Winter is a time when gardeners take a break from outdoor activities as dictated by the weather. It may appear frozen for months on end in the garden, but it doesn't mean that everything has come to a halt.
Herbaceous plants along with deciduous trees and shrubs become dormant in the winter. This dormancy is required because they are incapable of using water which could freeze and burst the cells that surround it. The evergreens, however, have special adaptations that allow them to photosynthesize on warm sunny days and to even take up water when the ground is not frozen.
Likewise, most of our wildlife do not have the luxury of taking the winter off. Their main chores are keeping fueled up to sustain the cold and wet days and nights. This is where our native plants play an important role. Many of the plants we have chosen for the native garden have seeds or berries that provide food for small mammals and birds throughout the winter. These are the foods our native wildlife are adapted to eat to sustain themselves during these hard times. Northern flickers and chickadees can be seen eating the waxy fruits of bayberry. Other native shrubs like winterberry, chokeberry, and sumac also hold onto their fruits into the winter until they are discovered by a blue jay or a flock of hungry cedar waxwings that can devour the fruits in a single afternoon.
It is the sweet and fleshy part of many berries that is consumed by the animals, leaving the hard seeds inside the berry to pass through the animal's digestive system and get deposited with a bit of fertilizer to await spring and subsequent germination. Other plants release their seeds throughout the winter, and we see them dispersed across the surface of the snow until they are discovered by mice and squirrels. These visible seeds are consumed immediately for energy.
While we are inside resting from the work of gardening, the plants we have nurtured are providing for the wildlife that don't have a warm place to sit and contemplate warmer days to come.