Paul Dowlearn

Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery. Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Winter will officially begin on Dec. 21st this year. Hard to believe since we have seen snow and plenty of below freezing temps already. Take heart though, the signs of spring generally begin in February here in Texoma, in spite of the fact that we will still be officially in winter.

So, have you thought about the birds? Not all birds fly south for winter. Many prefer to stay right here. Winter is especially rough on the ones who do stay. I have noticed when the northers blow strong the bird traffic slows way down. Just like us they tend to hunker down then come out when the wind dies back. Apparently, their covering of feathers and down do a pretty good job of holding in their body heat. However, that body heat is produced from the food they eat.

Plants that hold seed or produce berries and fruit during fall/winter are doing so for the birds. It is especially important to include berry producing plants to help these little guys make it through the coldest season. Yaupon holly comes to mind immediately.

Lucky for birds that this plant became popular in the home landscape over 100 years ago. One of the few true Texas natives that was on the traditional landscape list long before the introduction of hundreds of other Texas natives that are finally making their way to the retail nurseries. I have often wondered why it took so long.

The female yaupon makes bright red berries that begin to mature in late fall. You may have noticed that these hollies make their berry much smaller than the typical Asian hollies. Just right for our American songbirds to easily ingest and one more reason why native plants are by far the better choice. I have been told the Asian hollies produce larger berries to feed larger birds and monkeys (?). We do have a few larger birds that can eat the Asian holly berry but (thank God) we have no monkeys (Florida being the exception).

BTW, yaupons are monoecious, meaning the flowers are either all male or all female on individual plants. The more popular dwarf version of the species (ilex vomitoria) are male while the standard tall yaupon can go either way. So that works out nicely.

Most of us have been led to believe that we should put out bird feeders if we want more birds in our outdoor environments. This is just not true at all. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife (tpwd.org) and indeed, any well-educated biologist, feeders are really not the way to go. One argument is that feeders tend to make birds lazy (imagine that) so young birds are taught to look for feeders instead of learning to forage in the wild. My biggest problem is that most of the seed in commercial bird seed mix comes from foreign sources. Common sense tells me that Mother Nature has already provided perfect forage for our local bird species so how is it that a thistle or sunflower seed from Africa or Asia somehow better for them? Ponder that, if you will…

Bird houses, on the other hand, are readily encouraged by wildlife professionals. These really do help increase the numbers of desirable species like bluebirds and martins. Doesn’t hurt a bit to lend a hand with accommodations.

Most of you likely have yaupon holly or at least your neighbors do. Be on the lookout for other plants that have winter berries and seeds. Our local holly is called Possum Haw (Ilex decidua) which is not evergreen but also makes red berries for the birds (and possums). The red berries held on bare branches makes this small tree a standout. Red cedar, viburnums, and pyracantha also come to mind as do our native persimmon trees. And don’t forget our native grasses. My personal favorite is bushy bluestem for winter show.

Birdhouses make good gifts for gardeners and birdwatchers. They also make excellent projects for the do-it-yourself(ers). Handmade, homemade items are always among the best gifts to receive. Right??

On a related subject, Martha Davis spotted a monarch butterfly at the nursery last Saturday. It was a nice day and not too windy for this late comer to attempt making it down to Mexico. Still has a long way to go but somehow it survived several hard freezes. No, she was not mistaken. This lady has a Master’s degree in biology and keeps the butterfly conservatory well stocked at River Bend Nature Center.

This led me to consider that some birds are also late in migrating. So, consider offering some good fuel to help them on their journey. Plants do not have to be refilled like feeders do plus they make more each year as they get bigger. A small investment now can pay big dividends for life instead of being one more item that needs to be bought. Save time and money. Come see us!!

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