Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
November, 2004
Regional Report

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Low-hanging branches on shrubs provide shelter for birds to nest and forage.

For the Birds

A busy cactus wren is skipping sure-footedly across my prickly pear, oblivious to the spines. I've impaled myself on that plant about 70 times over the years, so I'd like an ornithologist to explain how skinny little bird legs are so quick and nimble on such a treacherous surface!

When I picked up my newspaper this morning, the gravel mulch along the sidewalk was strewn dramatically about, making my bare feet vulnerable. This is the work of the curve-billed thrasher, who patrols regularly, drilling for insects with its bill of steel.

The window is open while I type, and although I can't see it without craning my head around the computer screen, I can hear the telltale whirring of hummingbird wings as a tiny bird examines a very early-blooming aloe. I usually hear hummers before I see them. It astounds me that the bird even located this potential food source because it is a low-growing species with just a couple tiny orange flowers.

Birds lend color, song, and movement to a landscape. Even if you live in the midst of urban development as I do, it's easy to entice them to visit. Just plant native or well-adapted plants that offer food, shelter, and nesting sites.

Natural Food Sources
Food can be in the form of flowers, seeds, or insects living on plants. There's really very little reason to spray for insects in the low desert. Birds (and predator insects like lady beetles and green lacewings) will take care of the pests for you.

Hold the Saw
Another thing you can do for the birds is allow plants to grow into their natural form. Who decreed that landscape shrubs should be sheared without mercy into ugly geometric shapes? What plant in nature grows this way? Leave low-growing branches to provide shelter and nesting sites. You'll save time and money if you (or your landscaper) are not out there buzz-sawing plants every few weeks. Noise and air pollution are reduced as well. The plants are more attractive, able to flower, and healthier without open pruning cuts and loss of photosynthesizing capability. Say NO to ugly, flat-topped cubes and bowling balls, and YES to birds!

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