Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2010
Regional Report

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This fluffy goldfinch loves my water and the thistles next door.

Bring in the Birds

At this time of year, so many plants are ripening and producing seeds. Our vegetable gardens are producing food for us, but it is also a great time to stop and think about feeding the birds. We all love birds in the garden because not only do they bring us beauty and song, but they also help control insects.

Food, Shelter, Water
Planting to encourage birds to inhabit your yard is simple enough to do. Just think about berries and seeds. In addition to food, birds will stick around if you provide water, nesting materials and shelter. This can be as simple as a birdbath beneath an evergreen tree. If you decide to offer water, make sure you keep it clean.Here are some simple suggestions for drawing these amazing creatures:

Trees and Shrubs
Start with trees and shrubs. Seed-bearing trees like alder, birch, maple and ash will draw some species, while fruit bearing trees like hawthorn, hackberry, juniper, mulberry, wild cherries and anything in the apple family such as crabapples, serviceberries and tree cotoneasters draw other species. Shrubs that draw birds include cotoneaster, elderberry, chokecherry, dogwoods, sumac, roses and viburnums.

Evergreens for Shelter
Evergreens of all sorts make good shelter trees and shrubs since they are dense enough to give protection from cats and other predators. Birds can nest or simply roost in them at night. Providing a food source nearby will add to the birds' health. Other good nesting spots include hawthorns and large roses since the birds can fly in an avoid thorns, but predators will leave them alone.

Vines such as Virginia creeper and bittersweet (be sure to plant American bittersweet, not the invasive Oriental bittersweet) provide good food sources as well as thick tangles for nesting. Even poison ivy is good for birds, although I'm not sure we want to encourage that!

There are many, many wildflowers that offer food sources for birds. This is the time when many of the daisy family flowers such as black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower are in their prime. As they drop their petals, consider leaving the seedheads in place for the birds to feast on. There is nothing quite so fulfilling as watching a chickadee sitting on top of a coneflower seedhead, pulling out the seeds.

We don't tend to like thistles in the garden, but they are great finch food. Queen Anne's lace also provides a good seed source. So, if you have these nearby (I have plenty in a field next to my yard), enjoy the birds they draw! Natives like Joe-pye-weed, goldenrod and ironweed are also great seed sources.

Even some of the ornamental grass seeds are eaten by juncos and sparrows. So, before cutting anything down for the winter, be sure to consider the birds first. They may just need that food source, and you can always cut it back in spring.

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