sun-loving species can be shaded out to stop their spread. Mowing also works. Shade-loving plants grow more slowly and can be maintained with occasional cutting or weeding.
Plants for Shade to Part Shade
Anemone canadensis, Canada anemone
Antennaria neglecta, Pussytoes
Asarum canadensis, Wild ginger
Chrysogonum, Green and gold – Part shade
Jeffersonia diphylla, Twinleaf – Part shade
Maianthemum canadense, Canada mayflower
Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebells
Mitchella repens, Partridge berry
Packera aurea, Golden groundsel
Packera obovata, Golden groundsel
Phlox divaricata, Forest phlox – Part shade
Phlox stolonifera, Creeping phlox – Shade
Podophyllum peltatum, Mayapple – Part shade
Stylophorum diphyllum, Celandine poppy
Symplocarpus foetides, Skunkcabbage
Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower
Uvularia grandifolia, Merry bells
Viola canadense, Canada white violet
Viola pubescens, Downy yellow violet
Ferns for Shade to Part Shade
Phegopteris connectilis, Long beech fern
Theylpteris novaborenscis, New york fern
Grasses for Shade to Part Shade
Carex pennsylvanica, Pennsylvania sedge
Elymus virginica, Va. wild rye – Part shade
Plants for Part Sun to Full Sun
Antennaria neglecta, Pussytoes
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry
Chaemacrista fasciculata, Partridge pea
Fragaria virginiana, Virginia strawberry
Houstonia caerulea, Azure bluets
Packera aurea, Golden groundsel
Phlox subulata, Moss phlox
Rudbeckia hirta, Blackeyed susan
Sedum ternatum, Stonecrop
Viola sororia, Common blue violet
Waldsteinia fragaroides, Barren strawberry
Ferns for Part Sun to Full Sun
Dennstaedia punctilobula Hay scented fern
Members of the Pound Ridge Garden Club toured the Armstrong Preserve and Education Center’s native plant gardens and outdoor classrooms this month with PRLC’s Land Steward and Educator, Krista Munger. Krista manages a native plant propagation project and nurseries in the “working backyard” outdoor classroom at Armstrong and grows many locally adapted species for our restoration areas in our preserves.
Our visiting gardeners were excited by the prospect of seed collection from our “mother” plants and are welcomed back for seed collection in September (date to be determined). If you would like to sign up to be on the alert for seed saving events, please contact Krista at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks go to partner groups for sharing seed, space, and expertise, including Scalzi Riverwalk Nature Preserve, Bartlett Arboretum, Earthplace, Greenwich Audubon, Greenwich Land Trust, Westchester Land Trust, and private donors.
Nature lovers who garden are almost as numerous as gardeners who love nature, and they are teaming up for a great cause in our Native Plant Propagation Lab at PRLC’s Armstrong Preserve and Education Center. With all the buzz about declines in wildflowers and their insect pollinators, now is the perfect time to share what we have learned over the last three growing seasons. Join me for a tour of the Prop Lab and Armstrong’s native plant restoration areas and outdoor classrooms this Saturday, June 25, and read on for details on how to volunteer to raise plants for our other nature preserves as well as your home.
This year, our volunteer team of land stewards, master gardeners, and students raised more than 500 plants from seed and another 20 from cuttings. We start by collecting seed from plants of known local origin in the summer and fall. If we can avoid cultivars and garden escapes, we are more assured of the hardiness and overall suitability of the plant for restoration areas, which are tended and watered far less often than a typical garden. We also know that local insects and birds will have evolved in concert with these plants and are best adapted to make use of them. The seed collector may have to find and mark the location of a desired plant during its flowering time, and return later when the seeds have matured. He or she carries a stash of paper bags and a marker to label each with the species name, location, and date. Seeds are shaken into the bag, or entire flower heads thrown in and dealt with later. Ethics dictate that only 5-10% of seed be collected from any one plant, and that harvesting be dispersed over a large and healthy population.
At home, the chaff is separated from the seeds to prevent molding. All material excepting the seed should be removed. I use a paper plate for this task, brushing and blowing the chaff to one side. Store the cleaned seeds in their paper bag until late fall, when we will attempt to mimic the conditions of nature by putting them into cold storage. Consider the life cycle of the seed: it will likely drop from the plant to the ground during fall rains, or pass through the intestinal tract of an animal, and then to the ground. If it is lucky, it will land in soil and be covered by organic debris over the winter. We bank the seed over winter in shallow trays of soil that are covered to protect from animals and stored outside. Plastic take-out containers work well for this as they are sturdy and stackable; just be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage.
In mid-February, we bring the seed trays in to a heated space and watch for germination. At this point, we are artificially hastening their development so that theplants can grow large enough to be transplanted into the great outdoors in May, before hot weather sets in. When the tiny seedlings break through the surface, they must be moved into the light. I keep florescent grow lights on them for 16 hours per day and water them gently, every day. Young seedlings thrive on consistent heat, light, and moisture.
Our first major task is to transplant each individual seedlings into its own pot. This is delicate work, best done with latex gloves or none at all. A chopstick or knitting needle makes a useful tool for easing each tender stalk out of the cluster of young seedlings. Use recycled plastic containers of any kind for pots (remember the drainage holes). Fill them to the top with a light mixture of mainly leaf litter, with some compost and sand. Carefully label at least one of the batch for reference (and old window blinds make great labels). Water well, and keep the transplants under light and warm conditions for a minimum of two days.
I do not have much heated space and so move the plants out early into makeshift green houses, where they at least have abundant sun and protection from wind and rain. Conditions can be harsh however, ranging from freezing to 90 degrees on some days. Daily watering is essential. Growers with heated greenhouse space will grow plants at more than twice the rate that I can, or more, but a simple plastic covering is enough to keep them alive. By last frost date, all plants can be moved outside of covered areas, although they will need to be dampened off (transitioned slowly) to full sun, wind, and rain.
By June 1, our plants were ready to be moved out to fenced restoration areas in PRLC’s nature preserves. One of our local partners, the Rusticus Garden Club, generously sponsored the hiring of a local college student intern to aid us in getting all 500+ wildflowers into the ground this month, and he will continue to water and weed planting areas through the summer. Volunteers are needed at a number of our preserves to provide supplemental water and to assist with weeding until these plants become established. We also welcome the donation of native plants, either from nurseries or areas that are slated for disturbance. Please contact me at 914-205-3533 or by email at email@example.com for details on how you can help out at your favorite preserve.
Endnote: Our efforts to restore native trees, shrubs, and pollinator plants to our nature preserves is a direct response to the incursion of overabundant deer and alien invasive plant species in Pound Ridge. It is our hope that by creating reservoirs of protected plants, we can preserve current levels of biodiversity and provide continued seed stock for colonization of unprotected areas. Deer management is therefore an integral aspect to our program.
Restoration area at Armstrong Preserve, before and after:
|PRLC Native Plant Propagation Lab 2016|
|Total Count and Distribution|
|Aster, heart leaved||20||4||8||3||5|
|Canada goldenrod ?||28||3||12||3||10|
|Meadow goldenrod ?||30||6||12||12|
|Goldenrod Bridge St||10||3||4||3|
|Joe Pye weed||8||8|
|Great blue lobelia||30||7||8||2||3||10|
|New York Ironweed||18||8||10|
|Baptisia||3 held over|
|Buttonbush||19 held over|
|Swamp rose||11 held over|