Gardening for Birds (and Bees and Everything Else)

Gardening for birds, bees and other wildlife is not difficult — and it definitely does not mean your yard will look messy. The next issue of Northern Gardener (out in a week or so) includes a great article from Susan Davis Price about the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitat program and several Minnesota gardeners who have created habitats in their yards. We also have a few slots open in our March 5 class on Gardening for Wildlife to be taught by Jim Calkins, if you are interested in more detailed information and plant recommendations.

wildlife pond

Moving water and native plants create a haven for birds and other wildlife.

Whether your goal is creating a certified habitat or just attracting a few birds to the garden, there are five easy things you can do when gardening for birds and other wildlife.

  • Add water to the garden. It can be as simple as a standing birdbath or as large a pond with a waterfall. Adding water gives wildlife a drinking source and a place to cleanup. If you want to attract hummingbirds, be sure to include a fountain. Hummers like to get their liquid on the fly.
  • Plant a diversity of flowers, trees and shrubs. Make your garden as diverse as you can with fruit trees (apples and cherries), other flowering, berry producing shrubs such as currant, American highbush cranberry or honeysuckle and herbs (bees love chives and other allium species and mints). Group trees and shrubs together to create safe places for cover and nest building. If the shrubs are close to water, all the better.
  • nest

    Trees and shrubs away from where people gather make perfect nesting sites.

    Give them some room. Place bird houses, orchard mason bee houses, hollow logs and other potential nest sites in places you can see but that are not too close to where humans gather. Critters need a bit of privacy to feel safe. Also, if you like birds, keep your cats indoors. The statistics on bird death from cats are staggering. 

  • Keep things a little messy. Many kinds of bees make their nests in the ground in shrubby areas, so too pristine a landscape or overuse of mulch prevents them from nesting comfortably. Birds love a wood or shrub pile. Keep your brush pile at the back of your lot if your neighbors are especially fussy.
  • Avoid pesticides. Any systemic pesticides are likely to get into the food sources of wildlife. Take a natural approach or use very targeted products and follow the directions precisely.

For more information on wildlife gardening, check out the March/April issue of Northern Gardener or sign up for the gardening for wildlife class.

—Mary Lahr Schier