Helping critters in winter
Much of the wildlife in your garden will hibernate over the winter as an innate defense against food scarcity and harsh weather. Reptiles, amphibians, insects and even some mammals, like groundhogs, will hunker down for a long winter's nap when the days get shorter and temperatures drop. Frogs, toads, snakes and salamanders might seek shelter at the bottom of a pond, underground or even under stones or logs, while many insects overwinter as eggs or larvae. Others, however, struggle to stay alive. Here's how you can help them make it to spring. --JESSICA DAMIANO, email@example.com
LEAF COVER: After raking, shred leaves and push them under shrubs. They'll not only provide shelter to overwintering wildlife but will also insulate roots and enrich the soil for a healthier garden next year. (Nov. 13, 2008)
HANG ON TO THE SEEDS: Don't cut down black-eyed Susans, Joe Pye weed, sedums, sunflowers or purple cone flowers until spring. Instead, leave dried plants in the ground all winter, and their seed heads will provide a food source for birds. As a bonus, the garden won't be barren during the off-season, and you'll have something nice to look at when those seed heads catch the falling snow.
WATCH FOR ICE: If you have a pond, don't allow the surface to freeze over, or toxic gasses will accumulate and kill fish and frogs. Instead of applying antifreeze chemicals, which would poison wildlife, install an electric heating element. If that isn't practical, float a tennis ball on the surface. If water does freeze, don't try to crack a hole in it. Instead, heat some water in a kettle and pour it over the pond until an opening melts in the ice. (June 12, 2013)
MAKESHIFT SHELTER: Stack branches and twigs in a pile away from the house to shelter insects, rabbits, ground-nesting birds and chipmunks. (Be sure to inspect piles of firewood for hitchhikers before bringing indoors.)
FOR FEATHERED FRIENDS: In the absence of snow cover, keep a bird bath or other container filled as a water source, and stock a bird feeder or hang seed ornaments from tree branches. (Jan. 5, 2012)
SMALL EXTRAS: Berries, seeds and worms will be scarce, so toss some halved apples under trees to feed the birds. And don't forget squirrels. Although they "squirrel away" food for the winter, it isn't always enough, and sometimes they can't find it. Scatter a few nuts and chopped carrots or apples about to supplement their supply, but don't overdo it -- they may become dependent on handouts, which would be counterproductive.