My garden is as lively with birds in winter as in summer, and this is why: I leave lots of leaf litter, and I leave the perennials and grasses in place until spring. Ground-feeding birds sift through the litter for seeds and insects, and perching birds feed from the standing stalks. It’s the perfect habitat for the mixed foraging flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and juncos that come through almost daily and for the cardinals, jays, and mourning doves that live here year round. Look closely at the picture above, and you’ll see seeds of native grasses, asters, monarda, boltonia, and several other plants. Every time I look out the winter I see birds.
Planted near the sidewalk is a low-growing border that’s exuberant with spring-blooming natives, most of which went dormant months ago. Now it too is loaded with seed of shade-loving asters; ferns and other groundcover plants (Heuchera and Tiarella) hold the leaf mulch in place. I “mulch” my gardens by simply allowing the leaves to remain where they fall. They insulate and enrich the soil, shelter overwintering moth and butterfly larvae, and help feed the birds.
In a part of the garden that I allow to look a bit more wild, htere are tall seed stalks of sweet joe pye weed, white snakeroot, an unknown volunteer goldenrod, and many other plants against a backdrop of hemlocks. This joe pye weed grew 8 feet tall this year and will feed the birds all winter.