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Photo by BeyondMyLens/Thinkstock
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Native beauty berry adds bold color to the winter landscape. (Photo courtesy Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden)
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Buttercup winter hazel has fragrant flowers. (Photo courtesy Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden)
Although some animals migrate for the winter, there are many species that remain in Richmond during our coldest months. Nonmigratory birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and even insects can benefit from a backyard environment that supports them over the winter. Wildlife needs food, shelter and water year-round, and it is fairly easy to add these elements to your garden to support and attract a variety of species.
Save the Seeds
You may have the urge to tidy up your garden by cutting back perennials and grasses in the fall, but resist the temptation. Leaving seed heads on your plants provides food for nonmigratory birds. Ornamental grass such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) not only provides food and shelter for wildlife, but cultivars such as Shenandoah and Ruby Ribbons have lovely red fall foliage and are pleasantly deer-resistant. Perennials such as black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), joe-pye weed (Eutrochium dubium) and aster (Symphyotrichum) are late summer- and fall-blooming plants that will hold their seed heads through much of the winter. Pines and cypress are cone-bearing plants that will provide seeds for the birds to enjoy. Birds also especially like plants that produce winter berries. American holly (Ilex opaca) is a great choice because its berries ripen, after many of the other berried plants have been picked over. If you are looking for a change from common red holly berries, try adding some variety to your landscape with the native beauty berry (Callicarpa americana), which has bright purple berries.
Broadleaf evergreens and conifers will also provide much-needed shelter for birds during Richmond’s infrequent snows. These plants do double duty in providing habitat as well as the backbone for any garden design and look great with a light dusting of snow.
Winter-blooming plants are a delight when their colors pop against a gray winter sky. These plants are naturally pollinated by animals that are active in the winter. Insects such as native bees will leave their hives during the warmer winter days in search of pollen and nectar. Buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora) is a shrub that blooms in late winter. This witch hazel relative has extremely fragrant yellow flowers. Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub, with rose-shaped flowers that bloom in mid- to late-winter. Multiple cultivars of camellia are readily available in shades of white, pink and red.
Leave the Leaves
Many mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians will spend the winter underground or in leaf and debris piles. To provide a winter home for these animals, choose an area of your yard to leave the fall leaves and create small piles of twigs and sticks for animals to burrow underneath. Make sure that leaves and mulch are not piled against the trunks of trees: Overwintering rodents might chew the bark, girdling the tree and killing it in the spring.
Water can be provided by birdbaths in the early winter. As the winter progresses, be sure to empty pottery birdbaths and either turn them over or bring them indoors to avoid the water freezing and cracking your container.