Winter gardening for wildlife

I think it’s safe to say things are back to normal in Western Washington. The rain gutters are making that old familiar burbling noise and dodging mud puddles is once again a normal part of navigating the byways.

I could almost swear I heard a collective sigh rise up from a million slug and snail burrows when the first fat raindrops fell. But maybe it was just the wind revving up for a typical October blast.

Except for chocolate and good books, there are a few things you actually can have too much of – despite the intense pleasure they bring. For me, days without any measurable rainfall are big on that list.

After watching my Gunnera manicata droop for most of the summer, I say, bring on the monsoons. Yes, bring ‘em on!

If you’re not a native Mossback, I know the damp weather can put a cramp in your outdoor plans. After all, I’ve heard tell of people from warmer climes who see the skies darken and decide to stay indoors and wait it out – ‘til around mid-May.

For those of us genetically mutated to not only withstand, but appreciate, the rain and all that greenery it brings, these are good times indeed. You’ll find us wandering around outside inspecting the burgeoning bryophytes, those moisture loving non-vascular plants that thrive around here, like mosses and liverworts.

Okay, so maybe you’re not all that excited about pulling on your boots and rain coat and traipsing outside, but here’s a good reason to give monsoon season gardening a try: the wildlife will love you for it.

Back in the spring and summer, when the weather was more amenable and you were doing most of your yard work, the birds were building nests and raising their young. If you took advantage of the good weather to clear away the dead brush or cut limbs, chances are you also may have disturbed – or even destroyed – some of these nests filled with eggs or young.

It’s not just the trees that make good avian real estate. Some birds nest on or near the ground, so a pile of branches waiting for the chipper can be a perfect spot to conceal a nest. I’ve even found birds nesting in a stand of lemon balm.

If encouraging birds and other native wildlife is important to you, then consider delaying any major tree- or brush-clearing until the birds have finished nesting. If you’ve got the space, you might also want to think of installing a permanent brush pile on your property or leave snags and dead and dying trees that don’t pose a safety hazard in place.

Fall is also an excellent time for planting shrubs and trees that attract humming birds and butterflies. The dormant season gives them time to develop strong roots instead of putting all their energy into producing leaves and flowers. Think of adding some natives, like Oregon grape, red flowering currant, Indian plum, twin berry and red elderberry.

I know the last thing on your mind right now is a lack of water, but guaranteed, July will return. Wildlife needs a place to drink, so add a bird bath or pond. Even a wide rock with a shallow depression in it can hold enough water to keep thirsty butterflies satisfied.

To learn more about native wildlife, visit the Whidbey Audubon Society at or the Living with Wildlife pages at the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife website,


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