6 Tips for Your Winter Backyard Habitat - Columbia Land Trust
How to care for backyard wildlife this winter season.


The winter months provide us with an opportunity to appreciate the basic elements that make up our gardens, which we take for granted during the flashier seasons of spring, summer, and fall. This is the time of year to learn new plants based on their branching structure, twigs, cones, and bark textures. For example, have you noticed that the bark on that ponderosa pine in your backyard is made up of thousands of uniquely shaped pieces that look like they came from a jigsaw puzzle?

In addition to enjoying your garden in new ways, winter also provides an opportunity to help out wildlife that live near you. Here are a few tips for caring for your garden and those who call it home:

  1. The Portland and Vancouver area is home to quite a few birds that overwinter here. Birds become reliant on water sources and will suffer if the sources they visit every day freeze over. If you have a bird bath consider getting a heater for it, which will keep the water from freezing. They are easy to install and can be found at many garden centers. You can also place plastic bowls of water (birds prefer shallow ones) out on days with freezing temperatures. You’ll be rewarded with prime birdwatching opportunities!
  2. Birds can have more difficulty finding food in the winter. Keep birdfeeders stocked with fresh food, especially high-fat suet.
  3. Place a light bulb close to hummingbird feeders to keep the sugar water thawed and provide a warm spot for these enchanting little creatures.
  4. Winter winds are tough on plants and can remove water from the leaves faster than the roots can absorb it, especially with evergreens. If the forecast is calling for cold temperatures and dry winds, water your plants beforehand. It may sound counter intuitive, but water provides the plants with needed moisture and acts as insulation for the roots. Moist soils also stay warmer than dry soil.
  5. To provide additional protection against winter weather place a layer of mulch around your plants to provide insulation and protect them against the elements. Don’t forget that many pollinators and other beneficial insects live underground, so leave open ground free of mulch so that they don’t get buried alive.
  6. Plan for planting in the spring. Now is the time to cozy up with a native plant list and daydream about what you’d like to plant in your yard after the soil thaws. Planting natives supports a broader food web, which makes a real difference to all wildlife in our region. Local nurseries are carrying a greater variety and quantity of native plants and will start selling them in late spring. So take this opportunity to create your wish list!

Happy winter gardening!

Susie Peterson
Backyard Habitat Certification Program Manager

The Backyard Habitat Certification Program is a joint partnership between Columbia Land Trust and the Audubon Society of Portland.