Perennials

Winter Wonders: Plants for You and the Wildlife

Tips from Gardening With Confidence™ to make your winter garden wildlife friendly.

Flowers, berries, evergreens and grasses will fill the winter garden with wildlife and give you reason to walk around.

One of the best parts about living in the Triangle is the winters are worthy of gardening. In winter, it is more about admiring the garden and the wildlife it brings, than worrying about weeds. While your winter flowering trees and shrubs are in bloom, the weeds sleep.

Mahonia/Helen Yoest

Mahonia/Helen Yoest

Designing a wildlife friendly garden by adding water, food, cover and a place to raise their young, will help entice your wildlife to stay in the garden year ‘round. Particularly in the winter, providing plants for a wide range of food sources and cover, will keep your wildlife coming back to feed and feel safe.

FOOD
There are many sources of food for wildlife in winter, including seed, nectar, pollen, berries and nuts.

Camellia/Helen Yoest
Camellia/Helen Yoest

With a wide variety of cultivars to choose from, the winter flowering, evergreen shrub, Camellia japonica, provides nectar on a day warm enough to move a bee, as do mahonia and wintersweet (Chimonanthus). So do flowering apricot trees (Prunus mume), and perennials such as hellebores, adding gorgeous flowers to your winter landscape. Include just a few varieties and your winter garden can be filled with blooming flowers all season long.

Ilex/Helen Yoest

Ilex/Helen Yoest

Many birds will be happy to find Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ holly growing in your garden. It’s not uncommon to have a flock of cedar waxwings dine on these and other species of holly berries, as well as Eastern dogwood, junipers and fruits, such as cherries.  Robins, bluebirds, and thrushes will also find protein rich winterberries the perfect meal. Crabapple (Malus spp.) can be quite showy in the winter landscape and also provide food for many birds.

COVER
When wildlife feed, having cover nearby provides protection, creating a safe haven for your wildlife.

Dense, low growing ground covers, such as a creeping yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’), provide winter shelter for many birds.

Tall protective grasses like Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ and Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries) left uncut, add interest in the winter garden, as well as cover for many wildlife. Native switch grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, can grow 4 foot tall with a nice blond winter color.

DOUBLE DUTY

Waxwing with berry/Helen Yoest
Waxwing with berry/Helen Yoest

Often times, plants will do double duty providing both food and cover. Viburnum tinus, Spring Bouquet ‘Compactum’, offers berries for birds and quick cover, when needed.

It’s worth noting, most double flowers are actually of little use to bees and other insects as many of these new cultivars are bred with the pollen bearing anthers replaced by extra petals. Others are just too ornate for the bees to get to the nectar. A good example of this is the Camellia japonica cultivar ‘Governor Mouton’.  Indeed, a beautiful flower and worthy of growing in the winter wildlife garden. But while this Camellia may not have nectar readily available, the ‘Governor Mouton’ will still provided cover for the wildlife and be gorgeous to boot.

Chipmunk/Helen Yoest

Chipmunk/Helen Yoest

Although not all winter plants provide food for wildlife, every evergreen tree and shrub does provide cover. Choose plants that provide food and cover for your wintertime enjoyment and also enjoy the wildlife they bring.

Join Helen Yoest at the JC Raulston Arboretum for a winter lecture and tour on February 13.  Helen’s talk on Winter Wonders for the Garden begins at 1pm followed by a winter garden tour. For more information, call the JC Raulston Arboretum at 919-515-3132 or visit their website at www.ncsu.edu/jcraulstonarboretum.

Byline:  
Helen Yoest, owner of Gardening With Confidence™, is a wildlife gardener, garden coach and garden writer in Raleigh. Catch up with Helen via her blogs at www.GardeningWithConfidence.com/blog, www.BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com and www.TarHeelGardening.com/wordpress.