The Master Gardeners of North Central Louisiana hosted a series of lunchtime presentations this past spring at the Lincoln Parish Library. They were a huge success and attracted “sell-out” crowds. In March, Master Gardener Jean McWeeney, garden coach and proponent of gardening for wildlife, inspired her audience to think about creating a garden with the primary purpose of attracting birds, butterflies and pollinators. She gave an inspiring presentation on what plants to look for, like purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), Texas fall asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), native grasses, like northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and the classic beautyberry (Callicarpa arborea). Albeit, a bit late to plant those now, of course! She emphasized that everyone should aspire to have a portion of their garden designated to attracting wildlife.
Jean pointed out that often we feel pressure to have a beautifully manicured lawn with lavish beds of seasonal flowers, but become stressed by the maintenance and upkeep. The wildlife garden, on the other hand, can be casual, unstructured and as big or as little as you wish. During the hot summer months it is more important than ever to provide a cool retreat in a shady area with shelter, food and water for birds, insects, amphibians and small mammals. In creating your garden, keep in mind the following three basic provisions:
SHELTER provides protection against predators as well as the dreaded summer sun. Shrubs or bushes can do this as well as tree trunks or a few logs. These become “beneficial insect hotels” and the rich undersoil is an excellent habitat for slugs, worms and beetles. Consider also a small brush pile where lizards and voles can make their homes. For birds, a bluebird box can be placed in an open area. It is important to mount critter guards around the base pole to keep raccoons and other predators at bay. Many birds, like wrens, don’t need a specific box and are very creative with nesting sites. As long as you have pine straw, some wood shavings and soft ground material, they will readily construct a fascinating nest in your yard.
Every living thing needs clean WATER! It can be in the form of a birdbath, little dripping fountain or a shallow vessel filled with sand and water for butterflies and other beneficial insects. Remember that these all require some cleaning and freshening especially during dry spells. Standing water can quickly become stagnant and a breeding ground for mosquitos. Think through your water source carefully. What seems like a good idea at the time can prove to be a headache later. Avoid putting your cast-iron “sugar pot” out to fill with water! It will be too cumbersome and difficult to drain and refill; the same applies to water features that are not properly maintained.
FOOD sources are extremely important. Wildflowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, insects, bees and other pollinators. Trees, bushes and shrubs that produce berries and seeds are important habitats. Obviously, bird-seed feeders, hummingbird feeders, etc. are common choices, but don’t forget your own innovative ideas. For example, a wooden block smeared with peanut butter for the woodpeckers and nuthatches, a fruit mount for orioles or a honey pot are great ways to attract other bird and insect species. Providing a sumptuous buffet for your wildlife friends is a fun thing to do, but like all good hosts you must be prepared to make sure that the area is tidied up of all food items at night or you will attract more wildlife than you are prepared to deal with! Learn to limit the quantity of food you provide. Don’t throw out seed, nuts, corn and fruit remnants indiscriminately. Never throw out dinner leftovers or sugary, salty snacks. If you do, you will attract rodents, raccoons, opossums and possibly . . . bears!
Remember, whilst a wildlife garden is not meant to be perfection, neither is it totally maintenance free. It shouldn’t become a jumble of unkempt trees, shrubs, feeders, nest boxes and dirty water features if you are diligent about caring for your area. The aim of wildlife gardening is to provide a pleasant, serene place to go, where one can commune with the natural world. If you spend a little quiet time in your garden you will be surprised at what you’ll see! Thanks, Ms. McWeeney, for an excellent presentation!
This article was submitted by Mary Elleson, Lincoln Parish Master Gardener.