Master Gardener Sue Morris: Fill bird feeders, consider a compost pile, assess your garden, wrap trees

Many fall tasks looming: It's a good time to fill your bird feeders and wrap young trees. A compost pile could be started with leaves this fall. And if you haven't reviewed your garden year, there's still time to do a walk-through and make notes for next spring.


Now is the time to get those bird feeders filled if you want to attract and feed the birds this winter. There are not many birds at the feeders this time of year, but living in the country, they have a plethora of food all around us. With the crops being harvested so early this year, that food source will be ending soon.

Suet seems to be the food of choice right now. If possible, it’s a good idea to have a water source for the birds as well.

Think about starting a compost pile this fall when you are picking up leaves. (Avoid black walnut leaves and debris — it contains juglone which is toxic to many plants).

Fallen tree leaves contain lots of carbon and other minerals that trees’ roots have pulled up from deep in the ground.

If you have a sturdy tomato cage, that is all you need to store leaves over winter. Pack them in and they will break down over winter.


In the spring there will be leaf mold in the middle of the cage. This works well to mix into container plantings as a substitute for peat moss. It also works well for mulch in your garden next spring.

If you don’t want to do this, there is always the traditional way of composting, layering with green material and kitchen scraps. (No meat products though — will attract unwanted varmints.)

Have you been gardening with your camera this summer? It’s amazing how quickly we forget over winter about what went well and what needs “fixing” next spring.

Another idea is to walk through your gardens with a tape recorder and record observations and ideas for the coming year. I.e., the daylilies need to be divided.

Also keep a plan of your vegetable bed from prior years — this makes rotating your crops easier. Tomatoes and peppers shouldn’t be in the same spot for three years.

If you have not already done so, it is time to wrap all the new or smooth-barked trees to protect them from sunscald or animals.

Sunscald happens in late winter when the sun rays are getting stronger. The afternoon sun reflecting from the snow warms the tree and this activates the sap. If the sun goes behind a cloud, the air temperature drops very rapidly. This traps the moisture in the trunk and, as it freezes, it expands and causes the trunk to split. Evidence of this is a long vertical crack along the southwest side of a tree.

Wrapping trees protects them from these extreme temperature fluctuations.


Commercial tree wrap is a good product and can be used several years if it is promptly removed each spring. Strips of fabric or gunnysacks can also be used.

Hardware cloth around trunks of young trees prevents mouse and rabbit damage. This cloth needs to be pushed several inches into the soil.

When mulching trees, keep the mulch at least 6 inches from the trunk as mulching does encourage mice.

Trees that should be wrapped are all young fruit trees, maples, mountain ash and any other smooth bark trees.

A relatively new idea from the University of Minnesota is to use flat boards that are 8 to 10 inches wide, held in place on the southwest side of the tree. These should be in place by Thanksgiving and removed by Easter.

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDEN
What To Read Next
Submissions to the weekly Church Calendar published Saturdays should be emailed to by noon Wednesday.
Events and classes scheduled in the outdoors, gardening and farming. Submit your event at by noon on Tuesday.
This week, gardening columnist Don Kinzler fields questions about planting potatoes, rabbit-resistant shrubs, and how to prevent tomato blossom end rot.
Trends include vegetable gardens in raised pods and a continuing surge in using native plants and grasses.