Plant Your Own Birdseed

As the price of sunflower seed threatens to approach the price of “nyjer” thistle seed, I see more and more empty birdfeeders. I enjoy watching a variety of birds visit our feeders both here at Prairie Nursery and at home, and will continue to pay the price for commercial feed, but appreciate even more the “natural” birdfeeders at both locations. Both native shrubs and perennials alike can be bird favorites, drawing a wide range of species.

Native shrubs that created nesting habitat earlier in the year boast berry crops that provided a food source from mid summer into winter. Robins, Cedar Waxwings and many others compete with jelly and winemakers for Elderberries. Lowbush Blueberry is prized by both birds and humans as well.  Other fine natives such as White Snowberry are best “left for the birds”!

Native perennial flowers and grasses can also provide year round interest, and we advocate leaving them standing through winter. Early season frosts on coneflowers, striking hues as native grasses turn in autumn, fresh snow collecting on stems and leaves all provide stucture and visual appeal.  As our eyes appreciate this, so too do Chickadees, Finches and Cardinals.

Beginning with Prairie Smoke, an early summer Goldfinch favorite, native plants, when left to “go to seed” are a prime food source for birds.  Species such as Blazingstars, Silphiums and Sunflowers are so popular among Finches that they begin to pluck seeds out before they are ready to harvest here at our nursery!  Coneflowers, Bergamot, Dotted Mint, Lavender Hyssop, and many of the native grasses are among other favorites, and often retain some of their seed after the first snows to be enjoyed by Juncos, Tree Sparrows and in larger plantings, Snow Buntings.

These seed source plants provide cover for birds as well, both from the elements and predators- add a few choice selections to your plantings, and leave them standing until spring!



Finding the Unexpected

What an usual spring- an unprecedented March/April juxtaposition, with March much warmer than April.  Plants, birds, and mammals have been confused, for lack of a better term. 

On walks out and about, this spring has brought more surprises than usual, and spring offers up many surprises in a normal year.  Case in point these morels found along our property in Westfield, central Wisconsin.  I have never found a morel in April in Wisconsin- these were found April 22nd.

Native perennials have similarly been emerging at unusual times- our backyard bloodroots were done blooming for the season well before the date they are usually just sending up leaves.  Timing prescribed burning here at Prairie Nursery, and for many of our customers was a big challenge- forbs emerged way ahead of schedule leaving a narrow window. 

I’d be interested to hear what surprises others have found this unsual spring!

Native Plants for Large Spaces and Small

Terms like “Prairie Restoration” or “Landscaping with Natives” may conjure images of open areas, vast spaces filled with flowing grasses, and expanses of flowers supporting numerous butterflies, birds and myriad other species…..Indeed, many restoration projects are large scale, up to hundreds of acres.  Yet how many of us possess the acreage or means to undertake such an effort?  Fortunately one needs only a small space to create an area that will both provide habitat and create interest and enjoyment during all seasons. Large scale restoration is great, but just selecting a few native species appropriate for an area, no matter how small, provides similar benefits on any scale.

It is amazing what only a few square feet will support and attract. From a bright, sunny space around a lamp post to that shady corner of the backyard that won’t grow lawn, small native plant gardens are increasingly popular and successful. A planting along a sidewalk containing a just a few Blazingstars and New England Asters will not only create a splash of color at the edge of the lawn, it will draw Butterflies in surprising numbers- and species that may not have been seen in the yard previously. A patch of Browneyed Susans that display cheerful blooms mid summer through autumn near a backyard bird feeder, if left uncut, will also provide cover and a food source for finches and juncos when winter snows arrive.

Start small and expand over time in a small urban or suburban backyard- or start big in a relatively small yard, as our Mary is in her Milwaukee yard.