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Down the Garden Path: Fall FAQs: Feathered Friends and Fireplaces

Richard Hentschel
Richard Hentschel

With fall well under way and winter approaching, these two topics are popular: how best to help our feathered friends through the winter and tips on firewood for indoor use.

Both projects seem simple enough, yet because some level of planning is in order to be sure all goes well, starting early is the best way to go.

Feathered Friends

Feeding the birds needs to start sooner than you may think. 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. Now is the time to get those feeders up and secured for the winter.

To keep waste to a minimum, consider seed that is more likely to attract your favorite birds.

This can be more cost effective, as unwanted seed ends up on the ground or patio, attracting ground squirrels and other four-legged critters.

Once you choose your birdseed, you need to have the right kind of feeder. You may end up with several feeders catering to a variety of birds.

While it is important to start early, be ready to feed all winter long to truly help our feathered friends.

Of those feeding the birds, few may think about supplying water too. Consider birdbaths that have a heating element to keep them from icing solid so water is available all winter as well.

Firewood & Fireplaces

It may not be critical to have the best firewood to burn in the outdoor fire pit, but it is a different story for the indoor fireplace.

Choose seasoned firewood that has been cut and split (for logs over 6 inches in diameter) and dried to reduce moisture content. Clues are a gray color on the ends of a log and check marks showing moisture loss.

Firewood should have around 20% to 25% moisture content to burn well and limit smoke.

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.

If you have purchased your firewood, keep it dry before you burn it.

Make it easier to uncover and re-cover, 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 provide. This is something to consider if you have choices of species when you purchase your firewood.

A few additional tips: 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 create so much smoke you cannot sit close enough to enjoy the fire.

Also, only bring inside as much firewood as you expect to burn in one week. This is because it usually takes more than a week to “thaw out” any outdoor insects that have decided to hide out in cracks and crevices on the bark.

Keeping to this rule should keep the insects from wandering around. While they are not likely to cause damage indoors, they can be a nuisance.

Whether you plan to watch the birds in your yard and/or gather around the fireplace, be sure to plan ahead and make smart choices to enjoy both activities this coming winter.

• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. This column originates on his blog at You also can stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with This Week in the Garden videos at and the Green Side Up podcast at The Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is closed for the season and will resume in spring 2020.

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