The best plants to help birds through winter

Winter is here…

like the new season of Game of Thrones . If you’re like me you’ll spend winter by the fire, over-eating, watching tv and maybe considering going outside. Getting through winter in Queenstown for humans is hard enough, how do the region’s birds survive without inadequate heaters and arctic fleece blankets?

Bird feathers may look thin and light but they do a great job at trapping heat, that birds maximize by plumping up their feathers, making them look fat and cute. They will also find shelter and some birds that are normally solitary will snuggle up with other birds to keep warm. Birds must also eat a lot of food to make enough energy to generate heat. However, in the depths of winter food is usually difficult to find, with most of autumn’s bounty being depleted.

Many New Zealanders give their feathered friends a helping hand by providing food, but there is no clear evidence that shows this is beneficial in the long run. Feeding birds does however make us appreciate birds more, can encourage conservation efforts, and creates a warm fuzzy feeling inside. If you do wish to feed the birds hang nectar feeders filled with sugar water, which will feed native birds such as tuis and bellbirds. Fruit will also help many of our native birds. Non native birds such as sparrows and finches eat nuts and seeds. Feeding non native birds can be detrimental in the long term for our native birds as the non natives may compete for food, nest sites and territory, capiche?

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Naturally birds should be able to get everything they need without human intervention, but human activity, like farming, has caused destruction of bird habitat. The Queenstown Lakes District is especially barren of native beneficial trees and shrubs that are essential for a healthy population of birds. Rather than hanging out feeders it is much more beneficial to support revegetation projects and choose bird friendly plants for your green space.

Here is a list of our top 10 plants to help native birds survive the colder weather in the Queenstown Lakes District.

  1. Kowhai

South Island Kowhai Trees / Sophora microphylla or North Island Kowhai Trees / Sophora tetraptera flower in spring and are favourites for bellbirds and tuis. NZ pigeons love the foliage of the North Island Kowhai. Most smaller gardens can house a Dragon’s gold Kowhai or Dwarf kowhai. Click here to learn more about Kowhai.

2. Olearia

Olearia do not provide food directly to birds but they do encourage lots of insects, which in turn feed birds like fantails, silvereyes and bellbirds. There are many varieties for any location, from the endangered Olearia hectorii to the small ball shaped Olearia nummarifolia.

3. Winter flowering camellia and flowering cherry trees

These two species of exotic plants can really help nectar feeders such as tuis and bellbirds. They will also help any early emerging bees and insects.

4. Miro – Prumnopitys ferruginea

A large slow growing tree provides canopy and cover for many bird and plant species. Hangs onto berries well into winter which are eaten by NZ pigeons.

5. Native broom

Provides food for bees and insects. NZ pigeons will also feed on foliage in winter.

6. Mountain beech and large evergreen trees.

Large evergreen trees such as the mountain beech provide sought after leaf cover and shelter against the cold weather. Leaf litter also provides a habitat for insects which are eaten by tomtits, robins and fantails.

7. Coprosma

There are many species of Coprosma and they all bear fruit in autumn. While they technically don’t always feed in winter they help massively in getting birds ready for the coming season. With 53 different types of coprosma there’s one for every garden or patio.

8. Tree lucerne

The tree lucerne is fantastic for tuis and bellbirds that love the white pea flowers while the NZ pigeon dines on the leaves.

9. Mapou aka. Myrsine australis

Flowering in spring or late winter in warmer climes. Bellbirds and tuis feed on the flowers and the berries feed many birds in summer.

10. Corokia cotoneaster

Tiny yellow flowers in spring are are well needed food source for nectar feeders and the berries are formed in autumn.

For more bird friendly plants follow this link (please keep in mind, some plants won’t grow in Queenstown).

http://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/conservation-activities/attract-birds-to-your-garden/what-to-plant/

The bad news is that most of these plants shouldn’t be planted in winter but planting some bird friendly plants gives you another reason to look to spring. The best thing to do now is to get some nectar feeders and leave leaf litter on the soil as this provides shelter for insects – lazy gardeners rejoice!

 

Photos taken in Queenstown by David Reese.

 

 

Is grass grub damaging your lawn?

A Grass grub infestation can be devastating to lawns leaving an aftermath of brown and yellow patches across the lawn. The best way to tell if you have grass grub damaging your lawn is to dig up a patch of turf and flip it over. When the grass grubs are doing the most damage they should be visible among the roots of your lawn. They will look like a 25mm white/creamy C shape with a brown head above six legs. A sign you have pests in the lawn is lots of bird activity.

To control the infestation a chemical control is advised. Females lay eggs shortly after they emerge from hibernation in spring. Therefore if you leave an infestation untreated you or your neighbour are more likely to have a problem next season. We recommend using Kiwicares Lawnguard Granules applied February – May. Applications outside of this time frame will be less effective as the grass grub will be too deep in the soil for the product to reach.

We always say that chemical controls should be a last resort, however there are no reliable organic controls. So if you want to avoid applying strong chemicals and damaging your soil life then prevention is what you need. Keep the lawn healthy by aerating and topdressing once a year and fertilize with organic options like blood and bone. Grass grub thrive in moist conditions so water less frequently but for longer, this will  encourage a stronger root system that can manage a little nibbling. Raising the height on your mower for spring will also discourage females trying to lay eggs and will also encourage deeper roots.

Encourage predators, which are mainly birds like starlings and blackbirds. These floor feeding birds appreciate fruit and mealworms on a floor feeder. However blackbirds are most attracted by leaf litter that they can turn over searching for insects and gardens with low shrubs and trees. Starlings are attracted to places with large trees that have enough space to hold a colony, although this can get a little noisy. Another predator of grass grub are said to be wasps which are usually attracted to woody plants and leaf litter.

Once you have controlled your infestation of grass grub you will need to resow any patches in either autumn or spring when the temperature is around 10 degrees celsius. Make sure to give the lawn a good rake first removing all the dead grass, this will also ‘fluff up’ the soil a little making germination easier. To save time it’s a good idea to also spray lawn weeds a few weeks before reseeding patches.

Easter Sale

Happy Easter! To celebrate the long weekend we are having an Easter sale. Grab some savings with 20% off exotic shrubs, 25% off roses, 25% off perennials and more. Ends Monday 4pm.

Easter opening times are:
Good Friday: 10 – 4pm
Saturday 15th: 9 – 5pm
Easter Sunday: 10 – 4pm
Easter Monday: 10 – 4pm

Rose Catalogue

All of our roses for the season will be with us by the end of August so have a look at our 2016 rose catalogue so you can plan your planting. Get in quick to avoid disappointment as once a variety is sold we may not be able to restock.

Click here for the catalogue >>>>>>> Rose catalogue 2016 <<<<<<<<<

Corokia / Korokio

Corokia, otherly known as the wire netting bush, are understated steadfast little shrubs. They can quite often be looked over for their large glossy leaved neighbours. From Autumn however Corokia really start to sparkle. Look out now for Corokia saturated with shiny red or yellow berries that will be luring native birds for a feast. The hardiest of the Corokia, Corokia cotoneaster, can be seen growing wild throughout the hillsides of Central Otago where they enjoy the sun and well draining alkaline soil. This evergreen shrub weathers the grueling winds, bitter frosts and lack of rain like a champion but will curl its toes up if sitting in too much moisture.

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Corokia are a beautiful feature in the winter garden, their twiggy frosted appearance reflect the icy landscape they inhabit. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a naturalised hillside at home, Corokia will be happy anywhere with sun and good drainage. They also make fantastic smaller clipped hedges that you could use to line a driveway or use at the back of a smaller border. The bronze coloured Corokia ‘Frosted Chocolate’ makes a bold contrast against other garden plants and flowers. For those bold enough you can even effectively Bonsai them. Spare a thought for the Corokia, helping our fellow birds through the winter to come.

Closed on Anzac Day

For all the gardeners wishing to make the most of the public holiday in the garden. Unfortunately we will be closed on Anzac day, Monday the 25th. Apologies for any inconvenience caused. You can bet the team be in our gardens catching up from the busy summer.

What to do in April

The colours of autumn are starting to appear now alongside the autumn frosts. April is a wonderful month of warm days and cool nights that make gardening a little bit easier. It’s time to turn from summer and look toward the coming winter.

Ornamentals:

Many bulbs are being planted but April has been warm so far. A rise in temperature will signal bulbs to flower. This can easily happen in the variable Queenstown weather, causing bulbs to flower in autumn rather than spring. To stop this, plant them at the correct depth: tulips 10cm, daffodils 15cm (depending on size of species) and crocuses about 5cm. It also depends where you are planting, if you are now getting some regular frosts in that area bulbs will be fine to plant, but if you’re in a warmer area like Kelvin Heights it may be better to wait until the end of April / start of May. Bulbs will not need to be put in the fridge either as Queenstown is its own fridge.

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Lift or cover Dahlias after frost has damaged the top of the plant. Most dahlia tubers will die if frosted, sometimes this doesn’t happen if the ground doesn’t freeze deep enough. However some areas do, so to stop the frost reaching them you can cover them with straw or a bundle of frost fleece. If you really don’t want to risk it you can dig them up, dry them out and then plant again in spring.

Improve soil conditions by adding sheep pellets or well rotted manure. The pellets and manure will break down gradually over winter making it ready for plant use in spring.

Overgrown perennials can be lifted and divided. There’s nothing better than free plants! This can’t be done with all plants, so if in doubt do a little google first.

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Veggies and fruit:

Garlic can be planted at the end of the month but we’ll tell you more in May.

Raspberries that are fruiting now will usually be autumn fruiting raspberries. Autumn fruiting raspberries can be pruned after fruiting into winter. They crop on new years growth so prune canes back to the ground. If you have a double cropping variety like ‘Aspiring’ then prune to a non – fruiting leaf as these will grow into your summer crop, prune out all older canes.

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Take hardwood cuttings of fruit bushes to increase your stock, potentially replacing older plants.

Keep harvesting your carrots and beetroot.

Not many plants will be worth germinating from seed now, except microgreens and sprouts. You can still plant many seedlings for a crop in winter or spring.

Lawn:

If your lawn was used frequently over summer or you have moss trying to over take then you should aerate. Do this by making 15cm holes in your lawn with your fork every 30cm, then top dress and fill the holes with a mix of compost and sand. If your soil is sandy make a mix that is predominantly compost. On the other hand if your soil is clay add more sand than compost.

Also hold off on that high nitrogen fertiliser going into winter (which is most lawn fertilisers). A feed high in potassium is better for stronger root growth and plant health. Grass is still a plant after all. Use sulphate of potash or kelp meal instead. Why not use your usual fert? High nitrogen fertilisers encourage quick soft growth, this soft growth is very susceptible to fungus which is more common in the wetter autumn weather. You’ll also only end up mowing more anyway. An added benefit of applying a potash feed is that you’ll make your grass more drought tolerant, which is essential for summer.

General maintenance:

Keep collecting fallen leaves from lawns, paths, drives and anywhere they’re not wanted. Remember, those leaves are the trees food source and a favourite for worms. So compost them!! If you really can’t leave them around the base of trees as a mulch and feed then make sure you give the trees a top dress with a rich compost, preferably home made. If you’ve just planted your trees then make sure you leave the base clear so you can top dress. Sowing a lawn around a young tree will make competition for the tree, if the tree doesn’t get enough nutrients each year it will slowly decline and find it difficult to defend against pests and diseases.

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Clean all your bird feeders and bird boxes. This is important to avoid the spread of disease.

Easter Weekend Sale

Make the most of the long Easter weekend and get into the garden. We’re celebrating Easter and the start of Autumn by having a sale all Easter weekend. Not to mention it’s our second year anniversary under new ownership! Come see the team and grab a bargain.

Easter weekend opening hours:

Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Monday open, 10am – 4pm

Saturday 26th open, 9am – 5pm.

 

Seed swap

We will be hosting a seed swap come September. We’re letting you know now so you have plenty of time to harvest those seeds of your prize winning pumpkin. Never heard of a seed swap? The clue’s in the name.

A seed swap is an event where people can swap seeds they have collected or have stored at the back of the cupboard. It is an opportunity for the community to come together, exchange knowledge and develop much needed bio-diversity.

What’s so good about a seed swap?

First of all, it’s free! If you’ve got seeds that is. Second, you get to talk to lot’s of lovely gardeners who understand how frustrating growing things can be and can swap tips to get the best tasting crops around. Third, you expand the biodiversity by continuing seeds that may not be commercially available in the country. Also if you collect seed locally over plant generations you will have plants that are more adapted to the local climate. You could even get plants that are unique to the area. Those are just a few examples.

What do you need to do to get involved?

Collect seeds! Of course. When collecting seeds make sure that they are dry and stored in a paper bag or glass jar. Label them with their age, what they are and a few tips on growing. You could also add where you collected them from, or if they are organic.

What will happen?

Come to the garden centre and donate your seed at the seed swap desk where it will be checked for label and seed quality. You will be given a sticker indicating if you’ve been a busy seed collector or not. You can still come if you haven’t collected lots or any seed just give a small coin donation. Once you’ve donated your seed, get swapping and chatting to your fellow gardeners. Any seeds left at the end will be donated to a local charity, school or organisation.

If you have lot’s of seed to swap and would like to have a table so you sit and chat to your fellow swappers let us know.

Dates are still to be confirmed until nearer the time and details are subject to change. If you have any questions or would like to get involved contact us at info@shotovergardencentre.co.nz