How Does Your Garden Grow?

Posted on 15. Jun, 2017 by in Grays Corner, Recent News

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Gray Stanback

What do you think of when you think of a garden? Perhaps a neat, orderly arrangement of flowers, or maybe rows and rows of fruits and vegetables? Whatever you think of, you probably don’t think of it as a wildlife habitat first and foremost. Of course, that doesn’t need to be the case. After all, the typical impression we have of yards that are wildlife habitats is that they tend to be overgrown with vegetation and maintained like a garden. But even a seemingly well-kept, manicured garden can attract many forms of wildlife, provided you use the right plants.

If you are interested in attracting native insects to your garden you have a wide variety of options. Native bees (bumblebees, stingless bees, and carpenter bees) are particularly fond of plants like aster, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, lupine, and coneflower, all of which are pollinated primarily by these native bees rather than by introduced honeybees. For butterflies and moths there are different options. You can plant flowers for them (including the aptly-named butterfly-bush, which attract many species of butterfly with its nectar) or you can put in plants whose leaves they feed on as caterpillars.

To attract birds to your garden with plants, your best bet is those plants that produce large quantities fruit. Many songbirds, although they mainly eat insects, are also fond of fruit. Fruits that birds will eats include hawthorn, barberry, holly, serviceberry, and bittersweet. All of these plants bear fruit during the fall and winter, when many songbirds are either fattening themselves up to fly south or searching for easy food once insects have become scarce. 

Other options include plants that produce seeds, which many songbirds also eat. Goldfinches, for example, are particularly fond of thistle seeds, and sunflower seeds are usually a real hit with other songbirds. Beware, however, of house finches, which are likely to enter you yard and eat all of the food you have put our while leaving none of it for the other birds.

Unlike birds, mammals are somewhat harder to please. You probably already have seen squirrels in your garden. They are noisy, rambunctious, and opportunistic omnivores that are common anywhere. If you want to attract other mammals to your garden, you have several options.

Resist the temptation to put out food for mammals. This will only make them tame, which could result in them coming into conflict with humans or pets. Instead, a good starting point is to leave dead trees and shrubs standing, or create a sheltered area out of sticks and leaves. This will attract mammals such as rabbits and chipmunks, both of which build their nests in secluded, sheltered areas. As with birds, there are plants that mammals favor. Rabbits especially like blackberries, raspberries, and clover, all of which are easy to grow in a garden.

Deer—typically the largest mammals that one can expect to be attracted to their garden—deserve a separate discussion. Deer are often considered pests nowadays because their voracious appetites and herd-living habits, but many gardeners love them all the same. Plants that deer enjoy include hardy geranium, candy lily, and sea holly. It’s best to set aside a separate “deer garden”, to prevent them from over-browsing your other plants. While many places have regulations against attracting deer into one’s garden (since this may in turn attract predators such as coyotes), no such regulations exist in Davidson.

Growing a “wildlife garden” is an enriching experience, and you can choose any given variety of plants in order to attract birds, mammals, or insects to your garden. Flowers come and go with the seasons, but animals are a constantly-changing spectacle.