Developing a 'mature' garden with trees and shrubs takes time. However, there is a lot that can be done in a much shorter time, even one growing season, to make your garden much more wildlife-friendly. But first a word about technique. Making a garden wildlife-friendly does not just involve the types of plants grown. The way you garden can also be extremely important. For example, keeping a garden highly manicured by deadheading flowers may deprive birds of excellent food resources in the form of seed. Allowing a few 'weeds' to remain around the edges of a garden may increase your garden's appeal to butterflies. Above all, if you really want to hang out an invitation to birds and butterflies do not spray pesticides or herbicides.There are many plants commonly available, annual and perennial that attract birds and butterflies. Many of these are also appealing and even useful to people.
Let's begin with herbs. Every garden should include herbs if only for their culinary uses. However, many of them are also magnets for birds and butterflies.
Hummingbirds, for example, are attracted to Sage, Pineapple sage, Lavender, Bee balm, Comfrey and several of the Mints. Herbs such as Catnip, Sage, Echinacea, Anise hyssop when allowed to go to seed, provide food for birds including goldfinches. Butterflies will be attracted to Sage, Echinacea, Thyme, Hyssop, Lavender, Oregano and Borage in your garden. Butterflies will also use Echinacea a nectar plant Many common annual flowers provide nectar for butterflies including marigolds (choose single flower varieties), calendulas, zinnias and petunias. Here gardeners have quite a wide range to choose from.
A partial list of plants suitable to attract butterflies would include yarrow, butterfly weed, butterfly bush, aster, coreopsis, coneflower, blackeyed-susans, sunflowers, liatris and verbena.
Flowering plants that attract hummingbirds include columbine, jewelweed, cardinal flower, hibiscus, trumpet creeper and four-o'-clocks.
Don't overlook the need to provide host plants for the larval stages of butterflies. I would recommend that you become familiar with the needs of butterflies in your part of the country. There are many good resources.
One that I refer to often for my area is Noah's Garden by Sarah Stein. Many herbs such as Parsley, Fennel, Dill, Chervil, Angelica, Hollyhock, Rue and Lovage, Passion Vine and even Hops and Honeysuckle act as food plants for a number of different species of butterfly.
Be sure to plant extra if you plan to use these herbs for yourself because these caterpillars can be voracious. We plant annuals and perennials for birds and butterflies including many of those described above.
Since we don't use chemicals on the lawn, it is full of clover and dandelions. Natural clovers attract butterflies and dandelions, in addition to being a nutritious green for people, are a source of seed for small birds. An unsprayed garden is also a source of insects and worms for robins and other birds.
Around the edges of the garden, 'weeds' such as thistle (we always leave a couple- but just a couple) are allowed to survive and provide food for birds later in the season. And last, but not least, are the cherry and crab apple trees, which we 'share' with the birds.There is much that can be done, therefore, even in one growing season to make your garden much more inviting to wildlife using commonly found plants.
As always, we encourage you as much as possible, to use native plants rather than exotics and particularly native versions of species rather than hybrids. These may be a little harder to find but they are worth the search. I hope you will want to learn more about the native plants in your part of the world and to include them in your gardening plans.
Gardening for Wildlife Checklist
As you assess your property see what you already have, what you need to add and then you can make changes to improve your property and become the Oasis for birds, bees and butterflies you are hoping to create.
ComponentHaveWill Add Evergreens ___ ___ Grasses and legumes ___ ___ Plants for butterflies, bees and moths ______ Plants for hummingbirds and orioles ______ Summer fruit, berry and cover plants ______ Fall fruit, seed and cover plants ______ Winter fruit, seed and cover plants ______ Plants that produce nuts and acorns ______ Nest boxes ______ Dead trees, fallen trees and perches ______ Brush piles, rock piles ______ Cut banks, cliffs and caves ______ Dust and grit ______ Salt ______ Water ______ Feeders ______