Category Archives: Brush Piles

Ready for Spring?

Even though it’s been a mild winter, about this time of year we begin thinking of warmer weather and dressing up the yard with annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.  As you ready your yard for Spring, we offer these thoughts:

Native Be

Native Bee on Blueberry

  • Plant with wildlife in mind (this is, after all, a blog about wildlife) – insects, pollinators, birds and critters.
  • Include plants that provide nectar, pollen and food.   We’ve compiled a list of suggested perennials for your yard that work well here in Peachtree Park.
  • Plant for all seasons – aesthetics for you, and food and shelter for wildlife year-round.
  • Leave dead stems from plants like River Oats, ornamental grasses, Goldenrod, and Joe Pye Weed in place all winter since the seed heads are valuable for the birds, and hollow stems are used by small native bees.  Since we’ve started gardening this way, we’ve realized that our yard is as attractive in the winter as it is in the other seasons (see our post Brown is Beautiful).

    Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

    Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

  • Make more butterflies by including host plants for their caterpillars: e.g. Pipevine for Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and milkweed for the Monarch butterfly.
  • Use mostly native plants when you can.  No need to be a purist, but natives have lots of advantages and there are many wonderful native plant alternatives for common non-natives.
  • Expand diversity in your yard.  The more diverse, the greater the variety of insects (food for birds) and native bees that you will attract.  And, correspondingly, the greater the variety of  birds and critters you will attract and support.
  • Reserve areas for nesting and hiding.
  • Don’t use pesticides and don’t spray for mosquitoes.  Build a healthy ecosystem and encourage nature to control pests.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - July 13, 2016

    Ruby-throated Hummingbird

    Don’t buy plants that were treated with lethal chemicals, especially neonictinoids – support local growers who know their plants’ histories.  If you live in Atlanta, there’s a list of suggested growers below.

Nearby Toxin-free Plant Suppliers :

We contacted a few plant suppliers in and near Atlanta and came up with this short list of those who get it.  That’s to say they understand the dangers of chemicals, including neonictinoids, and avoid them either by growing their own plants or screening growers for you.  These sellers are doing the right thing.  It’s good to support them.

If you shop at a big-box store, ask which plans are toxin-free.  They may or may not be able to answer your question, but at least you’ll let them know that it’s important to you.

Credits:

Thanks to  Nearly Native Nursery  for their list of native plants as alternatives for non-natives.

Remember Wildlife in Cold Weather

Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal in the snow

All of a sudden it’s about to be cold here in Atlanta.  Later this week the nighttime temperatures will be in the twenties.  So while you’re all warm and toasty in front of the fire, remember there are little guys outside trying to survive the cold.

You  might think it’s no big deal; wildlife has been living outside in the cold for millions of years.  But consider the fact that urban wildlife faces a little tougher challenge with a reduced supply of food, water and shelter and the added disturbances of humans.

January 23, 2016

Pine Warbler on Suet Feeder

Food – Keep bird feeders stocked and if snow or sleet covers the ground, toss a little extra on the ground. And remember to keep your bird feeders clean and free of mold.  Suet feeders are especially popular in cold weather.

Song Sparrow - Melospiza melodia Peachtree Park, Atlanta, GA - January, 2016

Song Sparrow eating native grass seed

Also, a great source of free food is seed heads from summer and fall perennials–leave some standing and enjoy watching the appreciative birds.  (see our blog out Brown is Beautiful for more)

River Oats

River Oats left for seed

Other wildlife will benefit from dried nuts, or fruit such as cranberries.  Roasted peanuts are good, but do not toss out uncooked peanuts. Peanuts are legumes not nuts, and raw peanuts consumed in quantity can be fatal to squirrels or chipmunks. [2]

Water – Make sure a couple of birds baths are always available and not frozen  (see our blog Surviving Cold Weather).  Both birds and other critters will thank you.

Screech-Owl Box

Screech-Owl Box can be shelter

Shelter –  “‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm’.” – Bob Dylan.  OK, sorry – drifted off for a minute.

There are many forms of shelter that help wildlife.  Birdhouses can provide protection from the wind and biting cold. One year we had a Downy Woodpecker roost each night in a bluebird house in the front yard.

Leaf piles, logs, rocks and ground cover help all manner of small critters and insects.  Native bees will nest in the stems of perennial plants, which is another reason to leave them in place until the spring.  Even the shrubbery next to your house can provide critical shelter on very cold nights.

Don’t disturb – especially after dark.  This paragraph from What The Robin Knows by Jon Young tells why:

What The Robin Knows“…conservation of energy is a major priority for all animals, but especially for birds, almost all of whom run on a very lean energy budget. (A chickadee startled from its roost on a very cold night in the dead of winter loses the vital heat trapped in its feathers.  This bird may well die before dawn.)”

Try to avoid walking next to shrubbery where you think someone might be sheltered after dark.

Now, go enjoy your hot mulled cider.

References and Additional Information

[1]  Humane Society of the United States: Fall into Winter: Help Backyard Wildlife Prepare for Cold Weather
[2]  Northwest Seed and Pet: Danger of Feeding Raw Peanuts to Squirrels
[3]  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Bird Feeding
[4]  What the Robin Knows – Jon Young

Break Out The Rake

Fall!  And except for the lack of rain, the weather has been glorious.  Walk through the neighborhood and treat your visual senses to the spectacular color of our trees.

But once those leaves are on the ground, you’ll experience another sensory overload: the constant din of leaf blowers.  Six days a week, at all times of the day, there is the racket of a leaf blower to be heard somewhere in the neighborhood.  Just listen to this example (you might want to turn down the volume).

Here’s our pitch to reduce the auditory assault of these machines and use a rake instead.  It’s great exercise and also helps out wildlife, trees and plants.  Plus, nothing is more fun than playing in a pile of beautiful fall leaves!

Consider these points:

  • While a layer of leaves is not good for lawns, other plants and trees will thrive with undisturbed leaf litter.  If the leaves are removed, so are the nutrients that feed the plant. Lawns also benefit from a light layer of chopped leaves (the mulch setting on most lawn mowers).
  • Many beneficial insects make their home in leaf litter [1]
  • Leaf blowers don’t just blow away leaves, but they blow away topsoil as well.   They also fill the air with contaminates including toxic chemicals (used by some lawn services), allergens, molds and other things better left undisturbed. [2]
  • Leaf blowers were not invented to remove leaves, but as crop dusters.  In other words, they are a solution that went searching for a problem.  [2]
  • Leaf blowers interfere with animals’ ability to communicate with each other.  This makes it difficult to find mates, hunt and avoid predators. [3]

Now, without a leaf blower around, you can hear this:

Break out the rake.

Rake

References and Additional Information

[1]  Smithsonian:  Where Do Insects Go in the Winter?
[2]  Dr. Weil:  Ban Leafblowers
[3]  Clive Thompson: How Man-Made Noise May Be Altering Earth’s Ecology