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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Tackle early garden chores amid mild winter

The Inland Northwest is having such a mild winter that it is possible to do garden work in January. Pat Munts gave this bed of blueberries a top dressing of compost last weekend. “Another spring chore knocked out early,” Munts said. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
The Inland Northwest is having such a mild winter that it is possible to do garden work in January. Pat Munts gave this bed of blueberries a top dressing of compost last weekend. “Another spring chore knocked out early,” Munts said. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole weekend in January digging in the garden. But that’s what I did last weekend and it was wonderful!

However, I did encounter quite a few cool-season weeds growing with abandon. Bittercress, chickweed and pickle weed were popping up anywhere there was a bare spot. So, if you want to get out of the house and do something, go pull some weeds and then mulch the area to prevent them from coming back. Come April you will be glad you did.

The mild winter is also affecting the song birds we are accustomed to seeing at our feeders or in this case, the lack thereof. When I posed the question to Alan McCoy of the Spokane Audubon Society in an email, he said the birds likely are finding enough seeds and insects in the wild to meet their needs.

“I think more than anything else this year (in addition to the general decline of birds due to loss of habitat) is the lack of snow cover,” he wrote. “Because of the open ground, birds are finding food in the more traditional places on the ground, in shrubs and in grasses for worms, insects and seeds.”

So, don’t be discouraged and keep those feeders full and the suet cakes hanging in the trees. One good snowstorm and they will know where to come.

This shows how important our gardens are to the birds and other wild critters. Since this is garden planning season, it’s a good time to evaluate what more you can do to improve their habitat.

Consider the varieties of plants in your garden. If a plant doesn’t offer a wildlife benefit in addition to its other attributes, what can you replace it with that does? Wildlife benefits include food and shelter to hide, rest and breed. Making changes can be done over several years.

Learn to be happy with a slightly messy yard and garden. That big messy shrub in the back corner of the yard might be the birds’ favorite place to fly to after visiting your feeder. As an example, nuthatches will pick up seeds, take them to a nearby tree and wedge them into the bark to break. Take a few minutes to see where your birds go when they leave the feeder.

Don’t be too quick to clear leaves and needles out of flower beds. The worms and insects come to the surface to break down the leftover mulch and the birds are very adept at finding them for a nice protein snack.

Lastly, water is very important to the birds year-round. Set out a shallow dish they can easily approach. Clean it regularly and keep it filled. In the summer, we have two watering stations that are connected into our sprinkler system so that sprinklers refill them when they come on. In the winter we add a bird bath heater to one of them and refill it with a bucket as needed.

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