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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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018