Wildlife gardening is not just about native plants

by Sandy Garland

The Backyard Garden at the FWG is meant to illustrate how to garden with birds, butterflies, bees, squirrels, and all the other creatures that live in the Ottawa area in mind. We emphasize native species because we assume those are the plants these creatures are looking for to feed on. But, in a wildlife garden, structure is important too.


The location of our bird feeder is a good example of something we did right. The blue spruce at the left of the photo is not native, but it provides winter cover for many birds and squirrels. It’s close enough to the feeder for birds to flee there when disturbed, but far enough that squirrels can’t jump onto the feeder and gorge on the seeds. I measured the distance earlier and the trunk is about 12 feet from the feeder.

House finches take cover in its branches, red squirrels nibble on its buds in spring, and juncos hop around under the tent formed by its lowest branches.

The bare tree at the right of the photo, which is a bit farther from the feeder, is a serviceberry – a horticultural variety of a native species. At this time of year, cardinals and woodpeckers use is as a stop on their way to the feeder. In spring, its blossoms attract early bees and other insects.

Chickadees, which are the most common visitors to the feeder, tend to fly back and forth from the cedar hedge behind the spruce or from the Joe-Pye weed stems off to the left out of the photo. Between sunflower seeds, they seem to find something to eat on those stems, which we leave standing over the winter.

Food, water, shelter, and sites for nests and other homes constitute the elements of a wildlife garden. In winter, food and shelter are extremely important, so try to make sure your garden contains both.

More info:
All about feeding birds
Creating a safe garden for birds


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