Making your landscape a bird and wildlife ‘magnet’

Wildlife and your landscape. For some of you, that phrase will conjure up an idyllic visions of birds and small woodland creatures happily playing in your backyard. For others, the blood pressure will already be rising as you picture deer and other “varmints” invading your land to munch on the tender shrubs you lovingly planted. The truth, of course, falls somewhere in between those two extremes. If you need to repel deer or other animals, I’ll address that at the end of this column. But for now I want to concentrate on ways to attract birds and other wildlife to your landscape. Virtually all forms of wildlife have four basic needs that must be met: food, shelter, water and space. Regardless of the size of your real property ‘ from a vast ranch to a small urban lot ‘ you can probably provide at least two of those needs: food and water. If you can provide the other two elements’space and shelter’or if they exist close by, perhaps in the form of woodland, then you have all the necessary ingredients. Let’s start with food. Each species has its own nutritional needs, and these needs may vary as the species ages, according to a very helpful web site where you’ll find an article titled: “How To Attract Wildlife To Your Property.” I highly recommend it! You can also go to my web site, and click on “The Plant Man”, then find this column and click on a direct link to the article. Fruits and berries are rich in vitamins and carbohydrates and are usually available in the summer and fall, according to the “clearinghouse” article. These include elderberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, grapes, mulberries, and apples. Some varieties, such as mountain ash and holly, have berries that stay on the bush or tree and are available to wildlife in the winter. More than 46 species of birds are attracted to Sunflowers while Flowering Dogwoods provide food for about 45 bird species. Elderberries seem to be number one on the menu with 50 plus species finding them beak-smacking good. Trees that provide nuts prove attractive to a variety of mammals; just ask Yogi and BooBoo. Nuts (actually just another form of fruit that happens to have a hard protective coating or shell) provide food for a wide variety of critters. Plant oak trees and before long you’ll be providing a supply of acorns for your animal visitors. You might choose Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) which is probably the most widely used native oak for landscaping. It’s one of the faster growing oaks, rising to a height of 12 to 15 ft over a 5 to 7 year period. Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) is a particularly good choice for attracting wildlife as it begins to shed acorns after as little as five years. Squirrels and chipmunks seem to enjoy hickory nuts, hazelnuts, black walnuts and butternuts. Maybe a majestic black Walnut tree (Juglans nigra) will tempt those squirrels away from your bird feeder. Or then again, maybe not. You can find a long and very informative article titled “Trees, Shrubs and Vines that Attract Wildlife” at this location written by Thomas G. Barnes, Associate Extension Professor at the University of Kentucky. (Again, there is a direct link to that article from this column at my web site.) Some of Professor Barnes’ guidelines include: Use native plants whenever possible. Reduce the amount of lawn area and replace with woody plants and a variety of wildflowers. Use a variety of plants that will flower and produce fruit at various times of the year. Plant in clusters Plant conifers or dense tall shrubs on the north and northwest locations if at all possible Maintain your plants after planting. Don’t you wish there was something good to say about weeds’ Well, there is… when it comes to providing food for wildlife! Weeds contribute the most to wildlife food sources as they are so abundant and many times are favored by wildlife over more attractive yard plants. Now think about that. An area of your landscape given over to so-called “weeds” might keep some wildlife way from your precious plants! For example, weeds that are popular with wildlife include Pigweed (which contains nearly 100,000 seeds per plant!) and ragweed, smartweed, dock and crabgrass. You might wish to plant your own wildflowers in your weed patch to brighten it up a bit. There are several “wildflower garden” kits available that require very little expertise or maintenance. Nectar from plants can be an important food source for hummingbirds, moths and bees. To attract nectar feeders, plant trumpet honeysuckle vine, butterfly bush, cardinal bush, paintbrush, bee balm, petunias and morning glory. I’ve discussed and recommended several varietals in previous columns that you can find archived at my web site. In my next column, I’ll continue with some thoughts about water features and habitat for wildlife. I’ll also try to help those of you who feel that your landscape is turning into an “all-you-can-eat” deer buffet! The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit

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