February is almost over, and a few subtle signs of spring are beginning to show. In my garden, I’ve seen shoots from daffodils and crocus blooms, which have me thinking about what new activities I might undertake to support my wildlife garden this year.
Realizing that a realistic date for planting something is still a few weeks away, I decided to look for some jobs I could do now that would benefit garden inhabitants, which at this point are still struggling to make it to the end of another long winter.
Browsing the Web and looking through gardening books and magazines gave me plenty of ideas for staying active in the garden until spring arrives, while also improving the outlook for various species. So I’m sharing this list for other wildlife gardeners who might also be feeling a touch of cabin fever.
▪ Clean out bird nesting boxes or purchase new ones. Be sure to install them in north-facing locations or other sites where hot sun won’t toast baby birds in the spring.
▪ Add suet and other calorie-rich food to offerings of regular birdseed, since nature’s buffet of insects and edible berries is skimpy this time of the year.
▪ Clean the birdbath and keep it filled. Birds need water to drink as well as to keep their feathers clean, which provides better insulation against the cold. Change the water regularly to avoid contamination and spread of diseases.
▪ If winter storms have knocked down limbs, consider this before conducting a major yard clean up: Leave them on the ground or pile them together to provide shelter for animals. And don’t forget to check for signs of animal habitat in and around rocks and brush piles before hauling them away.
▪ Put out a variety of nuts, chopped carrots or apples to help the squirrels fulfill their dietary needs.
▪ Place small containers such as Mason jars on their side in the garden to serve as shelter for small animals that will soon be emerging from hibernation.
▪ Create a home for beneficial insects. Find instructions at Gardenersworld.com: http://bit.ly/1lZEOWP.
▪ Start or expand a compost pile to create natural mulch.
▪ If you need to trim back herbaceous or hollow-stemmed plants, lay the pieces lightly over emerging flowers to help them weather a cold snap. While you are at it, inspect shrubs and other plants for potential damage from winter weather.
▪ Build a bee box for mason bees. These tiny creatures live inside blocks of wood that they don’t excavate themselves; instead, they seek out holes that already exist. Like most native bees, they rarely sting and will help pollinate your garden in the spring. Learn more and find bee box blueprints at the National Wildlife Foundation website, http://bit.ly/1j8Sbms.
▪ Take a walk in the garden to find spots that could use some winter interest and make plans for adding a berry bush or other wildlife-friendly plant. Give yourself a calendar note to install these plants when the weather warms up a bit.
▪ Look into options for a small water feature or pond that caters to wildlife. Start by perusing some inexpensive options at http://sfg.ly/20HipOv.
▪ Plant some seeds indoors to get a head start on spring. Just don’t set them out until the last frost, which typically occurs around the first week of April in our region.