Ask the Gardener: Thoughts on feeding the birds, but not the deer –

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Carol Stocker – Globe Correspondent
November 3, 2021 9:17 am
What to do this week: It has been a beautiful, long, wet, and windy autumn. Continue your fall cleanup. If you have a municipal composter or even just a fenced-in corner, you can compost seed and disease-free leaves, foliage, grass clippings, annuals, and pine needles. You also can compost coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded paper, washed eggshells, and vegetable and fruit waste. Don’t compost weed seeds or invasive plants or anything containing fat or protein, such as dairy products, cooked food with sauces, oil, or bones. Don’t compost dog or cat poop or kitty litter. Store outdoor furniture and decorations that are not winter-proof. Cut and bag diseased perennial foliage such as mildewed phlox, but leave plants with seeds for birds such as sunflowers, rudbeckias, coreopsis, and asters standing through the winter. In fact, more and more people are leaving their gardens standing as winter food and cover for birds and then cleaning up in the spring.
Q. I have read they have not spotted the bird disease in Boston. Is it safe to start feeding birds again?
J.M., Dorchester
A. The Massachusetts Audubon Society says it’s OK to feed birds again. The mysterious disease that caused bird blindness and death last summer never appeared in New England. It seemed to be confined to states where large cicada broods hatched and perhaps infected the birds who ate them. So I am back to putting sunflower seeds in a feeder and seeing who turns up. It’s very rewarding. I also have just set up and plugged in a heated plastic birdbath that will provide much-needed water for birds when the temperatures are below freezing.
Q. Someone suggested small amounts of lime and powdered laundry detergent mixed in water to deter critters. Any thoughts?
M.B., Maynard
A. I would mix cayenne pepper instead of lime with diluted Ivory soap, especially on acid lovers like blueberry bushes. Hungry deer are our biggest problem, so I wrap the bottom 6 to 8 feet of their favorite evergreens, which include rhododendrons, yews, and hollies, with practically invisible black plastic deer fencing that I will remove in the spring after the deer have other greenery to browse. I also spray with Deer Out repellent, which smells like peppermint and lasts many weeks, if not the whole winter.
Q. Should I try the Virginia creeper for a trellis I am making to cover an opening between mature hemlocks?
D.B., Westwood
A. This is a great native vine, so try it. But you may need to cut it back frequently because Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is rambunctious. It likes to run high up into trees like a flag up a flagpole. Every once in a while I need to clip it and pull it down. But I let it ramble free in the fall when it has blue berries for the birds and bright red foliage for me. People sometimes confuse it with poison ivy, but each compound leaf has five leaflets, not three, and it is harmless.
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