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Down the Garden Path: Answering questions on birdseed and firewood

Birdseed and firewood are two common topics that come up this time of year. Both take some planning to be successful.

Feeding the birds means starting earlier than later. Birds need to know early on that there will be something to eat on a regular basis if you want them to hang around in your yard.

Rather than buying seed that has a little bit of everything for every bird out there, consider seed that will be more likely to attract your favorite birds. This can be more cost effective, and unwanted seed will not end up on the ground or patio attracting ground squirrels and other four-legged critters.

To go along with the choices in birdseed is the need to have the right kind of feeder. The birds will be dependent on those feeders throughout the winter months and it can mean their death if you abruptly stop.

Most think of feeding the birds, fewer think about supplying water too. Consider birdbaths that have a heating element to keep them from icing solid.

Now on to firewood. Seasoned firewood means it has been cut and split (for logs over six inches in diameter) and drying for a long time. A clue is the gray color on the ends of a log. Check marks showing moisture loss. Firewood should be around 20 to 25 percent moisture to burn well and limit smoke.

Now that you have purchased that well-seasoned wood, you need to keep it dry before you burn it. Make it easier to uncover and recover or you will find yourself leaving the cover off and allowing the wood to reabsorb the water you paid to remove.

As a rule, the heavier the firewood – given the same moisture content – the more heat it will give off. This is something to consider if you have choices of species when you purchase your firewood.

It is never a good idea to burn “green” wood in the home fireplace as it will take heat away from the room and can add substantially to the creosote buildup in the chimney. Outdoors, it can make for so much smoke you cannot sit close enough to enjoy the fire.

Once the home fireplace is being used regularly, only bring in as much firewood as you expect to burn in a week. It takes more than a week usually to “thaw out” any outdoor insects that have decided to hide out in cracks and crevices on the bark.

This practice will keep the insects from wandering around – and while they’re not likely to do any damage indoors, will keep family peace.

As an additional precaution, when stacking the firewood next to the outside wall of the home, be sure to leave a few inches between for good air movement. That also provides that air barrier for insects.

• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with “This Week in the Garden” on Facebook at The 2017 Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is open through the month of October on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823 or at

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