A better birdbath

Plus Garden To-Do's for February

By L.A. Jackson

A better birdbath

Birdbaths are welcomed additions to any garden because they provide fixed points of visual interest in seasonally changing landscapes, and, of course, because they are desirable watering holes for many feathered friends. And whether you have one or are thinking about adding this hardscape feature to your garden this spring, here are a few pointers for a better birdbath.

While a heavy cement or stone birdbath provides increased stability compared to ones made of lightweight resin or plastic, it is more susceptible to breaking if water constantly freezes and thaws in the bowl during the winter. A good way to prevent ice formation in the bowl, and still provide a reliable refreshment station for birds in the winter, is to set a shallow plastic container in the birdbath during the coldest of times and pour water only into it.

If a cement or stone birdbath does freeze over, the best way to thaw it out is to set a pan of hot water on the ice. Do not pour the heated water onto the ice — it could crack the bowl. And for the same reason, don’t hammer ice out of a birdbath.

A dark colored birdbath in a sunny location will freeze over less often, but it will also be uncomfortably hot in the summer. One solution is to find a site that is shaded by deciduous trees or shrubs during the growing season but is exposed enough through bare branches to the warming sun in the winter.

Because it is bowl shaped, a birdbath usually has a deep section in the middle, and this could be dangerous to fledglings and small birds, so set a flat rock in the center that sticks above the water for a safety perch.

Besides being attracted to it for drinks of water, birds use a birdbath for the obvious — to take baths. With this in mind, consider setting it close to shrubs or short trees with strong limbs so soaked birds will only have short flights to a safe place to preen and dry.

No matter the weather, always keep fresh water in the birdbath by changing it at least once a week. This constant will result in plenty of repeat visits from your winged garden friends.

Garden To Do’s

February

  • Winter dry spells can be just as harmful to evergreen trees and shrubs as summer droughts, so water them if the rains don’t come for extended periods of time and maintain a 2- to 3-inch mulch around new plantings. Also, applying an antitranspirant such as WiltPruf will help reduce moisture loss through the evergreen leaves.
  • Woody ornamentals such as althea, butterfly bush, crepe myrtle, oleander, hydrangea and vitex flower on new wood, so now is a good time to prune to stimulate the production of new springtime branches.
  • Established hybrid tea and bush roses can also be pruned now. Climbing roses that are repeat bloomers can be lightly pruned as well, but if your climber is one that only flowers once in the growing season, wait until after the last of its blossoms have faded away in the spring.
  • Ornamental grasses such as northern sea oats, miscanthus, pampas grass and pennisetum have done their part adding interest to the winter garden, but now is the time to get these lovelies ready for spring by pruning them back to 6 to 8 inches above the ground. Any seed heads still in good condition can be brought inside for use in dried arrangements. Low-growing grasses such as liriope and mondo grass will also benefit from being cut back now. Also, this is a good time to divide ornamental grass clumps and replant the divisions.
  • If you love your fescue lawn, think of it on Valentine’s Day, which will be a good time to give it a nutrient boost of lawn fertilizer at a rate of one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet to get it ready for the spring growing season.
  • Is creating a stone walk one of your late winter projects in the landscape? If you are using sand instead of mortar between the stones, include one extra step: before setting any stones and sand down, add a sheet of plastic weed block to the pathway to help cut down on unwanted plants coming up between the stones. Ditto for new paths built with bricks.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at: lajackson1@gmail.com

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