Attract wild friends for the beauty, benefits they bring

Gardening to draw wildlife not difficult, but requires planning


There are two purposeful things gardeners do for wildlife -- they either work to attract it or work to repel it.
As gardens become less haphazard and more planned, more and more people are trying to attract birds, hummingbirds, butterflies and bees to their yards for their beauty and for their usefulness as pollinators.
Hard numbers are difficult to come by but it seems that Americans are increasingly choosing plants that do double duty -- serving as landscape specimens and as a source of food and refuge for wildlife.
"Gardens that attract pollinators are fairly popular," said John Balliette, agriculture and horticulture specialist with the CSU Moffat County Extension Office. "Most folks don't mind hummingbirds and butterflies. Bees are a different matter but in my experience most gardeners recognize and accept bees for their important role.
"The benefits include aesthetics. I know the gracefulness and beauty of hummingbirds are appreciated by most folks," he added. "Pollinators, as their name suggests, are important for that purpose and most folks who garden know that bees help them make squash and tomatoes as well as a lot of other fruits and vegetables."
Naturalists at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) certify 50 backyard wildlife habitats weekly, according to spokesperson Mary Burnette. In the last 10 years, the number of certified sites have doubled --- heady growth considering the program is in its 26th year. To be certified, an applicant must demonstrate the site provides food, water, cover and a place to raise young on a year round basis.
In addition to the visual appeal delicate hummingbirds provide, they are also important pollinators.
Balliette said the tubular flowers of hyssop will attract hummingbirds. He recommends planting sunset hyssop, Coronado hyssop, double bubble mint and giant hummingbird mint in this region.
"The aromatic foliage and abundant flowers add a great deal of interest to sunny landscapes," he said. "I also tell folks to try Rocky Mountain Bee Plant for humming birds because it flowers for long lengths of time."
Most of the bees that pollinate blossoms, the Wildlife Habitat Council says, don't have a hive to protect, which makes them less aggressive and not likely to sting. They are especially fond of blue and yellow blossoms. Annuals bearing flowers in blue or yellow include saliva, ageratum, marigolds, calendula, sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias and strawflowers. Perennials include black-eyed Susan, beebalm, hosta and lupine.
Stone fruits (apple, cherry, plum, peach, etc.) will attract bees. Lilacs and honey suckle also are attractive to bees, according to Balliette. A farmer's alfalfa field also is a good way to attract bees.
But gardeners should beware.
"Not all bees are honey producers and some of the best pollinators include leaf cutters and alkali bees," Balliette said. "These small and metallic colored bees are used in the seed producing business and are highly valued. They are the ones that cut those circles out of the leaves of your favorite tree."
For the most part, leaf-cutter bees will not harm a plant, he said.
If you raise vegetables or fruit trees, consider planting a flower garden nearby with three or more types of bee-friendly flowers. A variety of flowers will ensure there are blossoms available all summer long to help keep bees in the area, especially at the time fruit trees and vegetables are bearing blossoms.
A bee ''house'' is easily made by drilling a variety of holes in a piece of lumber at least 3 inches thick. Holes should range from one-eighth to five-sixteenths inches in diameter and be spaced about one-half inch apart. The hole should be drilled so it is almost through the board. Hang the bee house under the eaves, protected from direct sun and rain.
Their diet includes moths and beetles, in addition to mosquitoes. The Wildlife Habitat Council says that a single brown bat can catch more than 600 mosquitoes in an hour.
Hoary bats and red bats roost in the foliage of shrubs and trees. Evening and Indiana bats, WHC says, roost under loose bark or in cavities of trees and buildings. A bat house may be the simplest way to be bat-friendly; it should be placed in a spot at least 15 feet high and where it will get six or more hours of sun daily.
For natural color and motion in the garden, butterflies are hard to beat. Adults feed on nectar from flowers and caterpillars feed on foliage. Many annual and perennial plants bear nectar-rich blooms that attract, and nourish, butterflies. These include aster, coneflower, lantana, lupine, phlox and zinnia.
"Butterflies and bees are attracted by pollen and any flowering high pollen content plant will attract them," Balliette said.
For the beginning gardener, zinnias are especially easy to grow. Seeds sprout quickly and flowers appear as soon as 60 days after planting. Many different varieties are available in colors including white, salmon, orange, red, yellow, pink and shades of each. Flower size ranges from 1 to 4 inches across and on plants that vary in height from about 10 to 36 inches. Zinnias do best when planted in full sun and well-drained soil.
WHC recommends using native plants as a food source for caterpillars. Three plants caterpillars apparently prefer and that grow throughout the United States are butterfly weed, dill and hollyhock.
A sheltered spot along the side of a garage makes a good location for a butterfly garden.
"To attract birds, I tell folks to try berry-producing plants," Balliette said. "Currants and Japanese honey suckle produce lots of berries that attract birds. Native plants such as elderberry and choke cherry also attract birds."
In even the coldest and snowiest states, birds will linger over winter if food is available. Holly, pyracantha and juniper shrubs are easy to grow and each bears fruit (berries) that birds use as a food and moisture source as well as a shelter from predators.
Holly berries appear only on female holly plants and a male must be nearby for pollination to occur. When shopping for holly, choose varieties with names that indicate gender -- Blue Girl and Blue Boy, for example. Only one male is needed for a large planting of female shrubs. Holly is especially valuable in the landscape because its deep green foliage contrasts nicely with other plantings and at Christmas, sprigs of foliage can be harvested for decorating indoors.
Commercial birdseed is available virtually everywhere along with a huge variety of bird feeders. But as naturalists are quick to point out, providing food is not enough to make a backyard a haven for wild birds. They recommend providing the other basics -- cover, water, and shelter and nesting sites. Fortunately, these needs are easily met by growing native shrubs that provide nesting sites and shelter and with birdhouses purchased or built specifically for the species you'd like to attract.
Water is easy to provide, too, and in cold areas, electric heaters are available to keep it liquid during winter.
If you had to settle on one type of food, however, make it the sunflower seed -- either black oil or black striped. A researcher from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service found that of the 15 bird species and 21 different types of seed he studied, 12 bird species found black oil and black striped sunflower seed the most attractive.
But not all wildlife is welcome in the garden.
In Northwest Colorado, gardens draw more than pollinators, they draw animals prone to destroying hard work -- deer.
Balliette's best recommendation for keeping deer out of a flower or vegetable garden is a big dog that likes to bark, but that's not always a reasonable response. It's better to design a garden that deer are not attracted to or are actually repelled by.
Deer are attracted to most fruit trees and lilacs. Some of the native plants that attract deer include bitterbrush, choke cherry, willows and saltbrush.
There are some repellents that include a variety of ingredients. Common ones include chili (capsicum) and other pepper by-products.
"Recently, there are several commercial sources of predator urine that have become available. These are proving quite successful in repelling wildlife," Balliette said.

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