Winter is a good time to plan to enhance your garden with plants that will attract birds all year long.
It takes more than feeders, birdhouses and a birdbath for a truly bird-friendly garden. Birds need a complete habitat that includes food, shelter, nesting areas and perching spots.
A good bird garden tends to have more of a natural look. Use natural areas that have different vertical levels, each attracting and providing something important to different bird species. Some birds prefer the canopy of tall trees while others perch in understory trees and shrubs. Different species of birds have varying requirements and preferences for nesting, eating and shelter.
Try to create as many of these levels as possible in your backyard bird refuge to attract a larger variety of birds. Even open areas of soil can be beneficial by providing an area for birds to take a dust bath.
Select plants to provide food for birds at different times of year. Fruits of different plants ripen in different seasons. For example, serviceberries provide spring-ripening fruit, red-twig dogwood attracts birds in the summer, while hawthorns and crabapples provide fruit in fall and winter.
Perennials such as purple coneflower and grasses such as prairie dropseed provide seed. Sunflowers are quick growing annual flowers that also produce seeds that are attractive to birds. Nectar-producing plants such as penstemon, Mexican bush sage and columbine are attractive to hummingbirds.
It is a good idea to include a mix of evergreens in your planting to provide year-round shelter for birds. When possible aesthetically, leave some dead branches on living trees to provide zones for the birds to perch on. Do prune any dead branches that are safety hazards.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.