Sometimes, Gardening is for the Birds

(News article for September 23, 2023)

Birds need food, water, and shelter. Gardens can provide all of these. As we get into fall, which is generally considered the best time to plant most trees and shrubs of temperate origin (i.e., not ones that are just marginally cold hardy) in Louisiana, you might consider some plants that support birds.

Many types of trees and shrubs provide shelter and nesting sites. Evergreen plants have the additional benefit of providing shelter in the winter. Including plants of various heights may help draw a greater diversity of birds.

Fruit- and seed-producing plants provide food for many types of birds. Such trees include American holly, eastern redcedar, mayhaw, parsley hawthorn, magnolias, oaks, pines, sweet gum, native plums, and wild black cherry. A fruit producer that might not be as obvious is cabbage or sabal palm.

Shrubs that produce bird food include American beautyberry, arrowwood viburnum, cultivated and native blueberries, elderberry, mulberry, various fruiting hollies, Japanese yew, and wax myrtle.

This article is largely about trees and shrubs, but many herbaceous (non-woody) plants support birds, too. Blackeyed Susan and sunflower are just a couple of many examples that could be named. They may not be at their most attractive point once they’ve finished flowering and have seedheads, but it’s at this stage that they provide food for seed-eating birds.

Hummingbirds consume flowers’ nectar. Red, pink, and orange flowers, as well as those with a tubular shape, are especially attractive to them. Some plants that entice hummingbirds are bottlebrush, red buckeye, coral honeysuckle, firebush (including Lime Sizzler, which has been named a Super Plant), cigar plants, cardinal flower, scarlet or blood sage (Salvia coccinea), and Turk’s cap.

Bottlebrush varieties vary with respect to their cold hardiness, and some are often injured in very cold winters. Woodlanders Red (AKA Woodlanders Hardy) is one of the most resilient. Bottle Pop Neon Pink bottlebrush has also performed well at the Hammond Research Station. As with root-hardy tropicals, it’s probably best to wait and plant this shrub in the spring.

Some birds consume insects, small reptiles, amphibians, or even small mammals rather than fruits, seeds, or nectar. Plants also provide habitats for these. Having some native plants in the garden helps support insects that are more likely to be the foods of choice for native birds.

Let me know if you have questions.

Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.

plant with green leaves and clusters of purple berriesAmerican beautyberry (September 2023; photo by M.H. Ferguson)

plant with green leaves and red berriesDahoon holly (December 2022; photo by M.H. Ferguson)

plant with orangish red tubular flowersCigar plant (October 2022; photo by M.H. Ferguson)

10/5/2023 9:17:15 PM
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