Despite the cooler temperatures, butterflies and birds are still present in local gardens, especially on sunny days. If you want to see more of these creatures in your landscape, then a few simple steps will provide the best habitat for them during the winter months.
Provide water. It is important to keep water on hand for winter visitors. A bird bath or simply a dish with water can provide some necessary water for winter birds. A dish with water and a stone or some moist sand also is a good butterfly watering station as are puddles on cement or stone pathways.
Add flowers. Although winter is not prime flowering season for many plants, you need to protect and promote flowering plants as much as possible. Adding a couple of flowering plants in pots also can provide an additional flower source. Trailing purple lantana is a good winter bloomer as are some of the salvias. Planting these flowers in pots allows you to bring them in if during freezing weather.
Don’t limit your flowers to traditional landscape plants. One man’s weed may be a another man’s treasure, not to mention a butterfly’s meal. Some broad-leaved weeds like horseherb, henbit, frogfruit and few lingering wild sunflowers all provide important nectar sources for winter butterflies. Letting certain areas of your yard be more natural can help provide important habitat during the lean winter months.
Wait to prune. Especially due to the recent freezes, many homeowners are eager to cut back plants that have freeze damage. In the process, overzealous pruners will cut more than is necessary, removing many winter blossoms. Even sporadic flowers are good nectar for butterflies that have very limited food sources this time of year.
At this time of year, the best approach is to minimize pruning. If you see tropicals like elephant ears or banana plants that were nipped by the freeze, only remove the succulent portions that appear to be mushy to prevent bacterial rots. However, dried leaves actually will provide some protection for the stems against future freezes and may provide shelter for other beneficial garden bugs during cold weather.
Bird feeders. Try to keep bird feeders filled during the winter months to provide additional food for visiting feathered friends. Squirrels also will snack on the seeds, so make sure you have plenty on hand to refill. For best results, look for a birdseed that contains black-oil sunflower seeds and preferably some cracked corn if possible to provide food for more species.
A fun project for kids during Christmas is to make pine cone bird feeders. Spread peanut butter on pine cones. Bare sticks also work well if pine cones are not available. Afterward, roll the pine cone in birdseed. Tie a piece of colorful ribbon, yarn or string to the bottom of the pine cone or the end of the twig. Then take it outside and hang it from a tree limb in your yard.
Besides birdseed, citrus also is a welcome treat, especially for woodpeckers. Cut an orange, grapefruit or lemon in half and mount it on a pole or tree.