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Vigorous vegetation: Landscape project provides food for songbirds

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

COVINGTON -- Now that fall's in full swing, it won't be long before lush vegetation starts turning brown and dying. That's already happening at the landscaped site surrounding the welcome sign off Interstate 20 at exit 90.

But Newton County Landscape Architect Debbie Bell is hoping that the community won't be frustrated that the dead vegetation won't be cut back for many months. There's a good reason for that, Bell said: The dried seed heads are an excellent food source for songbirds, including American goldfinches, pine siskin, sparrows, juncos, chickadees, towhees, red-winged blackbirds and cardinals.

"A lot of those are year-round residents" of the area, Bell said.

In addition to finding the seed heads of wildflowers yummy, the birds also like the seeds from the switchgrass, she said.

Around February, cutting back of dead vegetation and pruning of trees will begin, but until then, it's being left as a feast for the birds.

The landscaping was done through a Gateway Grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation. The grant is to beautify DOT rights of way and gateways into communities. One criteria is that recipients must plant native plants that are adaptive to the area and tolerant to extreme conditions such as drought.

Trees, including star magnolia, red bud and serviceberry, were planted, along with wildflowers such as purple coneflower, blanketflower and black-eyed Susans. Volunteer gardeners, community service workers and inmate crews did the planting, and the project was a joint venture between Newton County, the city of Covington and Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful. No local matching funds were required, although in-kind services have been provided.

The planting took place in the fall of 2009 and Bell said she expects the blooms will be especially vibrant next year.

"I think next spring and summer they will really put on a good show. Plants take time to mature and trees to grow a little more," she said.