Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Cleaning in the Garden

(Special Guest Blog by David's Wife)

Spring is here and what better way to celebrate than by puttering around in the garden? It’s a good time to see actual plant growth (the new leaves are almost here) and do some tidying up. Here’s a recap of our Big Garden Clean Up Putter over at Home ReSource.

Sidebar: you may recall that David and I designed and installed the native plant landscaping at Home ReSource as volunteers. We think the world of HR and want the landscaping to reflect their mission of sustainable living.

Our tasks for the day:

  1. Pick up trash that had been hiding under the snow
  2. Trim back shrubs for better shaping
  3. Use the trimmed branches for creating (or reinforcing) brush piles for wildlife
  4. Install birdhouse
  5. Repair a bird bath

In the above photo, David installs a bird house above a landscape island in which the trash has been removed, shrubs trimmed, and a brush pile created. It went really well. If you live in Missoula, this is the time to clean up. It was fun seeing the staff at HR and they provided us with some good natured high school kids who were working off a community service requirement. So the whole thing went quickly and easily.

Here’s some more detail.

Step 1: Self explanatory. It’s depressing when the snow comes off to see how much crud was hiding under there for months. But it’s really satisfying to throw it away. Another positive note: David found my Leatherman Mini under some snow. I didn’t even realize I had lost it. Thanks David!

Step 2: David trimmed back unruly branches of Wood’s rose (it just makes them stronger- top photo) and snowberry (just for shaping purposes- bottom photo).

A few wayward branches of chokecherry, shrubby cinquefoil and Ponderosa pines got cut too. I want to stress that this trimming is for aesthetic reasons. Of course, these native plants do just fine out in the world without gardeners showing up to trim them. But when we use native plants in a landscape setting, it is perfectly reasonable to impose a little bit of order on them.

Step 3: The high school kids and I took all the branches and piled them for brush piles. These are nice little refuges for ground feeding birds, insects (like butterfly chrysalises) and who knows what else. There isn’t really any way to mess up a brush pile, but David has directions on his website:

Here’s one of the new brush piles, near Wyoming Street.

Soon creatures will be piling in there for refuge from all kinds of things (weather, stray cats, hungry birds). You know who loves a good brush pile?

The Mourning Cloak, Montana’s state butterfly. It spends the whole winter as an adult, stashed away in a brush pile somewhere.

Step 4: Install a bird house. If you want birds to nest in your yard this spring, PUT UP YOUR BOXES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Birds are looking for nest sites now. Read more at

Here’s David installing a nest box above the parking lot at Home ReSource today. It’s mounted about 9 feet off the ground and facing east. It could be used by chickadees, nuthatches or wrens.

If you haven’t put up a bird house yet STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING and go over to Home ReSource, because they sell bird houses for native species made entirely out of recycled materials. They even come with sawdust (for stuffing the box, making it nest-y-er for birds) and an instruction sheet.

They have a lot of great garden items over at the Home ReSource ReVamp Store. In addition to bird houses, they have Mason bee houses, a big garden cart, and creative toys for the kids to play with outside (stick horses by Josh Decker).

Step 5: Repair the bird bath. Last summer David installed a bird bath made from a re-purposed light shade, and connected to the drip irrigation system so it was always fresh and full. Unfortunately the glass bath didn't survive the winter, so he made a new one. Also out of glass. We'll see how it goes. Bird baths are one of the best things you can provide for birds, especially in winter.

As you can see from the photos, it was a pretty grey day here in Missoula Montana. But it was fun to get into the garden and work. When you are up close with the plants, you can tell for sure that they are in fact growing.

We plan to have some clean up days at some other public native plant gardens around town, including but not limited to the 8th Street Pocket Park. So keep your eye out for updates, especially over on Facebook. Don't forget to LIKE us!


  1. Nice to meet Mrs. Montana Wildlife Gardener! You two are inspiring.

  2. Hi,

    I wanted to email you in regards in any possible advertising opportunities you may have with your website...I would be very interested in working something out with you if you have anything at the moment. I'm looking to earn support for a national cause and get visibility for the "plant 1 billion trees" project. Let me know if you would be interested at all in supporting this cause. I look forward to talking to you soon!


  3. Birdbaths made out of the biggest plant saucers you can find work great - just put them on a stump and the birds love them! The plastic ones come in nice colors and they are easy to clean. My chickadees think that they work better as a bird bath, but whatever....

  4. Intriguing topic you choose to write on. I like the way you express yourself, how you underline, so to speak, specific areas, on which you want the reader's attention. Great stuff, thanks for sharing.

  5. I don't have a bird bath in my yard. I already finished also installing the bird nest beside my garden, done trimming my lovely wild flowers too and fixing everything in my "Little paradise" gazebo. Thanks for your tips in making bird baths. I will give it a try. I'm sure the birds will like this.