For bird feed — If you want to help keep birds alive during the winter by feeding them, black oil sunflower has the most universal appeal. White proso millet is second in popularity and is the favorite of dark-eyed juncos and other sparrows as well as the red-winged blackbird, says Ward Upham of K-State.
"As you become more interested in bird feeding, you may want to use more than one feeder to attract specific species of birds," he says, giving this list of bird species with the grains they prefer:
* Cardinal, evening grosbeak and most finch species: sunflower seeds, all types.
* Rufous-sided towhee: white proso millet
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* Dark-eyed junco: white and red proso millet, canary seed, fine cracked corn.
* Many sparrow species: white and red proso millet.
* Bluejay: peanut kernels and sunflower seeds of all types.
* Chickadee and tufted titmouse: peanut kernels, oil (black) and black-striped sunflower seeds.
* Red-breasted nuthatch: oil (black) and black-striped sunflower seeds.
* Brown thrasher: hulled and black-striped sunflower seeds.
* Red-winged blackbird: white and red proso millet plus German (golden) millet
* Mourning dove: oil (black) sunflower seeds, white and red proso plus German (golden) millet.
Of course, adding a heater to a birdbath so you can also offer water will also draw birds and help them out a lot in the cold.
Poinsettia power — I heard a happy story about a 2009 poinsettia that just keeps giving, and without any special care. Emma Walton of Belle Plaine said she paid $10 for the plant.
"It was always a healthy plant and even after the holidays it continued to brighten our sun room. It liked the sunlight, and it became fun for me to see how long I could keep it going.
"Now it's almost a friend, and I couldn't throw it out. My grandsons even accidentally broke a large branch off, but it just kept surviving.
"I didn't want to try the putting-it-in-the-dark routine, so I just kept it in the east window of the heated sun room and watered it occasionally. During the holidays some of the leaves started turning red, and they continue to do so, making it an attractive plant. Ironically the leaves that started turning first were exposed toward the sun.
"I would be interested to know what other people have experienced with their poinsettias. The one I got this year is still looking very healthy and is just too cheerful to throw out. My sunroom will not be able to hold very many though."
If anybody else has a poinsettia story to share, consider me the repository, and send it along.
Shark talk — Traci Kallhoff, education manager at Exploration Place, will be at Botanica on Wednesday to talk about the new exhibit at Exploration Place, "Megalodon: The Largest Shark That Ever Lived." The lunchtime lecture is at 12:15 and is included in Botanica membership or admission. Truffles will serve lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for $7.
Family Fun Fair — Botanica's free day of fun for families will be Feb. 5 this year. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., families can enjoy free admission to the gardens and participate in more than 10 activities, including making origami butterflies, bird treat strings and grass heads.
Visitors can also take a winter explorers walk and see the berries, barks and foliage in the gardens. The first 75 families will also receive a free birdhouse.