Winterize your garden for birds and insects | Home Style | – Gettysburg Times

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A mix of clouds and sun. High 72F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph..
Partly cloudy skies early will give way to cloudy skies late. Low 59F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: November 4, 2022 @ 6:04 am
A garden in winter can still provide food and shelter for birds and insects, such as pollinators. (Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Black)

A garden in winter can still provide food and shelter for birds and insects, such as pollinators. (Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Black)
November is a great time to analyze your gardens and improve the quality of life for birds and insects during the winter months. There are several easy procedures to follow to become a responsible gardener while providing food, water, and protection for our feathered friends and insects during the coldest season of the year.
Do not be too anxious to remove everything from your garden in the fall. When we keep a clean and tidy garden, we are frequently eliminating natural materials and features that would otherwise provide nesting habitat for birds, bees, and other insects. Mow the leaves in the fall so they can be used as mulch on the grass and in the gardens. The leaves produce organic matter and return nitrogen and carbon back to the soil.
When cutting back perennials that have hollow or pithy stems, leave at least half of the stem where native bees can hibernate during the winter months. Thirty percent of native bees are cavity-nesting bees. These bees lay their eggs in nesting chambers in hollow, pithy stems. In addition, some beneficial insects insert their eggs into hollow stems for safety and protection.
Resist the temptation to clean the base of the flower beds. Seventy percent of native bees are ground nesting, laying their eggs in burrows just beneath the surface. They need leaves and plant debris to compile their nests. Some ground-nesting bees are among the earliest to emerge in the spring, making them vital pollinators of cherries, plums, peaches, apples, and other fruit. There has been a 90% decline in bumblebees in the last 20 years. These bees are advantageous because they are superb pollinators. Bumblebees also need leaf cover over the winter for protection. Many other beneficial insects make tunnels in the leaves in the winter.
It is crucial to provide nesting and shelter areas where birds are protected from the weather and predators. Providing a diversity of plant material that includes native evergreen and deciduous trees, vines, shrubs, herbaceous plants, grasses, and ground covers allows wildlife to select the right areas for their food, nesting, and shelter needs. Evergreens are particularly valuable for winter cover and shelter. Pines, hollies, junipers, and arborvitaes planted in dense layers provide thick cover and robust shelter. Some trees to consider are Red Oak (Quercus rubra), Red bud (Cercis canadensis), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).
Some shrubs that produce berries for the birds to enjoy in the winter are Winterberry (Ilex verricillata) and Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia). Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) attract insects, which in turn become a food source for birds. Seed heads on perennials such as coneflowers (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia) provide nourishment for the birds in the winter. Again, a reminder to not remove leaves from the gardens. Not only do the decaying leaves provide free fertilizer by putting nitrogen back into the soil, they also harbor tiny insects and insect eggs that provide food for the birds.
Backyard bird watching can be very entertaining and relaxing in the winter months. The wildlife in one’s backyard provides excitement with many different types of birds flying to feeders on a regular basis. Place the feeders where they can be easily viewed from indoors. Black-oil sunflower seed and suet provide energy to help the birds through the cold winter nights. Keep in mind that different bird species have different feeding requirements. Some prefer a hanging feeder while others require a tray feeder. Maintain the feeders by keeping them clean so that the birds are protected from the spread of disease caused by moldy seed. Children also enjoy watching the birds and their antics.
It is important to provide water for the birds in the winter. A birdbath heater works very well in our garden to provide water for the birds, even in the coldest winter days. Providing fresh water in the winter to the birds can make the difference between survival and the alternative. Be mindful of the importance of protecting our wildlife and their environment. Sparingly clean up the flower beds in the fall. Provide food, water, and protection for birds and insects. Remember that the life we see in spring and summer is often living within the fallen leaves and hollow stems left behind in fall and winter.
Introduction to Floral Design: Monday, Nov. 14, 7–9; You will learn how to take cut flowers from the supermarket and turn them into a beautiful arrangement. Students will complete their own arrangement to take home. To register, visit
Monday Videos: Visit us on Facebook at Penn State Master Gardeners in Adams County for our Master Gardeners’ Monday Videos. Timely and relevant topics will be discussed on a weekly basis keeping readers up to date on current horticultural issues.
Garden Hotline: Master Gardeners are answering gardening questions on Wednesdays throughout the fall and winter. If you have a question or need some gardening advice, contact a Master Gardener by emailing Include photos when possible.
Carolyn Black is a Penn State Master Gardener from Adams County. Penn State Cooperative Extension of Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, phone 334-6271.
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