Gardening for Wildlife
From the Davis Enterprise, Spring 200, and Duck Days – 2/18/01
Gardens aren't just for flowers and food
....with proper plant selection and care we can can attract birds, bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects to share our outdoor spaces. Birds and butterflies are a pleasure to look at, and bees help us get fruits and vegetables.
These tiny parasites and predators can help control pests and reduce the use of pesticides. Learning to recognize these insects is very important, and the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Project has published an excellent guide, the Natural Enemies Handbook. Plants that attract beneficial insects include Sweet alyssum, Achillea (Yarrow), Ceanothus (Mountain lilac), Eriogonum (Buckwheat), Baccharis (Coyotebush), and Salix (willows--if you have room for them!).
Wild honeybees have been declining for several years, and some gardeners have experienced poor pollination of fruits and vegetables. Planting borage, rosemary, and other kitchen herbs near your vegetables will draw bees, as will allowing mustard to grow and flower nearby.
are easy to attract if you have a sunny location. You can provide nectar sources with flowers such as Asters, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Dianthus (pinks), Lavender, Snapdragons, and Sweet peas. Food sources for swallowtails include fennel and parsley, and their caterpillars are brightly striped.
For a list of plants that attract butterflies, Click here.
You need to provide four things to draw birds into your garden: food, water, nesting sites, and -- this is the most important, especially for birds-- cover. Just hanging out a bird feeder won't draw songbirds unless they feel safe, and that means being able to dart quickly into nearby dense foliage when you (or your cat) walk by.
We live out in the country, and when we bought our farm it was an open field with just a few very large trees around the house. The only birds we saw frequently were the field birds such as pheasants and quail, and the raptors, crows, and magpies that nested in the tall trees. As shrubs and flowers grew up the small songbirds began to move in. Planting dense, fast-growing shrubs for cover is the most effective way to draw songbirds into your yard.
Especially good for providing quick cover are Ceanothus (Mountain lilac) and Cistus (Rockrose), both of which are very drought tolerant and have showy flowers. Bamboo (noninvasive types only!) and wild or species roses are also very effective. Plants with berries draw songbirds in the winter, providing food and cover at the same time. Good examples are Cotoneasters, Heteromeles (Toyon), and Mahonia (Oregon grape).
It's important to know the different niches at which birds feed.
Ground feeders include sparrows, juncoes, meadowlarks, morning doves, robins, and field birds. It's easy to feed these--just throw some cracked corn, millet, or sunflower seeds on the ground, preferably near a big shrub.
Tabletop feeders are the familiar scrub jays, grosbeaks, and mockingbirds. Hanging bird feeders that have trays attached to catch fallen seed will attract these birds. These birds also like small fruits, as home orchard gardeners know--one of the most active parts of our garden is a small, weeping fruiting mulberry tree during the month of May--mockingbirds and jays are territorial, and the battles over the mulberry fruit are raucous! Our persimmon tree is active with magpies and cedar waxwings in the fall, harvesting most of the fruit for us. Cherries, especially pie cherries, are very attractive to many birds--much to the chagrin of home gardeners!
Treetrunk feeders--the little birds you see scurrying up and down tree trunks-- are insect-feeders, so we mainly provide water, and cover by planting fast-growing trees such as birches (Betula species), coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), or dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). These birds like to move quickly among the dense branches.
Flying insect-feeders such as swallows will be drawn to moving water in ponds and fountains. These water features also draw dragonflies, which are voracious whitefly eaters. The seed-eating birds are the ones we provide feeders for: finches, house finches, siskins, sparrows, and special feeders for hummingbirds. If your yard and neighborhood are new, these last are the easiest to attract, because they are least concerned about the lack of protective cover.
For a guide to what different birds feed on, Click here.
Hummingbirds are fearless, foraging far and sampling from many different kinds of flowers, and they also eat small insects. They do like dense cover to nest in, and our clump-forming bamboos have provided nesting sites for Anna's hummingbirds for several years. Many flowers attract them, usually those that are tubular in shape and red, pink, blue, or purple. Easy to grow hummingbird plants include Abutilon (flowering maple), Agapanthus, Columbine, Coral bells, Cosmos, Fuchsia, Penstemon, Zauschneria (California fuchsia), and all kinds of daisies. Daisies? Each daisy "flower" is a collection of little tiny, tubular flowers. The first plants that drew hummingbirds onto our farm were sunflowers--again, each "flower" (actually an inflorescence) is a collection of small tubular flowers.
For a list of plants that attract hummingbirds, Click here
Some of your garden practices will encourage wildlife, and mostly it's NOT doing things.
- Reduce or eliminate spraying for pests, or you'll eliminate the food source for the birds and good bugs.
- If you spray, only treat the infested plant and use the least-toxic pesticides: light oils, natural pyrethrins, and the new insect repellents such as Hot Pepper Wax or neem oil.
- Pruning shrubs less severely, or not at all, and planting them in less formal groupings with differing heights and textures will create the diversity that draws wildlife.
- Plant herbs and flowers in or near your vegetable garden.
- Rake your leaves off of desirable plants, but then pile them in other parts of the yard to encourage overwintering beneficials such as leatherwing beetles and ground beetles.
- Let the garden grow a little "wild" to attract wildlife!
© 2008 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.
Click here for Don's other Davis Enterprise articles