Jul 11, 2018 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, August 2018

Your Garden: Let It Be

A garden with a combination of Echinacea (coneflower) and butterfly weed. Photo by U.S. Botanic Gardens / Wikimedia.
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I love the Beatles and have been listening to their music since before I was allowed to touch my parents' stereo. Many of their song lyrics can serve us as words to live by: "I get by with a little help from my friends." "Living is easy with eyes closed—misunderstanding all you see." "All you need is love." (Maybe not "Bang bang Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon her head," but you get the idea.)

My favorite one for this time of year is "Let it be." And that's because all those bird-friendly plants in your yard and garden can keep on being a source of food long past their blooming prime. Flowers such as zinnias, coneflowers, salvias, poppies, and other summer garden staples retain tiny seeds in their flower heads that birds will find in the months following frost, or the end of the blooming season (if your area doesn't have frost). Even garden plants such as tomatoes, peas, squash, and corn will harbor insect life in their stems and under their brown, curly leaves.

While many gardeners follow the conventional wisdom and clear out the old and dead plant material in early fall, I've always preferred a more laissez-faire approach. I leave the plants over winter for the birds to forage among. Then I clear things off the next spring, once the food value is depleted and we're planning the spring garden. It's a win-win—less work for me, more food for the birds. Of course, my neighbors, (if I had any nearby) might call me "the fool on the hill." But my birds hear me "whisper words of wisdom: Let it be."



About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson, III, was the team captain for Watching Backyard Birds from its inception 23 years ago through his death on March 25, 2019. So much of what he wrote is timeless and remains informative, helpful, and inspiring.

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  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020