Seed? Check. Feeders? Check. Plenty of water? Checkity check check.
With my backyard bird basics covered, I sat and stared out the kitchen window, sending psychic vibes to the Bullock’s orioles, mountain bluebirds and, heck, even burrowing owls, to come feast at my buffet and delight in a cold bath. Shake those tailfeathers, little birdies.
But those birds, they like to play hard to get, don’t they? The more I yearned, the more impatient I got with those minidinosaurs who were not adhering to my timeline. If the food and water didn’t work, what else could I do?
Create a bird-friendly oasis of plants, shrubs, herbs, flowers and greenery, that’s what.
First up: the nursery, where last year I inquired about which shrubs might attract birds, butterflies and bees. Might as well cover all my bases. I came home with a dwarf burning bush, which allegedly turns red come fall (I got no red-leafed love last year, though) and a black lace elderberry bush.
On a scorching June afternoon, I wielded a pickax for the first time. With each swing, I grew more triumphant. “Look at me planting bushes,” I crowed inside my head. “I’m so grown-up.” This from the girl who allowed the entire backyard to mutate into a giant jungle of 7-foot-high weeds only a few summers prior. Seriously. Probably tiny space aliens were living in there.
I’m unclear on her motivations (disgust? pity?), but my mom came over one day and wrangled a good portion of that yard into submission. Gave her an extra special Mother’s Day gift the following spring: fancy, personalized, handmade gardening gloves for any future mom/daughter projects, also known as yard cleanup with a side of appalled head shaking and silent judgment. (Only joking. Handmade? Are you kidding me? I got her a framed and autographed photo of her favorite daughter with a leafy weed clasped between her teeth à la a tango dancer with a red rose. No, I didn’t do this either.))
A few birdies seemed to relish perching on the branches of my new bushes, but mostly the foliage was young and the elderberries I was promised never grew. This summer, one of the two bushes never sprang back to life, while everything else seemed to rise from the dead with zero help. I’ve since learned I probably should have watered those bushes through the fall and winter. (But can I interest you in 3 pounds of lemon balm?) And now, as I stand in the yard staring at the thriving bush and the dead bush, I wish for the life of me I could remember which bush was which, friends. I think the burning bush came back, but Google images neither confirm nor deny.
This summer, that ax-wielding ambition has thus far given way to the much more low-key planting of hummingbird and bee-friendly lavender and this pink-flowered plant (can’t find the info label — I know you’re shocked) that allegedly does the same thing, though mostly she seems droopy and a bit morose and no birds want any part of her. Poor little thing. I think she needs relocating to a more festive and sunny location.
While I’m loath to admit that none of this planting has thus far resulted in a noticeable increase in all things winged, the summer is still young, and there is still dirt to be flung around the yard and holes to be filled. Perhaps some piece of greenery will prove itself a winner, though I believe my best action to date is keeping the two birdbaths filled with cold water.
But this isn’t a story about my subpar gardening skills. (Or is it? Could have fooled you, am I right?) It’s about being the bird hostess with the mostess.
First things first: Fruit and berries are manna to birds. Susan Spencer, co-owner of Spencer’s Produce, Lawn and Garden Centers, recommends holly, blackberry, raspberry and serviceberry. Elderberry and dogwood are good for a shorter type of shrub or bush. Honeysuckle is also good due to its nectar. Though people don’t like juniper berries as much, due to the voles and moles who like to eat the roots of the plant, they’re drought-tolerant, easy and bird-friendly.
Many bushes will produce fruit their first year, though not a huge quantity. Raspberry and honeysuckle are two good ones, said Spencer. Many times it might take two years before you get fruit or berries, which is why she recommends always pre-gaming the yard.
“Keep water for the birds and have feeders out,” said Spencer. “Until these trees start producing, they’re looking for food. Provide food until natural food is available. Not all birds leave in the winter. You have to have some sort of food.”
Trees also can draw birds, such as maple and ash trees and some types of flowering crabapple trees. Those that have a bit of canopy can offer protection, shade and a spot to build a nest. If you’ve got cherry or apple trees and don’t want to sell off your entire crop to wildlife, simply cover the bottom half and let them feast on the top.
Spencer also recommends vines, including Virginia creeper with its dark blue berries. Coneflowers, sunflowers and milkweed also can help bring in butterflies and other creatures. Try also bee balm, sage, yarrow, marigolds and verbena.
“Hummingbirds like rosemary and hyssop, but some birds will go to them as well,” she said. “Bluebirds like herbs, too. If the flower is dying out, birds will pick up that seed, too.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270