Sep 19, 2018 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, October 2017

Dear Birdsquatch: Fall Gardening

American goldfinch in winter plumage. Photo by A. Reago & C. McClarren, Wikimedia.
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Dear Birdsquatch:

Our vegetable and flower gardens are dormant this time of year, long after the growing season has petered out, I'd like to clean them out so the yard doesn't look so unkempt. I've also heard that cleaning out the dead plant matter from your garden reduces the chances of pests overwintering and emerging to attack the plants in the spring. My husband swears that he read an answer by you in this publication that stated it was best to leave the garden fallow all winter long. I think that my husband is just looking to avoid doing the clean up work. He's not lazy, but he's close to it!

—Christine T., Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin

Dear Christine,

Your husband is not lazy at all. He's merely following the peerless advice of a world-class, wildlife-gardening authority (he said, humbly). Leaving your garden fallow over the winter months means there's both cover for your birds and a source of seeds and insects as well. Given your northerly location, I doubt there would be a lot of insect pests that would survive over winter. But there would be a lot of insect goodies for the sparrows, chickadees, titmice, finches, juncos, wrens, and kinglets to find as they forage through your messy winter garden. I say leave it lay until spring. That's when you can get the hubby out of his seasonal torpor to rake the dead plant material into a pile and burn it. Then he can spread the ashes around the garden before tilling it. And you have my permission to sit and watch him do it, in a supervisory role. I suggest a glass of pinot grigio—goes great with spring garden reclamation observation.



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • Hahaha, I love the ending remark "that area will have already been well -fertilized!"I've noticed that there are more cheep cheeps right after I clean the bird feeder compared to how many there are right before it was cleaned...so cheep cheeps do like and appreciate a well maintained feeder and they are worth the effort. : )
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • The storm saying seems true so far. We had as party at our bird feeder right before our last storm... 6 at once but different cheeps cheeps would come and go so there were more than 6 for sure..and squirrels eating with the birds
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 13 Jul 2018
  • I know and do clean my feeders both for seed and for hummingbird liquid. I have a vase full of different size brushes that are only for this purpose. I have friends however who NEVER clean their feeders or bird baths, and it’s gross! I am ringing this article and will have to give out to the few offenders I know. I can’t imagine looking at such mess and not cleaning it, but not everyone thinks resale. Part of responsible bird watching/loving is to make the time and take the effort to do this.
    by Carol, Tue, 10 Jul 2018