A microclimate enticed the first blooms of 2016

One month from today it will be spring, but a microclimate enticed the first blooms of 2016 in my zone 6b landscape today.

Crocus are always the first blooms in my gardens. These, located near the front steps, get strong south-western sun exposure.

First blooms of 2016

A microclimate enticed the first blooms of 2016

This location is a warm microclimate in my landscape, located near hardscape (on either side of granite steps and a concrete paver walkway). The hardscape soaks in and holds heat from the sun causing the adjacent soil to warm earlier than soils not near hardscape. The warming soil entices crocus bulbs into early bloom.

Another warm microclimate is on the opposite side of the house along the foundation wall. Notice the daffodils in the photo below already have a bud (lighter green on the right).

First daffodil bud of 2016.

First daffodil bud of 2016 emerges in a warm microclimate.

Though planted along the north-east side of the house where full sun does not reach intensely until mid- to late-spring, these daffodils are always the first spring bulbs to emerge. The soil next to the foundation of the heated house warms earlier than soil in garden beds farther from the foundation.

The crocus and daffodil bulbs, even of the same variety, planted in chillier sections of the gardens will not bloom until spring.

A microclimate is a section of a landscape that isslightly warmer, cooler, drier or wetter. Learn more in this earlier post on microclimates. Identify any microclimate in your landscape to allow you to use them to your gardening advantage.

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Birds at the feeder

When the ground is blanketed in snow and frigid temperatures reign, it’s fun to watch birds at the feeder.

The colors of birds’ feathers brighten the view when flowers cannot. Red cardinals often grab the show.

A cardinal, juncos, and woodpeckers feeding as snow falls.

A cardinal, juncos, and woodpeckers feeding as snow falls.

Cardinal and juncos.

Cardinal and juncos.

I love the florescent blue of bluebirds’ feathers. The color shows best as bluebirds fly to and from the feeder and the ground below.

Bluebirds at the feeders and perched atop the pergola.

Bluebirds at the feeders and perched atop the pergola.

Bluebirds dining on dried mealworms and thistle seed.

Bluebirds dining on dried mealworms and thistle seed.

Woodpeckers abound at the suet cakes, performing an aerial ballet as they swoop from the feeder to nearby shrubs and trees.

Male and female downy woodpeckers, a male red-bellied woodpecker, and juncos.

Male and female downy woodpeckers, a male red-bellied woodpecker, and juncos.

Male hairy woodpecker (left), smaller downy woodpeckers, and juncos.

Male hairy woodpecker (left), smaller downy woodpeckers, and juncos.

Sometimes you get to see something really adorable, like this cardinal pair sharing seed.

Cardinal pair.

Cardinal pair. 

Other visitors include tufted titmouse, bluejays, chicadees, finches (house and gold), a wren and an occasional sparrow.

I plant many shrubs that provide berries for birds – winterberry (Ilex verticillata), holly (Ilex crenata ‘Compacta’, I. crenata ‘Helleri’, I. meserveae ‘Blue Maid’), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), and various junipers. Birds enjoy the berries of a few small trees I’ve added – viburnums (Viburnum acerifolium, Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariessii’), and dogwoods (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’, C. alternifolia). Plus, I leave seed heads on many perennials to give birds additional food through cold winter months.

But, when snow covers the ground and temperatures dip to frigid levels (-11 degrees F. over last night and just 8 degrees F. at noon today), it’s nice to provide a bit of extra food for overwintering birds.

It’s nice for the birds and nice for the gardener planning for warmer days, knowing that neighboring birds will feed on emerging caterpillars and insects come spring.

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