Gardens that attract wildlife

With careful planning, any back yard can become a designated wildlife habitat -- and even earn a plaque from the National Wildlife Federation.  "Wildlife" in this context usually means birds and butterflies -- and if you want them, bees. All it takes to attract wildlife to your yard is to provide for their basic needs--food, shelter and water.

The best plan is to configure these three requirements in ways that serve multiple purposes in your landscape so that while attracting wildlife, you are also enhancing aesthetics with seasonal color and getting practical results like more shade. Give them what they need and they will show up.

Berries are high on the desirable list for most birds -- but not the varieties humans eat. Birds consume a much broader range of berries that include plants we think of as purely ornamental. Columnar buckthorn and cotoneaster are great examples.  Plants like buckthorn will also serve several purposes in addition to food. It can be strategically placed to screen out unsightly views and as a mature plant, it will also provide shelter.

Nectar is what attracts hummingbirds and butterflies and they can get it from both annual and perennial flowers. Marigold, zinnia, verbena, liatris and black-eyed Susan are all great nectar-providing plants. Butterfly bush, as the name suggests, is another great choice.

Do you want bees?  Many gardeners want to attract bees for pollination; others don't want them around. Be aware that there are bee-attracting plants like Russian sage when you plan your garden.

Birds need places to nest and materials to build their nests. Besides trees, many birds build nests in shrubs and vines, like English ivy. Selecting nesting plants that also provide food takes care of two needs at once.  Also, think about the timing of the fruit. Since some trees produce berries early in the year and others produce in the winter, it's best to plant a combination of early to late fruiting plants. Finally, be sure to include some grasses in the garden that birds can use to build their nests.

Any container of water serves as a watering place and bird bath -- whether it's designed for that purpose or not. Most birds prefer shallow water that is two to 2 to 3 inches deep. Just be aware that standing water requires ongoing maintenance as water should be changed regularly to avoid mosquitoes and West Nile threats.

Pondless water features are a better choice for attracting wildlife because they do not require daily maintenance, are typically shallow and have moving water that thwarts mosquitoes. Pondless features are also the most water-conserving type of water feature.

Photo courtesy Barb Miller.



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