Plants for Backyard Birding
Collectively there is renewed interest in the world around us, and there is no better place to start than in the garden. Gardens are living art, a living ecosystem with many members. It’s you, the flora, AND the fauna which includes our feathery friends. As of lately, backyard birding is gaining momentum as a popular hobby for people of all ages. Plants that support our native birds are the cornerstone of a well planted garden.
According to the Audubon Society, 389 (that’s 2/3 of) North American bird species are threatened by climate change. And while climate change and conservation can feel really big and overwhelming, think about the things you can control – your environment, your yard, and your community. Big change starts with small choices. Plant these plants to support native birds and their native landscapes.
Birds love the plum-colored berries of Amelanchier spp. Known for four-season interest, serviceberry have white showy flowers in the spring and brilliant orange and yellow fall color. ‘Standing Ovation’ is available at Tonkadale and is hardy to Zone 2. Standing Ovation grows 15 feet tall and 4 feet wide in the shape of an oval. Plant as a specimen or screen in full sun. Berries are edible to humans too, but only if you can beat the birds!
A traditional and fuss-free garden standard that blooms later summer into the fall. An amazing addition to cut flower arrangements. Daisy-like, golden yellow flowers with black centers cover dark green foliage. Tolerates heat, humidity, and clay soil. Seed heads create winter interest and are a food source for songbirds. Salt tolerant and deer resistant. Plant these varieties in full sun for late season color: Goldstrum, American Goldrush, Goldstar, and Little Suzy to name a few.
Yarrow is one of the best perennials to plant in sunny, hot, and dry locations, providing consistent color throughout the summer months. Flower clusters are produced over compact, ferny, green foliage and bloom from mid to late summer. Excellent for cut flower arrangements both fresh and dried. Deadhead faded flowers regularly to promote continued blooming. Achillea do spread, so give them space. Easily divided in fall or early spring. Trim back hard after the first flush of blooms, to maintain a compact habit. Yarrow seed heads offer food and fuel to birds long into winter as their sturdy stems stand up in even the tallest snow drift. Salt tolerant and deer resistant. Check out these sun-shiny selections: Desert Eve Yellow, Moonshine, and Strawberry Seduction.
An ornamental bunchgrass with fine-textured foliage that forms very dense mounds. Slender blue-green stems reach at least 3 feet by September, and become radiant mahogany-red with white, shining seed tufts in the fall. Most striking is this grasses’ reddish-tan color in fall, persisting through winter snows. The seeds, fuzzy white at maturity, are of particular value to small birds in winter. Bluestem also provides nesting materials/structure for native bees. Deer resistant. Try one of these splendid varieties available at the greenhouse: Big Bluestem, Blackhawk, Little Bluestem, Jazz, and Blue Heaven.
The fruit of Viburnum is not edible to humans but are an important food source for native songbirds. Many cultivars of Viburnum offer large, showy flower clusters and striking fall foliage making this a great shrub for four season interest. Plant in full to partial sun. Check out these varieties: Compact Cranberry, All the Glitters, All that Glows, Blue Muffin, and Sparkler.
Monarda produces a profusion of flowers atop mid-sized, very compact, upright plants from mid to late summer. Newer cultivars exhibit very good powdery mildew resistance. Bee balm is easy to grow and multiplies quickly. The sweet nectar of flowers attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees to the garden. The aromatic foliage smells like mint when crushed and is often used to flavor teas. Deer resistant. Try these juicy cultivars: Raspberry Wine, Coral Reef, and Balmy Purple.
This grass is a perennial garden favorite. Its foliage turns a deep red over time and the airy, lacy seed heads have a pinkish hue. Shenandoah grows 4-5 feet tall and about 18 inches wide. Northwinds is a more compact variety with olive to blue-green foliage. Airy flower panicles produce showy seed heads which lend themselves to winter interest. Sturdy stems stay upright, even under snow load, giving protection to wintering songbirds. Good for erosion control. Grow in partial to full sun.
So you planted the plants, now what?
Pro tip #1, always refer to your binoculars as bins. Check out this Audubon Guide to Binoculars.
Download a birdwatching app. Again, check out the free app from the Audubon society where you can identify birds, listen to their sounds, keep track of the birds you see, and share photos with other bird watchers in the field.
Provide a clean water source. A birdbath, pond, waterfall, or stream provide space for birds to bathe and preen while providing a place for birds to take a break from the heat of summer.
Supplement garden resources with bird feeders. Different species of birds have different preferences when it comes to feeder style, bird food, and placement of feeder. Check out All Seasons Wild Bird Store in Minnetonka, for all your feeder needs.
Keep feeding during the winter after the garden has been put to bed. Leave seed heads standing to provide winter interest and a food source for the birds that stick around. A high-quality bird seed can also provide a high energy food source to sustain energy needs and maintain fat reserves.
Provide housing and nesting opportunities. If you are a gardener or have trees and shrubs in your landscape, you are halfway there. Now think about which birds you would like to attract and plan accordingly. Talk to your local bird store about which houses provide the best shelter and structure for your feathery favorites!
Backyard birding – another reason why plants are important!