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Garden Solutions - January 11

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Local Blogs - Hillermann Nursery & Florist
Monday, 10 January 2011
Picture of a cardinal with a seed in its beak        Winter is upon us in full force. Only 78 days until spring arrives! A combination of sleet and snow has made many food sources impossible to reach for many of the wild birds in mid Missouri. In normal winter conditions, most birds have ways of coping with the cold. To help survive cold nights, Chickadees can lower their normal 108-degree body temperature by 12-15 degrees to conserve energy. By dawn, they, like many birds, will quickly dart to a food source to fill their empty stomachs. That is why early morning and late evenings are some of the ‘largest crowds' at bird feeders. Because most normal food sources are now either ice encrusted or covered by snow, wild birds need and greatly benefit by mid Missouri residents feeding them during times like this. 

        A good thing to feed the wild birds is hi-energy foods like black oil sunflower seeds, tree nut pieces and suet that give birds more energy per ounce consumed. While something is better than nothing, there is problem with cheap mixes full of oats and wheat or things like bread and cereal that people sometimes throw on the snow. These foods are not only low in energy, they are also the favorites of nuisance, non-native birds like Starlings and English Sparrows that compete, not only for food, but also nesting cavities that many native birds utilize in winter to stay warm. Several Central Missouri songbirds like Bluebirds and Chickadees often sleep in groups on extremely cold nights in cavities or nest boxes transferring heat from one body to the next. It is not uncommon for 6-9 Bluebirds to emerge from one box. A challenge of feeding suet is that Starlings love it. Feed suet in upside down suet feeders and hang them high as Starlings have a hard time hanging upside down to feed and Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches, and other desirable songbirds can easily hang upside down for feeding.

        One need of wild birds often overlooked by consumers in cold weather is the need for ‘open water'. The main reason water is needed is that to keep warm, birds fluff out their feathers so they can better capture a ‘layer of air' that acts as heated insulation. Matted, dirty feathers can't be fluffed out, making a bird feel much like how a human feels that wears a down insulated jacket that's all matted up and not very warm. That is why they need water throughout winter to bathe as well as drink. There are many birdbath heaters and heated birdbaths for as little or less that $20 to help keep water available for wild birds and cost pennies per day in electricity to run.

        Does the weather keep you from getting out to your feeders? Just fling a spray of black oil seeds or a good quality wild bird mix out of a bucket or trash can and let it fly out across the top of the snow. Dozens of your feathered friends will soon add brilliant flashes of red and blue, and gray and white across the snow and you'll hear their melodious songs as they sing ‘thanks' to you for helping them survive.

        If you can tolerate the cold weather, there are a number of things that you can do this month in your landscape that will lighten your workload for the rest of the season. The main item is pruning or thinning of your woody ornamentals. Deciduous trees such as maples, oaks, ash, etc., can be pruned at this time. Interior, broken, or crossing branches should be removed now while you can see exactly what you are removing. The general rule of thumb is that you should not touch spring flowering trees and shrubs at this time of year.

        If the weather is extremely bad this month, then snow and/or ice removal are going to be the big tasks for this month. Heavy accumulations of snow or ice can easily damage plants. Dump a snow shovel full of wet snow on top of some of your shrubs and you may end up replacing the broken mass next spring. Snow plows can also do quite a bit of damage to plantings and lawn areas. Use location stakes with flags to show where your driveways and walkways are as well as where to "dump" excess snow. If you have to deal with ice, be extremely careful with the melting compound you use. Rock salt is the most widely used compound and it has the least temperature range for its effectiveness. In addition, rock salt will destroy concrete sidewalks, driveways, and concrete pavers. It will also kill most shrubs, perennials, and lawns. There are many other compounds used for melting ice that won't damage your concrete or kill your plants. I recommend Calcium chloride or potassium chloride products.  If you choose to use these, please read the labels thoroughly. Some work in very low temperatures, but are harmful to pets and wildlife. Others only work when the temperature is between 20 and 32 degrees. You can also use products such as birdseed, sawdust, and non-clumping cat litter to provide traction. Of course, these will not melt the ice, but they will not kill your plants, pets, or concrete.

        If you have all of your pruning done, the snow or ice has been removed, and you still have time left to work on your outside to do list, don't forget about your tools. If you haven't already done so, it is time to thoroughly go over your lawn mower and make sure that it is already to go and will start on the first pull next spring. The same goes for all outdoor power equipment. Clean all of your hand tools, (pruners, shovels, rakes, etc.), removing any dirt, leaves, sap, from them. If they have wooden handles, inspect the handles for cracks, nicks, or splintering and either replace or repair them as needed. If they have a metal handle, check the welds for signs of breakage and have them repaired. If the tool is a cutting type, sharpen the edges as needed.

        Time flies fast, so enjoy this winter preparing for spring, and we will "See you in the garden."

Sandi Hillermann McDonald


Articles posted to the Local Blogs section are the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of or WASHMO Media, LLC.

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