Fickle spring just one of the challenges for backyard gardeners

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Heinz Gaylord is one of the millions of Americans feeding wild birds each year. This year Gaylord noticed something right away.

"I noticed that thistle seed, in particular, went way up and wasn't always easy to get," recalled the president of the Pineywoods Audubon Society. That's because the best Nyger seed comes all the way from India. A 50 pound bag costs up to $80 in some places. Good thing the birds with such expensive tastes, such as gold finch, are leaving East Texas. Species that will eat the cheaper grains, like cardinals, are flying in.

Next spring challenge are warm days, followed by cold snaps. It's putting the azaleas on their time.

"And so they're a little confused," said Barbara Stump, director of the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Trail in Nacogdoches. "They're blooming a bit early this year."

Not good for the thousands of visitors following the chamber calendar to take photographs of loved ones among the flowers. Children are often photographed, but one woman was in the garden photographing her pet rabbits in an Easter basket.

Luckily, Stump's management of over  600 varieties of azaleas will provide color for well over a month, but not without water.

"If they need water, water your azaleas," pleaded Stump.

The Nacogdoches Azalea Trail officially starts on Saturday. A downtown plant sale and tours of the gardens will kick off the month long event. Visitors will have to contend with cold temperatures, even though days before the thermometer is over 80 degrees.

For nature lovers on a budget you could call this the backyard blues. What you don't spend on birdseed, you're going to spend on water. Here's some cost saving tips. Birds are attracted to bird baths and back yard ponds. They also like natural habitat with all kinds of berries.

The azaleas won't need watering so much if you keep them well mulched.

"Pine straw is perfect," advises Stump.

So enjoying the blooms and the birds can be affordable.