Nurture, Respect, Learn, Educate, Always Grow!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lessons Learned: Winter 2013

Winter is the time for comfort
for good food and warmth
for the touch of a friendly hand
and for a talk beside the fire:
it is the time for home.
~Edith Sitwell

The winter season is almost behind us. Once again the season seems to have speed by and I will miss the comfort food, cozy fireside family nights and interior decorating time. Signs of spring are all around so now is a good time to look back and see what lessons were learned before the busy gardening time begins. I am joining Plant Postings for a seasonal look back.

One of our winter activities has been liberating our newly acquired two acres, of invasive plants, mostly Japanese honeysuckle and privet, that have overrun the place. I need to give most of the credit to my husband who has been working tirelessly each weekend. Here are some before shots:



All the green is either privet or Japanese honeysuckle. Some of the privet is so big it requires a chain saw to cut down. 

Here is an after shot of one section. There is still much more to do but this is progress! I am very excited to see how this space will evolve now that the native plants have room to breathe. And our dogs are thrilled to have more space to run and roam.


I highly recommend the exercise of removing invasive species from the landscape whether it is on your own property or as a volunteer effort at your local nature reserve or park. This activity gives one a new appreciation for the importance of native plants or better yet getting the word out about the harm invasive species can do. Take a look at how the Japanese honeysuckle has wrapped itself around the Devil's Walking Stick, a wonderful native understory plant.


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

National Invasive Species Awareness Week is March 3rd -8th. One of the most helpful learning experiences for me was/is learning to identify invasive plants. One of my favorite handbooks is Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is a plant this, not that style book, providing several native alternatives for each invasive species.

This winter we have been going through a lot of bird seed. January and February felt colder than years past and if the birds foraging habits are cues about the weather then they confirm my thoughts.

We had a great time participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count on a particularly cold weekend. However, this also enable us to see lots of birds who were out searching for food to keep warm. Here are a few of our regulars:

Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Downy woodpecker

same downy woodpecker this time posing for the camera

Tufted titmouse cracking open sunflower shell

female cardinal munching on suet

We have ground feeders too, lots of finches and mourning dove. I learned that birds eating on the ground close together is not all that healthy because they can spread bacteria easily. Also, birds tend to poop before they take off so they contaminate the area where they are feeding.

To improve this situation it is best to provide platform feeders for these ground feeding birds. (Note to hubby: please build platform feeder for the birds)


Did you know that goldfinches and pine siskins just suck the oil out of the niger seeds and don't actually eat the seeds? Neither did I. Niger seeds contain 35% fat, 18% protein, 18% fiber & 12% moisture. The protein helps the birds regenerate feathers when the birds molt in spring and fall. I have been attending some lunch and learn presentations this winter. I highly recommend taking advantage of your local resources such as nature centers, nurseries and libraries who host such events. They sure make winter pass by faster and also keep those little gardening brain cells energized!

Our two rufous hummingbirds are still enjoying the garden and they even shared a tree for a brief moment.  One is sitting on a branch top right and the other lower down, bottom left. This was quite the capture because typically the female will chase the male off.


I listen for "my" hummers every day. She sings her "look at me, here I am" song. Since the cherry trees started to bloom I see them less frequently at the feeders and often fluttering about in the trees.  I have grown really attached to these little ones and will really miss them when they depart on their migration.

What happened in your garden this winter? Any lessons worth sharing? 

My next post will be looking forward to springtime activity with Donna at Gardens Eye View.

32 comments:

  1. A lovely most informative post, dear Karin. Life moves on ... a gardener's work is never done!

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    1. So true Joey! My to do list gets longer despite all the work, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

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  2. Great shot of the hummingbirds! What a special gift of their presence you've had this winter! Maybe they'll come back next year since they've obviously been happy little creatures in your garden. Thanks for sharing your lessons, Karin! Happy spring!

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    1. Oh I hope they will make it back next winter! I have gotten so spoiled having hummers in the garden year round this year that I think I will be very downtrodden if I didn't hear their happy chirps.

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  3. Great info... Reminds me of a lot of things I need to do in the next couple of months. Love your photos - and I can't wait until my hummingbirds return this spring!

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    1. Won't be long before the ruby throats arrive! We usually see them here mid-late March.

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  4. The downy woodpecker is so cute and aren't those golfinches and siskins clever little chaps? You have such an amazing blue sky there... and a great eye for photography x

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    1. When the sun is out the skies are indeed very blue here during the winter. The bare, winter trees look so stunning against it. The woodpeckers are some of my favorite birds to watch. They have such personalities!

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  5. Good Morning Karin,

    Lovely photos and those blue skies!!! Wow!
    Can you please send some of that to me here in Ireland!

    You have a wonderful selection of birds where you live.

    Have a good weekend Karin

    x Fiona

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    1. Thanks Fiona! I am blowing some of the sunshine and blue skies your way!

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  6. Love your bird pictures.. I hear the birds around the house, but never can find them.

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    1. They are clever little creatures. They probably hide when you go outside. When I let my dogs out it is a mass departure for higher ground for all the wildlife. My female retriever has quite the nose on her and she almost got a chipmunk the other day who had taken cover in a pile of leaves.

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  7. Oh Japanese Honeysuckle and Chinese Privet -- we have lots of that here too. While I love the fragrance of honeysuckle and can't imagine a NC summer without it, I despise privet with a fiery passion. Your husband did a good job of clearing. The difference is amazing!

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    1. The difference really is substantial. I have found some heart leaf ginger and native blueberries so far. Yeah, my kids like the honeysuckle too but it grows so fast and really takes over, growing on anything and everything.

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  8. My garden is still snow-covered, but I saw the return of the juncos (such lovely little birds) and noted some sets of rabbit and raccoon footprints. Not as many birds seem as interested in the seed.

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    1. I wonder if your birds are finding another source of food. Usually the winter birds are seed eaters and the insect eaters migrate. I saw the rabbits out too and they even got into my winter lettuce & spinach.

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  9. Good work on the invasives! I have done what I can on our little urban lot since we moved here. I've taken out some Privet, two Buckthorn trees, and several shrub honeysuckles. All but the Buckthorn were planted as ornamentals. The buckthorn was planted by the birds but allowed to grow into small trees as part of a hedge. Luckily we do not have Japanese honeysuckle. I find cutting down invasives to be a cathartic experience, I always feel better afterwards.

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    1. Thanks Jason! I agree, it is a good feeling making a small dent in eradicating them. Birds are certainly (innocently) guilty of spreading seeds. Another reason it is important that people not plant invasives in their gardens. The Japanese wisteria that grows along the roadside here all came from ornamental plantings.

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  10. Wow Karin that's a wide area to clean with invasives. But i am sure it is much easier to do there than here, because our invasives are really terrible, with roots to be excised deeply too. I love your shots of the birds, very amusing too. Glad you are now in warm weather.

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  11. Wow, how fun to have two more acres to play in!! Great job on getting that area cleaned up. Quite an improvement!!

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  12. Your dogs are loving the new property. So much more to explore for them. I did not know that about niger seed. I have seen the feeders covered in Goldfinch and did not realize they were not eating the seed. Good info! Love your bird shots, especially the Anna. We never see them here.

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  13. Amazing the difference in the before and after photos! I have some invasive honeysuckle in the back of one area. I've just been ignoring it, but your post makes me realize I really should do something about it. I learned something, too! Cute shot of the little downy woodpecker asleep!

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  14. Karin so many lessons I will share next Monday...and I appreciate you joining in SC. I love your hummers...we have been feeding woodpeckers this winter with suet. I hope to spend time in my retirement working with groups to remove invasives from nature areas...for now I am planning to add more natives as I continue to remove my own invasives.

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  15. We have a similar overgrown wooded area on our property. I also am removing a lot of Muscadine grape vines that drape over all my small trees and shrubs. Slowly but surely the woods are getting cleared.
    I did not know that about the Finches and Niger seed...so wonder the litter under the feeder looks like the seeds are still intact.

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  16. It looks like you and your husband have been busy this cold winter.

    Thanks for sharing the link to the book. Last year you wrote a post about invasive butterfly bushes. I read that there are now some non-invasive butterfly bushes that are sterile.

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  17. It is really important to leanr how to fight against invassives, but it is not always easy is using ecological approach. Good reminder from you!

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  18. I had no idea goldfinches didn't eat the seeds! I always find seeds on the ground and just thought the finches were picky eaters. I love how clear your new woods are. It will be fun to see what pops up this spring now that the plants have room to grow. :o)

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  19. Great job removing those invasive plants. It is such a huge job. We have a number of twining invasives that require constant maintenance, feels like we'll never be rid of them.

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  20. What a big job to remove all the invasive plants, but so worth all the effort! We have been struggling with Japanese Knotweed and so I can appreciate all your efforts.

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  21. Wow--what a task you've undertaken! Congratulations on the great work clearing out the invasives. The before and after photos really show your efforts. Your photos of the birds are just lovely--and I had no idea that the goldfinches only sucked the oil of the seeds. Thanks for sharing your lovely photos!

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  22. Karen, your blog pages are just excellent. You have definitely put a lot of hard work and effort into making it what it is. Just love the pictures and dialogue.
    Been reading your blog pages for so long and time as just flown by. I just heard the wife shout from upstairs.It's 03.58 a.m. here in the UK .

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  23. Your dogs are so cute, it makes me miss having a dog ...

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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