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 is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest by day. He's also a keen birder, the author of many books, a dad, a field trip leader, an ecotourism consultant, a guitar player, and blogger.

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  • 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
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    by Marnie Lynn Browder, Sun, 10 Jun 2018
  • Fascinating, how insightful both the humans and cheep cheeps are... Thanks for sharing.
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 27 Apr 2018
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    by Ron, Mon, 23 Apr 2018