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Club Chronicles: Start planning your gardens as spring returns

Spring is around the corner, but there are still a few more days of winter.

What do gardeners do in winter? You might say “Not much!” But there’s a lot that needs to be done and can be done.

One of the best things to do for the garden is to test the soil.  If the soil needs pH or soil acidity adjustment, winter is the best time to modify it.

Determine what should be pruned, transplanted or removed; decide whether you need more or fewer trees and shrubs to create a balanced look. Make a list of what needs to be done between winter and spring, which will help you organize your gardening activities.

Winter is one of the best times to mulch a garden. The compost nourishes the plants’ roots and helps control weeds.  Take a close look at your beds and weed them using your hands or a stand-up hoe.

When the weather keeps you inside, spend some time with plant catalogs. Winter is the perfect time to lay out next year’s garden, and plant catalogs are filled with suggestions.

When planning and planting for next year, just don’t focus on spring, summer and fall; make sure that you include something for a winter garden that will provide cover and food for birds.

Birds and berries add colorful warmth to a winter garden. Birds are wild and free; they can also be cold and hungry, especially during the long dark days of winter. They like shrubs with long-lasting, edible berries.

Hollies are the first choice for birds. These shrubs provide great cover and nesting sites as well as edible berries. Because the berries open at different rates, even on the same bush, they can provide food for at least a couple months.

Birds that forage on holly berries include robins, cedar waxwings, blue jays, mocking birds, Eastern bluebirds, red-bellied woodpeckers and brown thrashers.

The cherry laurel evergreen shrub or small tree also attracts birds with its black, shiny fruits.  They offer an interesting contrast to the reds, oranges and yellows of the hollies.

Others include the Pyracantha and Nandina, which attract a huge feathered following, such as cardinals, purple finches, woodpeckers and robins.

Birds have the freedom of the air, but only you can offer them the freedom of your garden.