Are your beds and borders mulched and ready for winter? Mulches do a lot to moderate soil temperature, which means preventing freeze-thaw cycles that can cause plants to heave out of the ground and their roots to freeze. So apply now or soon, ideally when the soil is cooler but not yet frozen. That’s just one of soooo many reasons to mulch and why low-maintenance, eco-savvy gardeners swear by the stuff.
More Reasons to Mulch
It suppress weeds
It retains soil moisture, conserving water.
It prevents erosion
It reduces compaction of the soil by cushioning the impact of downpours
It prevents mud splatter on plant and hard surfaces, like your house
It adds nutrients to the soil AND improves the structure of the soil, which means it can hold more water and better use soil nutrients from any source
It increases the populations of earthworm and beneficial soil microbes
It makes gardens look well kept and amenable to planting — like gardens
At least yearly, apply or top off to replenish what has decomposed. Many gardeners in colder climates do their heavy mulching in the fall, but it can be applied any time of the year.
Also, apply mulch immediately after disturbing the soil for any reason, but especially when planting plants.
And really, whenever you see bare ground that needs to be covered.
Loosen top of soil (a tool called the cultivator does this job very quickly), incorporating what’s left of the old mulch into the soil as you do it.
Apply 2-3 inches of mulch, depending on the type of soil you have (sandy soil needs the full 3 inches, clay soil just 2) and which mulch you’re using - details below.
Never mulch on top of plants or have mulch touching their stems and most important of all, don’t pile it up against tree trunks. (The result is called a mulch volcano and it’s horrible for tree health!) So keep mulch at least 2 inches from all plants.
And avoid putting mulch against your house, unless you’re trying to attract termites..
Great Organic Mulches
(For walkways or driveways, inorganic mulches like gravel and recycled tires are fine, but around plants, only organic mulches provide nutrients and improve soil structure.)
Leafmold is simply chopped and aged leaves. Though it’s rarely sold, it’s pretty easy to make and many local governments provide it for free or very cheaply. These partially decomposed leaves are nutrient-rich and excellent as mulch or a soil amendment. Use 2 to 3 inches.
Whole leaves may or may not make a good mulch in in your borders, depending on their size, thickness, and how many there are of them. Oak leaves, for example, are large and don’t decompose over winter, so there they are in the spring having to be removed, They can also smother groundcovers, and form dense mats that keep rainwater from penetrating the soil. You just may not want to see dead leaves in your borders and blowing around the garden, and find the mulched look more to your liking. But chopped or shredded, dead leaves make a darn good mulch. It’s as easy as mowing over them with a grasscatcher, then dumping where you need the mulch. Use 2 to 3 inches.
Bark mulches are slow to break down, so last a long time, and are good-looking. Redwood is especially attractive but more expensive, and not the best at retaining water. Cedar bark can crust, preventing water penetration. So pine or “hardwood” bark is best. Fresh bark can be toxic to young plants, so age first, or buy bark that shows some of the discoloration of age. And speaking of store-bought, some brands are mixed with large amounts of shredded wood, which bleaches white, so look for an even, dark color. It comes in nuggets and mini-nuggets, or shredded, with the shredded version preferred by many gardeners who’ve seen their nuggets wash away during hard rains. The bark used is a waste product from lumber companies. Use 3 to 4 inches.
Wood chips or shavings from local arborists make an attractive mulch that breaks down very slowly, and is moderately priced or free from municipalities and tree companies. Still, because of reports that they deplete the soil of nitrogen, many experts recommend them only for paths or play areas, or compost them for a month or two first. Others simply add a source of nitrogen to compensate for the wood chips.
Pine Fines are fine-textured pieces of pine bark, aged and screened, and water penetrates them easily. Apply a thicker layer than for most mulches - 4 to 6 inches. It looks great as a mulch but is also outstanding mixed into the soil as an amendment. Best used with acid-loving plants because it lowers soil pH.
Straw is a good mulch but make sure it’s really straw and not hay, which is full of weeds. It’s great in your vegetable bed but just not ornamental enough for perennial and shrub borders - let’s be honest. Use a really thick layer - 6 to 8 inches.
Compost is plant or animal waste that’s completely decomposed and now looks something like coffee grounds — black gold. It’s a great source of nutrients it is, and a boon to soil structure. Spreading an inch of compost on beds and borders every year gives the soil and plants everything they need. If you don’ot like the look of compost (which looks like bare soil) and in order to prevent weeds, apply a thin mulch on top of the compost. (Because weeds falling on compost will happily germinate.) Compost is a terrific - possibly the best - soil amendment for preparing a bed or at planting.
Heading toward Northampton? Our friends at the Smith College Botanic Garden will be putting on a really big Chrysanthemum Show from Nov 6 through 21, and we hear it’s worth stopping by. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, and a $2 donation is suggested. Click here for full event details.
This is always “the strange season” for gardeners, as I think of it. If I may speak for all my friends, we are, by late autumn, exhausted, weary of the dead heading and transplanting and fertilizing and tying up and cutting back and hauling off. But we are also reluctant to see our beloved blooms fade, and many of us are slow to call it quits for the year. I’m not ready to chop everything back for the winter, not ready to spread the blanket of compost that will protect the roots from heaving frosts. The warmer fall days don’t make matters easier—if anything, it looks as though we are settling into a pattern of longer growing seasons.
My garden is still blooming generously: my New Dawn and Knock-Out roses do not stop giving of themselves; the shrubs are covered with dozens of pink and white blooms. The flowers look a bit more fragile than their summer sisters—the way the skin on older women looks a bit thinner and more transparent—but that’s also because of the way the slanting golden light pierces their papery petals and sets them aglow. The Japanese anemone is perky, happy to bounce around in every breeze, and by five in the afternoon—tea time, or cocktails, your pick!—they are radiantly nodding. I hadn’t thought about how effective white flowers are in an autumn garden until this year—you don’t have to wait until eight at night to catch the effect of blossoms catching the last rays of light. The salvia is still sending forth purple fronds, the fuschia heavy with swollen red bells. But the blooms of the hardy begonia are spent. The oak leaf hydrangea is flushed with crimson; the comptonia (or Sweetfern, though it is not a fern) is lush; the acanthus mollis has sent forth another stalk, nearly ready to bloom.
I know I am running the risk of being surprised and unprepared for the first frost—and I’ll be doing my winter garden chores with freezing fingers. I’ll be chopping perennials down so that only about six or eight inches of their stalks are left—that way I can find them easily next spring when they regenerate. I’ll be digging out the plants that have become rampant, and moving them some safe distance from the main beds. I’ll be shoveling loads of compost from my wheelbarrow into the garden, cursing the uneven paving stones that look so lovely and natural but challenge my footwork.
I’ll also decide what I want to keep up, so that I can look at the skeletal forms all winter—the seedheads of the clematis can remain propped up in the stunted copper beech; the verbascum can stand tall a bit longer, and I won’t mind looking at what’s left of the teasal when snow gathers on its fat heads. Sure, I’m waiting to the last minute for that winter cleaning—gathering my strength for one more intense bout of gardening. But I’m enjoying one more intense bout of garden. That’s my excuse, anyway.
Photos by Dominique Browning, from her Garden in Rhode Island.
Dominique Browning is a writer, editor and consultant in the newspaper and magazine fields and former editor-in-chief of House & Garden magazine. Browning is the author of three books: Around the House and In the Garden: a Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement; Paths of Desire: the Passion of a Suburban Gardener; and Slow Love: How I Lost my Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness. She blogs at SlowLoveLife.
All gardeners answer gardening questions. It is inevitable. Just let someone have a peek at your perfect tomatoes or dinner plate-sized dahlias and the questions will come, regardless of your overall expertise. Gardeners, by nature, love to share information. Likewise, all gardeners have questions, even those of us who have pursued knowledge at colleges and universities and have made our living from that knowledge. There is new research available every year that reveals better ways of planting, growing, and fertilizing. Professional plant-growers and hybridizers are unveiling new plants each year. Gardening is a very regional activity. Plants that grow in New England often struggle in other parts of the country. Soils generally are on the acid side in our region, while they are much more alkaline in other parts of the country, and pH levels affect plant growth. Perfection is rarely achieved in the garden but the pursuit of perfection is one of the things that makes gardening interesting.
I answer gardening questions both personally and professionally every day. Sundays from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on 96.9 WTKK I answer questions on The Garden Guys radio show. Not every Sunday - three a month - and I always have a professional co-host at my side so we can share in the fun. The questions come in from callers and are always a surprise. How do you answer a question concerning gardening about which whole books have been written? We strive to answer each question adequately and concisely. Every show has some new questions but there are several gardening questions that are repeated each week. That said, the top five gardening questions asked on our radio show, starting with number 5, are as follows:
5. How late can I plant a tree, shrub or perennial?
The truth is that you can plant any plant that is grown in a container as long as the ground can be worked, which means as long as you can dig a hole. One of us will always elaborate on how to actually plant. Dig a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the container. Remove the plant from the container. If the roots seem very tight and compacted, gently wash off as much of the soil from the roots as you can and tease the roots out of that container shape just a bit. You can score the rootball with a knife if necessary. Fill the hole halfway with water, put the plant in the hole and backfill with the existing soil. Water thoroughly. That is my advice. Mulch lightly with an organic mulch and keep watered until established or until the ground freezes. Click here for great mulch choices.
4. When can I transplant my lilac (or other deciduous shrub)?
The best time to transplant deciduous shrubs is when they are dormant, which is to say when the leaves have fallen or before they emerge in the spring. There are exceptions to the fall transplanting so if in doubt, wait until early spring to transplant.
3. How do I control grubs in my lawn?
There are many varieties of grubs. Japanese beetle grubs are usually the most prevalent and the best way to control Japanese beetle grubs, according to the most recent studies, is with beneficial nematodes. Milky spore has been shown to be an effective control but requires repeated applications to build up the necessary bacteria in the soil, which then attacks the grubs. It is also specific to Japanese beetle grubs. Beneficial nematodes are becoming more readily available and are very effective at controlling many types of grubs. Since we promote organic methods, we rarely mention available insecticides. If the caller asks, we suggest they consult their garden center personnel for their recommendations.
2. When should I prune my lilac, roses, et cetera?
The answer to this question starts with ‘Why do you feel you need to prune?” Many shrubs require little or no pruning. The necessity for severe pruning usually means that the plant is planted in the wrong place. The general rule for pruning flowering shrubs is to prune them right after they flower. Incorrect pruning rarely kills a tree or shrub. The flowers might be gone for the following season because you have pruned off the flower bud, but usually the plant survives the cut. However, there are exceptions, which leads to the following number one question that we answer nearly every week and that is,
1. Why aren’t my hydrangeas blooming?
‘What kind of hydrangea?’ is the first response and the answer is usually the blue mophead, Hydrangea macrophylla. There are eleven species of Hydrangea and innumerable cultivars in production but it is that blue, that reliably blue…(another question on color for later), which garners the most interest. Our quick answer is ‘Stop pruning this plant’. Wait until new growth commences in the spring and prune only the dead wood above the first set of leaves. Full sun is best for prolific blooms. Fertilize with an organic fertilizer and use a mulch to retain moisture, as this plant will wilt on the hot days of July and August. The most complete answer for the ‘Endless Summer’ variety is here and is answered very eloquently.
Those are my top five. As you can see, they are very basic questions but they are important questions. There really are no stupid questions. Well, there may have been one or two in the past but they are my secret. Gardeners have to start somewhere. What question are you most frequently asked concerning gardening?
You’re standing along the Charles River and before you are 1,000 daffodil bulbs. They are held in yellow mesh bags lying in plastic crates stacked four high. Behind, the morning sun glints off ripples and wavelets on the Charles River. A lone rower glides by in his sleek scull. It is 8:45 a.m. and in 15 minutes 30 volunteers are going to descend upon the Charles River Parklands. They’ll be eager to work for the next 4 hours – after all, these are mostly office-bound adults and digging in the Charles River Parklands is a unique opportunity to get dirty. But how, you wonder, will you get 30 untrained volunteers to plant 1,000 daffodil bulbs – in no less than 4 hours?
For the past month this has been a reccurring question for me, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Charles River Conservancy, as I’ve endeavored to plant, with the help of a few hundred volunteers, 10,000 daffodil bulbs generously donated by Mahoney’s Garden Center to the Charles River Conservancy. Last year we planted 10,000 bulbs along the banks of the Charles River in celebration of our 10th anniversary. This year we’re looking for repeat success in our 2nd Annual Bulb Planting Campaign. The technique we use can be implemented by anyone, from the home gardener to the landscape contractor.
When planting along the Charles River we ensure bulbs are planted in an area where mowing machines will not cut. The ingenuity of perennial bulbs lies in their ability to store harvested energy for the following year’s blossom but to do so necessitates the flower’s green leaves remain exposed to sunlight after the flower dies off. Planting in beds, or where mowers cannot reach, ensures the bulb will collect sunlight for next year’s flowers.
To achieve a full look – rather than lone daffodils standing apart – we dig trenches 2 feet wide and 3-10 feet long. The depth for each trench depends on the bulb being planted but averages 6-8 inches deep (bulbs should be planted at a depth thrice their height). A short trench, when filled with daffodil bulbs set 2-3 inches apart, can hold 20 bulbs, while longer trenches accommodate 100+ bulbs.
We mix daffodil varieties to create a dynamic and exciting daffodil presentation: Flower Record, Dutch Master, Ice Follies, and Fortissimo are varieties we plant. When working with volunteers I pre-mix the bulb varieties in separate containers. Each trench will then be planted with varying varieties in random order. The eclectic display always pleases come April.
Once the bulbs are placed in the trench and given a snug twist (pointy ends up, roots down – you’d be surprised how many bulbs go in upside down or sideways!) the tendency is to quickly shovel dirt back into the trench. The force of the soil may cause the bulbs to topple sideways – impeding their growth. Instead, we gently cover the bulbs until only their tips peek out. Now the bulbs are secure in the soil. With increased vigor we can then shovel and rake in the remaining soil.
(Hint: Lay a plastic tarp parallel to your trench. Place unearthed soil on the tarp. When it comes time to fill in the trench simply rake soil off the tarp – clean up is a cinch!)
Depending on the richness of soil, we may add a layer of compost to the trench. This will aid the bulb in collecting nutrients for successive growth. Daffodils also don’t like excessive water or overly moist soil, so we plant in a well-drained area.
Daffodils are beautiful, hardy, and come back year after year. With the right techniques, anyone can plant 10,000 daffodil bulbs!
Be sure to visit the Charles River this April to see the daffodil flower display.
Logan Walsh is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for the Charles River Conservancy. The Charles River Conservancy works to make the Charles River Parklands more active, attractive, and accessible for all by advocating for land use and mobilizing 3,000 volunteers annually to beautify the Parklands. You may contact Logan at: lcw [at] thecharles [dot] org or visit the Charles River Conservancy website.
Last winter was the snowiest on record in the Mid-Atlantic region, with three blizzards hitting us in quick succession and accumulations reaching our waistlines - waistlines that, for us gardeners, were expanding from lack of gardening. And after it was all over, tree companies were booked for months taking out fallen and damaged trees, mainly evergreens, that just couldn’t handle that much white stuff. But on my property? Not a single branch was broken, much less a whole tree, and I had to resist the urge to run around and kiss every one of these tough-as-nails plants in gratitude.
Instead, I’ll just show them off right here, starting with the Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar) on the left and Deodar cedar* on the right.
Below, part of a whole hedge of Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) ‘Schip’. I also grow the shorter ‘Otto Luyken’ laurels. On the right is one of my five ‘Green Giant’ Arborvitaes. ‘Green Giants’ grow 3-5 feet a year for the first few years, then slow down, so they’re very popular for fast screening.
Next, my ‘English Roseum’ rhododendrons survived the winter and bloomed particularly well this spring.
And this sweet dwarf white pine ‘Blue Shag’ was on the pricey side and I might have uttered a curse or two if it had been damanged by snow.
Oh, but there’s more!
Because I’m such a fan of evergreens, we’re not done yet. More plants that survived the winter happily in my garden include Boxwoods, Pieris japonica, ‘Gold Coast’ Juniper, a Dwarf Hinoki Cypress now 12 feet tall, and some ‘Heleri’ hollies. And to all I say “Thank you and keep up the good work!”
*About cold-hardiness in Eastern Massachusetts, the Deodar cedar is listed by various sources as hardy to Zone 6 or 7. So it’s okay on the Cape but probably not in the Boston area.
Sunday, November 14th marks the debut of Tower Hill Botanic Garden’s new Winter Garden and Limonaia with free admission. It was just three short months ago when I featured Tower Hill Botanic Garden as a New England destination. At that time there were big changes going on as construction crews implemented Phase IV of Tower Hill’s master plan with the construction of the new Winter Garden. The Winter Garden is enclosed on three sides. On the south side is a new structure, the Limonaia, or lemon house; the Orangerie sits on the north side, and the inside corrider of the Stoddard Education Center, the west side, connects the two. The corridor is a destination as well as an avenue. It always has interesting plants along its path and displays of artwork are featured on its walls. This three-sided enclosed courtyard housing the Winter Garden has a reflecting pool in the center and the plantings within the courtyard have all been chosen for their winter appeal in the landscape. They include red and yellow twig dogwoods, winterberries, interesting specimen trees such as the paperbark maple, and an assortment of interesting evergreens. The crew was scrambling to plant when I was there last week.The Orangerie has been a cold climate destination for many of us since its construction in 1999. It has invitingly moist air within the cathedral-like, plant-filled setting. The new Limonaia is a smaller, unique companion to its stalwart neighbor, the Orangerie. The Limonaia or Lemon House will be home to lemon trees, several types of camellias, other citrus, and a wider display of unusual tropical plants. The Limonaia features wooden beams and is smaller in stature than the Orangerie. Only fitting since lemons are usually smaller than oranges, although they have an equally memorable flavor. So it shall be with the new Limonaia with its own distinct character. The view from its windows will look out onto Domitian’s Pool, which was designed to withstand the cold, freezing temperatures of winter here at Tower Hill.Some of New England has already experienced snow and with colder temperatures an inevitable consequence of the change of seasons, many of us start to feel imprisoned within the heated spaces of our homes. Our gardens are being tucked in for the winter and our attention turns towards what we can see from inside the warm windows of our homes and our indoor collection of plants.If You Go
Hopefully we have planned our gardens well enough so the view outside is interesting. Lessons can be learned from visiting Tower Hill, with the new garden adding another dimension to the experience. Why not take advantage of the free admission, guided tours, and raffle prizes this weekend and take the family to Tower Hill Botanic Garden? There is inspiration and knowledge to be found and it is all wrapped up in a brand new package your whole family will enjoy. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Tower Hill is open every day except Monday. Tower Hill Botanic Garden is located at 11 French Drive, Boylston, MA and at www.towerhillbg.org.
This time of year you see a lot of “eco-friendly” gardening advice about dead leaves and I wholeheartedly endorse the bottom line - that it’s crazyto send them off to the local landfill, where they take up space and waste all that organic matter. But the next part of the advice - what to do with them instead - well, that’s where it starts to get complicated but hey, that’s gardening! Let’s dig in.
On the lawn
Nobody seems to think that whole leaves should be allowed to remain on lawn because they can smother turfgrass. Many experts suggest instead that we run over them with a lawn mower and let the chopped-up leaves stay there as a source of organic matter and some nutrients for the turfgrass. That’s great advice and don’t worry - it won’t cause or contribute to a thatch problem. (Thatch is usually caused by overfertilization with synthetic fertilizers). Some brand new research proves that chopped leaves not only add organic matter and nutrients – they even suppress weeds! Here’s the story.
However, some folks consider any use of a gas- or electric-powered lawn mowers to be an unsustainable gardening practice for obvious reasons - the fossil fuels involved (either gas or the coal required to produce electricity). But lawn mowers are a topic for another time - a very hot topic these days. So moving on, if you do remove leaves from your lawn or anywhere else, what do you do with them? See composting below.
In the vegetable garden
This situation is a simple one. Leaves that fall on an emptied vegetable garden can be left in place and then turned under in the spring, after which they’ll decompose quickly, adding organic matter and some nutrients to the soil.
On hard surfaces
For obvious safety purposes, dead leaves should be removed early and often from surfaces people walk on. And certainly all wood surfaces benefit from having the leaves removed to prevent rotting.
In the flower and shrub beds
What to do about leaves on and around our ornamental beds and borders is where the hot-under-the-collar arguments really take place. (Yes, gardeners are an opinionated bunch.) Though everyone does agree that chopped leaves are great in the beds and borders as an organic mulch, and for more about chopped-leaf mulch, check the Illinois Extension Service.)
But whole leaves? Well, it depends - on how many leaves, what type of leaf, and which groundcovers those leaves are covering. To get personal, about 50 trees drop their leaves on my garden, most of them large oaks, and these masses of large, whole leaves can mat down and smother my groundcovers, or at least create a barrier that would prevent rainwater from seeping through to the soil. And oak leaves simply don’t decompose over the course of the winter, so I’d have to collect them in the spring anyway, so why not do it now? I rake up about 80-90 percent of them in December when they’ve all fallen, and I do the fine-raking and hand-picking in the spring when I’m cleaning up, mulching and generally prettying up for the new season.
But not everyone agrees about this. Syndicated columnist and Maine gardener Barbara Damrosch writes that “Most ground covers…benefit from a weed-smothering leaf mulch - once winter has matted it down a bit - and will come up happily in spring. I let leaves collect in perennial flower beds, too, removing them carefully with a narrow, springy metal rake just before spring bulbs poke up. They can be gathered for the compost pile.” But Barbara, how come they smother just the weeds and not the desirable plants, your groundcovers? Could be that your groundcovers are unkillable, like English ivy and Pachysandra, while I’m talking about more delicate ones like Pulmonaria and Ajuga?
So here’s where I come down: If you have just a few leaves, or if they’re thin like elm leaves, then they probably won’t do any harm and will decompose by spring, so go for it - if you like the look. Yes, appearance, pure aesthetics and nothing more - is another reason I remove most leaves in the fall - because I’d rather see even semi-evergreen groundcovers than brown, dead leaves. Gardeners in colder climates may be looking at snow cover from Thanksgiving until May, so they laugh at the very notion of seeing their groundcovers over the winter.
See how many variables are at play here? And why it drives me crazy to see gardening advice that assumes all gardens are the same!?
Composting dead leaves
Now if you DO remove any or all of your leaves, what should you do with them? Everyone agrees that they make for some mighty fine homemade compost, especially if you combine them with some green matter like lawn clippings for a nutritionally complete result. But there’s disagreement about whether whole leaves compost well and here I’ll weigh in. My compost method (such as it is) is to simply pile the leaves up and wait a year or more for them to decompose. The problem is they never DO decompose completely because I never water or turn the pile. (Breaking all rules, I know, but turning is hard work.) But no matter – I use the resulting so-so “compost”, containing some noticeably uncomposted chunks, in out-of-the-way spots as mulch, or to amend the soil.
But if you want to turn dead leaves into quality compost it’s much better to chop the leaves first, and I did that for a whole season a few years back. I bought a cheap filiment-style shredder for about 100 bucks and ran all my leaves through it. But because it was a cheap, flimsy machine, the Weedwacker-type filament broke with every twig and acorn it encountered, so every five minutes or so I had to stop and replace the filament, and the chopping process became a super headache. If I’d spent more on a chipper-shredder the work would have gone quickly, but I judged $1,000+ to be too steep a price for faster, more uniform compost. Of course I could have spread all the leaves on the lawn, then mowed them with a mulching mower (one with a bag to catch the cuttings) but that sounds to me like a whole lot of work to me.
The Rutgers Extension Service has good information about composting with dead leaves - check that link. They offer a tip I hadn’t seen before - adding Nitrogen to the compost bin to speed up the process.
If you don’t have space for a composting operation, your city or county may have the answer - or will soon if enough residents ask for it. About 20 years ago local governments across the U.S. began prohibiting the dumping of green waste like leaves and creating programs to collect and compost yard waste for their residents. As a result, they make good use of all that organic matter, save the money they used to spend on landfill fees, and save even more money because they’re using their own homemade compost on public land instead of buying compost and fertilizer products.
Below you see the city crew picking up leaves on my street, and the resulting mulch pile delivered to my driveway the following spring.
After the leaves have all fallen and the snow sets in, food becomes scarce for our feathered friends. If you’ve never noticed just how many types of birds there are in your backyard put out a bird feeder (or two) and they will literally “flock” to it! I can’t tell you just how wonderful it is to wake up on a chilly January morning with a cup of tea in hand, and look outside my kitchen window to see the fluster of activity. Being connected to nature in such a way is so rewarding and enriching. With so many species of birds here in New England, there are a variety of feeders available to accommodate each one. I have 4 different types of feeders myself and I realize this may sound a little overwhelming for a first-time bird enthusiast, so let me give you the breakdown for each type.
The tube with the large holes has lots of perches to accommodate a number of birds at one time and is great for medium to large mixed seeds and nuts. This type of feeder will attract assorted sparrows and finches, chickadees, titmice …maybe larger birds like grackles and European starlings, as well.
The thistle tube feeder is perfect for goldfinches. It also has many perches for up to 6 birds at one time. They absolutely adore thistle! Goldfinches are bright yellow in the summer and will gradually turn a more muted shade for winter plumage. I find goldfinches to be such sweet, happy little birds. Anytime I see or hear them they put a smile on my face.
The shelf feeder is by far, in my opinion, the best. It is made of clear plastic and affixes to a window with suction cups. I love it because not only can the squirrels not access it, but it makes it possible to view a wild bird from just a few feet away! I use straight up black oil sunflower seeds. This particular seed attracts the widest variety of birds. I had the larger version of this feeder and the mourning doves kept plopping themselves down in it for 20 minutes at a time, pecking away and dominating the feeder, so I eventually got the smaller one that they couldn’t fit into.
From left, Thistle feeder and Suet Feeder with Downy Woodpecker
The suet feeder is ideal for woodpeckers and nuthatches. The downey woodpecker is actually very common around here and I hear one occasionally at our Brighton location. The chickadees will also visit this feeder.
You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned Blue Jays or Cardinals. That is because these birds are too big for these types of feeders. If you would like to provide a feeder for them, a platform feeder is best. They are also easy to make. I personally just scatter seed on the ground for them; and the doves.
There is also another bird I find in my yard in the winter, the dark-eyed junco. A cute little gray bird with a white belly. You may find species of birds that I haven’t even mentioned, depending where you live. I definitely recommend investing in a bird identification book. It has been very helpful not only at home, but also during my trips to Mt. Auburn Cemetery, one of my favorite places to bird-watch. Many migratory birds pass through there during different times of the year, and they have a chalkboard for visitors to post their bird spottings! But I digress…..
I also want to mention that squirrels are very persistent and clever when it comes to birdfeeders, so I just want to warn you up front to make sure you find a spot where they cannot climb or jump to the feeder. If you are using a shepard’s hook, make sure to use a squirrel baffle with it.
Mahoneys does provide most of these items, but be sure to call first for availability, as it varies from store to store.
If you have additional questions or are interested in talking about birds further, please feel free to give me a call at the Brighton store 617.787.8885 I would love to hear from you! I always enjoy a good chat with a fellow bird lover.