The lovely weather this autumn  is attributed to El Niño, an irregularly occurring climatic event. Southern Wisconsin is forecast to see, on average, a warmer, drier cold season. While we prepare for winter, plants and animals with whom we share our corner of Wisconsin do the same. Consider these special preparations for the El Niño winter ahead.
A mild winter can mean armies of garden pests next spring. To discourage them, cut back perennials and prune trees of dead wood. Leave shrubs uncut but watch for mice and voles who may nest around them.
Leave the leaves! Fallen leaves are natural mulch and compost. They are protection for such creatures as toads and salamanders, fellow soldiers against insect pests. If you rake, wait until spring and watch out for the good guys who might be hiding.
To seed native species, wait until there’s fallen snow, then scatter seeds across the top. These plants need cold. They sink down into the snow to soften before they germinate next spring. Spread them and leave them uncovered before the ground freezes, and you will feed a variety of critters.
Fresh, open water is a scarcity in winter. An all-season water feature in your landscape is fantastic for creatures great and small. But a heated birdbath or container of water replenished every few days will do the trick.
Keep watering your vegetation until the ground freezes. New trees and evergreens especially need lots of water to get through winter. The upcoming El Niño may be the strongest yet, and with lower precipitation, your own watering could really make a difference.
To feed or not to feed? Birds, yes, with often-filled feeders and suet to build fat and provide energy to face winter’s cold. Feeding deer, coyotes, and larger mammals is not recommended.
Elizabeth G Fagan is a writer and artist who resides in southeastern Wisconsin—a place she calls Lake Michigan’s Left Coast. She’s endured the curse of being a writer since attending a private arts high school in Connecticut, where the bad habit was encouraged. She also became a photographer at that high school. She spent all the time she could in the school’s darkroom, creating black and white images from film. Alas, a second bad habit acquired.
Fagan is passionate about the natural world and its creatures. She highly recommends the work of Chicago-based nature photographer Mark Swanson.
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