When it comes to starting an animal garden project, most gardeners tend to focus on the spring and summer months, when the fauna is very active. But the truth is that autumn and winter are the most critical times to support wildlife. Some animals migrate south for the winter, but many others remain active or hibernate during the cold months. In addition to providing food and habitat in the summer, supporting a diverse range of wildlife on your property also means ensuring that there is enough food available in the weeks leading up to the start of winter to allow the animals to consume and store as much food as possible. Whether you provide nectar, seeds or another food source, your garden can become an essential retreat for the many small animals that live there.
The importance of fauna for a garden
Although gardeners often work hard to keep certain types of wildlife out of their gardens (hello, deer and marmots, we’re talking about them!), there are many wild creatures that we want to have in our gardens because they benefit from it in many ways. Birds eat pests and feed their young; bees and butterflies help pollinate flowers and crops; toads eat snails, flies and various pests; and ladybugs, jagged wings and other predatory insects nibble on many common garden pests. Wildlife plays a very valuable role in our gardens, and it is important that we promote this relationship and its multiple benefits.
One of the best ways to promote this useful wildlife is to provide these animals with plenty of winter habitat and as much food as possible at the end of the season.
A zoo project focusing on autumn and winter
There are two essential elements necessary for a successful autumn and winter garden: habitat and food.
Winter habitat comes in the form of stems, leaves and plant debris, which you need to leave in place for the winter. Do not clean the flower beds and curbs in the fall. Many of our native bees and butterflies hibernate on or in their stems, and the birds shelter from the harsh winds of winter in the cover that these debris provide. The toads nest in the debris of the leaves and under the loose mulch. More information on the creation of wild habitats in winter can be found here.
However, when it comes to autumn and winter food sources for an animal garden, it is sometimes difficult, because the choice is not necessarily fruitful. Gardeners must strive to include the right plant species in their zoo to help these small animals thrive at a time when other resources are often scarce. Many native plants in North America can provide these creatures, especially if they focus on picking up after flowers and plants that produce seeds that birds enjoy.
To help you feed this small but powerful wildlife in the garden with autumn and winter food, here are some of the best plants you can include in an end-of-season zoo project, including information on which people will be supporting you over the next few months.
The best plants at the end of the season for an animal garden in autumn and winter
Asters for butterflies:
Our native asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) are after flowering perennials that provide both migratory and stationary butterfly species with pollen and nectar. For migratory species, such as monarchs and painted females, this diet helps to promote their long journey. For stationary species that winter in our gardens, such as Milbert’s tortoiseshell, comma and mourning mantle, aster nectar can help accumulate the carbohydrate reserves your body needs to get through hibernation. Asters are also used by many species of bees in an animal garden.
Goldenrod for beetles:
The gardens are home to tens of thousands of species of beetles. From pests such as soldier beetles, ladybugs and rove beetles to pollinating species such as flower beetles, these beetles need both the proteins in the pollen and the carbohydrates in the nectar to survive their long hibernation. The goldenrod is part of the cream of the crop when it comes to the flowers at the end of the season to be included in an animal garden project. It is very nutritious, native, and it blooms at the ideal time to build up winter fat reserves for these insects. Besides, it’s nice! ‘Fireworks’ is a beautiful variety for the garden.
Mexican bush sage for hummingbirds:
This amazing plant (Salvia leucantha) comes from central Mexico and is revered here in my garden in Pennsylvania by after hummingbirds. It blooms just at the end of July and is an excellent source of pre-migration food for these small birds. Just before starting the hike in early autumn, I often see two or three hummingbirds feeding on my Mexican bush sage on sunny days, feeding several times side by side with several butterflies. Hummingbirds also enjoy other types of salvia, but this one is a personal favorite.
Monkshood for bumblebees:
Did you know that the bumblebee queens are the only bumblebees that survive the winter? The remaining bumblebees die as soon as the weather cools. Providing these coupled queens with food is important to give them the energy they need to be able to hibernate during the winter and then emerge in the spring to start a new colony. Many of the 21 bumblebee species in North America are experiencing a population decline due to habitat loss, food shortages, and pesticide exposure. These fuzzy native bees need our help a lot of time and planting monkshood (Aconitum spp.) is one way to do this. The complex hooded flowers of monkshood are pollinated mainly by bumblebees, the heavy weight of which is needed to open the flowers. And they bloom very after in the season-at the very moment when the bumblebee queens really need the food they provide. Our monkshood natives( Aconitum columbianum) is one of the most excellent flowers at the end of the season for inclusion in your garden project zoo, or you can go with the A. the central nervous system: any non-native or A. henryi.
Echinacea and Susans with black eyes for songbirds:
When it comes to supporting birds in an autumn and winter garden, do not think about flowers for their blooms. Instead, think of them for their seeds. Many species of birds are seed eaters, and although you may think that feeding from a feeder gives birds all the winter food they need, this is simply not the matter. Just like humans,the more diverse the diet of a bird, the more balanced it becomes nutritionally. Although you can pamper yourself with black sunflower seeds and millet from a bird feeder, giving the birds other natural food sources is a boon to their health. The seeds of Echinacea and black-eyed susans are preferred food sources for many different birds, from thistles, tits, sparrows and pine siskins that tear off ripe seeds of juncos that eat those that fall to the ground. Just leave the stems in the garden at the end of the growing season, and the birds feed on the seeds at will. Having all these birds around is good for your zoo in other ways, too. In the spring, when their brood comes, birds need a lot of insects to feed their growing babies, and many common garden pests are part of their favorite food.
Perennial sunflowers for small native bees:
A personal favorite flower for any wild animal garden project is the perennial sunflower of the genus Helianthus. These beauties are entirely hardy, native to North America that bloom head on for many weeks at the end of the growing season. Maximilian sunflower (H. maximiliani), swampy sunflower (H. angustifolius) and willow-leaved sunflower (H. salicifolius) are indispensable for creating an autumn and winter garden, especially to support the many tiny bee species native to this continent. Green metal bees, leaf-cutting bees, small carpenter bees and many other native bee species love nectars on perennial after-season sunflowers. And these plants are as beautiful as they are large. Some species reach a height of up to ten feet with the same spread, a beacon for pollinators everywhere. Their mottled stems also provide excellent wintering and nesting habitat for these tiny docile native bees. Oh, and birds also like to eat their seeds.
As you can see, Creating a wild garden project that will benefit these tiny and precious animals in all seasons is a rewarding task. Plant the right plants and leave the garden for the winter, and you will see a variety of bees, butterflies, beetles, birds and many other creatures that call your animal-friendly garden shed.