Landscaping with food sources in mind

To create a landscape that provides birds with a guaranteed, year-round food supply, you need to plant an assortment of plant species that provides seeds, berries, nuts, or other food throughout the year. Planting a diverse selection helps ensure that a variety of food sources is always available. Choose different plantings that produce food throughout each of the four seasons.

Deciduous plantings, plants whose leaves drop off in winter, generally bear the most fruit, nuts, and seeds for wildlife. In addition, they offer shady, leafy nesting sites in the spring and summer. Even a flower garden can provide a place for birds to eat and hide.

Evergreens, which bear leaves throughout the year, offer a good source of berries and seed-filled cones. They also offer year-round shelter, protection, and breeding sites.

The best way to start planning a food supply for your guests is to take an inventory of what is already growing in your yard. Draw a rough map of your property. Make notes about what plants are growing in your yard. Use a field guide or garden book to identify plants you’re not familiar with. Also note the sun exposure and shade throughout the day. Then use a plant guide to determine which plants your yard has that are good providers, and which are not.

You may already have a number of trees, flowers, and shrubs or a well grown in garden arbor attractive to various species of birds. Plan to supplement with native fruiting trees, shrubs, and vines. Reduce the area occupied by the lawn. Wide expanses of turf grass are sterile habitats attracting less desireable”generalist” species, such as feral pigeons, starlings, cowbirds, and grackles, all of which compete with our native songbirds for food and nesting spots.

You will want to determine when your plants are providing food for birds, for example, nuts and acorns in winter, flowers and seeds in the summer. You may want to remove some plants that do not provide food in order to make room for ones that do. Make separate lists for each season.

Begin with what your yard provides, and add to it plants you can grow that will provide more food that season. Concentrate on first adding plants that provide food during seasons when nothing much is available in your yard.

Trying to transform your yard into a haven for birds and butterflies overnight is an easy way to become frustrated, so plan on making gradual changes over the course of several planting seasons. Use your notes as a guide. Identify one or two areas to concentrate on for the first year. For example, if you have a single tree in your front yard, consider adding more trees and underplanting with berry-producing shrubs and ground covers.

Plan to add plants gradually as your budget and time allow. Buy only as many plants as you can care for at one time. Newly added plants take more water and care than older, established ones. Proper soil preparation, watering, and mulching are all essential to getting new plants off to a good start.

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