Fall planting to create a "bird friendly" garden

For most of us, one of the joys of creating a garden or landscape is watching the birds that are attracted by the plants that we have so carefully nurtured. As the fall planting season approaches, amateur ornithologists can feed their interest by selecting plants that act as "bird magnets."
Today, I have some suggestions for plants that could make a great bird garden. But first, here are a few tips that will help you create your own bird sanctuary.
First of all, get a pencil and paper and roughly sketch out your existing landscape, showing the position of the house, garage, driveway, etc, as well as any significant trees and groups of shrubs. By doing this, you'll have a "birds-eye view" of the natural and artificial resources you already have.
Here's a good idea: Are there any wildlife sanctuaries, parks or botanical gardens within driving distance? If so, it's certainly worth a visit. Why? Because you'll be able to see what kind of natural bird habitats "work" in your area. If you can find one of the employees or volunteers at the park or garden, so much the better. I've found that they're often eager to talk to visitors and give you the benefit of their experience.
Another good resource is the Web site hosted by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. You can read an excellent article titled "Twelve ways to design a bird-friendly garden" at http://www.bbg.org/gar2/topics/wildlife/handbooks/birds/3.html and you can click on a direct link when you find this Plant Man column at my Web site www.landsteward.org
Among the idea described in the article:
Re-create the layers of plant growth found in local natural areas. You'll be putting the odds in your favor if you provide plants that are proven to attract birds locally.
Select plants with an eye to providing nutritional foods during different seasons. A no brainer: birds will go where the food is!
Plant small trees and shrubs in same-species clumps. One good reason is that you'll increase pollination and fertility, providing more fruit for birds to eat.
Provide at least one clump of conifers. You'll be furnishing shelter, nesting and roosting sites.
Spare a dead tree (snag) for the birds. Great perches for songbirds and ideal locations to hang birdhouses.
The Brooklyn Botanical article goes into considerably more detail than we have space for here and is an excellent primer for anyone planning a bird-friendly garden. Investing a few minutes to read through it could definitely pay dividends.
And now, some plant ideas that will look good and attract birds to your garden.
Fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) This is an abelia that is both fragrant and hardy. How hardy? Well, it was found growing on the land of the Latvian-Russian border, so you can bet it's pretty darn hardy! The rich pink flowers can "out-fragrance" even lilacs and seem popular with many species of birds.
Hummingbird Clethra (Clethra alnifolia hummingbird) As you might guess from its name this fast-growing deciduous shrub hits the spot for hummingbirds as well as butterflies. The fragrant white flowers are bottlebrush-shaped on glossy green densely mounded foliage that turns a pleasant shade of yellow in the fall.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) Sometimes known as juneberry or shad bush, it can be grown either as a multi-stemmed shrub or a small tree, reaching a height of about 20 to 30 feet with a spread of 10 to 15 feet. The berries are very popular with birds and can be eaten by humans, too (or so they say; I let the birds eat my share). The flowers are both showy and fragrant, growing in lush white clusters, and are among the earliest of the flowering shrubs each spring.
There we have just three quick suggestions that would be attractive elements in your bird-friendly garden. If you're looking for more plant ideas as you plan your fall plantings, drop me an e-mail with some brief details about your landscape and what you're hoping to achieve and I'll reply with some suggestions.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org
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