The Green Thumb Almanac

YOUR ONLINE GARDENING INFORMATION CENTER

Wildlife Gardening

 

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As more wild habitat is lost to development and agriculture it is vitally important that gardeners create mini-wildlife sanctuaries in their gardens.  Habitat is defined as the proper food, water and cover that an animal needs to exist and reproduce.  List your favorite animals and evaluate your backyard for these features.  Select wildlife food plants, furnish cover and add a water source.  Scroll down this page to learn more about butterfly, hummingbird and songbird gardening.
On This Page!

  • How to Create a Butterfly Garden
  • Plant a Monarch Waystation
  • The Importance of Pollinators
  • Attracting Hummingbirds
  • Garden for Wildlife with the NWF
  • Attracting Songbirds
  • Backyard Birdfeeding

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Butterfly Gardening

Butterfly gardening involves planning your garden to attract, retain and encourage butterfly populations.  Butterflies are looking for two things when they enter a garden: nectar, the food that adult butterflies need, and host plants, the place where the female will lay her eggs and where caterpillars find the food they need.  Both are necessary to create a successful butterfly garden.

How to Create a Butterfly Garden

Step 1:  Conduct a butterfly survey.  Find out what kinds of butterflies are in your area.  Take notes on which types of plants they are visiting.  Include some of these plants in your garden.

 

Step 2:  Design around the sun and wind.  Choose a sunny site(s) out of the wind.  It is important that these sites be located in areas that receive sun most of the day because a vast majority of butterflies worship the sun.  Butterflies use the sun to navigate by and to increase their body temperatures.

 

Step 3:  Plant adult nectar sources.  Butterflies need high-energy food sources such as nectar-producing flowers.  Flowers with small, multiple flower heads (such as lantana) continually produce small amounts of nectar.  Flowers with broad petals (such as coneflower) furnish butterflies with a "landing pad" where they can rest and sip nectar.  Use a mix of flowers that will bloom from early spring to late fall.

Step 4:  Furnish host plants for breeding and feeding.  Please realize that the caterpillar is the main feeding and growing stage in the butterfly life cycle.  It is important to provide host plants for the caterpillars.  Each butterfly species will only lay its' eggs on certain plants.  Caterpillars can only feed on certain types of plants.  For example, the monarch caterpillar feeds only on milkweeds.  The milkweed contains substances that make the adult monarch unpalatable to predators.
Step 5:  Sketch your garden plan.  After collecting the preceding information consult with a local nurseryman or naturalist to decide which plants would be suitable for your yard.  Remember to consider the sun and wind.

Step 6:  Use diversity, not pesticides.  Pesticides kill butterflies.  Butterfly gardening is next to impossible when pesticides are sprayed in the area.  By planting a garden with many types of plant species you will have fewer pest problems.  Plant diversity creates a "balanced garden."

 

Step 7:  Accommodate nature.  Butterflies evolved along with native plant communities.  Plant a meadow area with tall native grasses and wildflowers.  These plants provide food and shelter for butterflies.  To maintain your wild patch cut it once at the end of the summer, every year or two.

Plant a Monarch Waystation

The Standard Monarch Waystation Seed Kit, for gardens east of the Rocky Mountains, contains the following species:

MILKWEED 
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata

GENERAL NECTAR PLANTS
Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)
Tithonia Torch, Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
Zinnia, Dahlia Mix (Zinnia elegans)
The Western Monarch Waystation Seed Kit, for gardens west of the Rocky Mountains, contains the following species:

MILKWEED 
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa
Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis
Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata

GENERAL NECTAR PLANTS
Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea
Chia (Salvia columbariae)
Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)
Tithonia Torch, Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia
Zinnia, Dahlia Mix (Zinnia elegans)
 
Learn more about Monarch Watch and their "Bring Back the Monarchs' campaign!
Let's not let the monarch migration become a memory.  It's not too late...

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The Importance of Pollinators

 
Plant a Pollinator Garden!
Here is a list of pollinator friendly plants.  Remember to limit your use of pesticides and set aside a portion of your garden as a wild area containing native plant species.


Lavandula spp. (Lavender)
Rosemarinus officinalis (Rosemary)
Salvia spp. (Sage)
Echinacea spp. (Coneflower)
Helianthus spp. (Sunflower)
Cercis spp. (Redbud)
Nepeta spp. (Catnip)
Penstemon spp. (Penstemon)
Stachys spp. (Lamb’s ears)
Verbena spp. (Verbena)
Phacelia spp. (Bells or Phacelia)
Aster spp. (Aster)
Rudbeckia spp. (Black-eyed Susan)
Origanum spp. (Oregano)
Achilliea millefolium (Yarrow)
 
Click on the image below to download a free guide to selecting plants for pollinators in the Prairie Parkland region.  Guides for other areas can be found by clicking on the Pollinator Partnership logo below.

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Attracting Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are one of the smallest birds in the world and the only bird that can fly  backwards.  Found only in the Americas, there are 319 species, 15 of which can be found in the United States.  Here in the Kansas City area only one species is found, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  Hummers can be seen in our area from mid-April to October.  They winter along the Gulf Coast, Mexico, Panama, and the Yucatan.  Some even cross the 500 mile wide gulf of Mexico in about 20 hours, nonstop.
One good way to enjoy the company of Hummingbirds is to plant a hummingbird garden.  In addition to providing them a natural diet, a hummer garden is an excellent way to attract them to your nearby feeder.  Since hummers, like most birds, have virtually no sense of smell, the flowers that attract them tend to have little or no fragrance.  They feed by sight on a regularly-followed route.  Their inquisitive nature will quickly lead them to investigate any possible new source of food.

Using a Feeder

The best color for a feeder is bright red to attract the birds from a distance.  Never fill your feeders with anything but a sugar-water mixture of 1 part sugar to 4 parts waterDo not make the nectar any sweeter because this can cause the hummer's liver to enlarge and lead to death.  Do not use food coloring of any kind, and never use honey.  (Honey can develop a fungus which can be fatal to hummingbirds.)  Be sure to clean and refill your feeders weekly.  Don't worry about leaving your feeders out in the Fall.  Hummingbirds migrate on changing day length, not on availability of food.

Place the feeder in a semi-protected place where rain cannot dilute the nectar mixture in the end of the tube.  Avoid direct sunlight as heat may cause the nectar to expand and be lost unnecessarily.  Heat also enhances bacterial growth.  If ants are attracted, moisten the hanging wire with salad oil.  Bee guards prevent bees from using the feeder.  Clusters of bees will keep hummers away.

Hummingbird's Favorite Flowers

Perennials

Agastache, Alcea, Aquilegia, Asclepias, Buddleia, Columbine, Delphinium, Dicentra, Digitalis, Echinicea, Hemerocallis, Heuchera, Hibisicus, Hosta, Iris, Kniphofia, Lavandula, Lobelia, Monarda, Nepeta, Penstemon, Phlox, Physostegia, Salvia, Veronica

Annuals

Canna, Cigar Plant, Cleome, Fuchsia, Impatiens, Lantana, Nicotiana, Petunia, Salvia, Verbena

Tropicals

Hibiscua, Dipladenia, Ixora, Jatropha, Mandevilla, Rusellia

Shrubs

Azalea, Cotoneaster, Quince, Lilac, Mimosa, Rose of Sharon, Weigela

 

Vines

Bouganvilla,  Cardinal Climber, Clematis, Honeysuckle, Morning Glory, Scarlet Runner Bean, Trumpet Vine

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Steps to Designing a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

  1. List Your Favorite Animals:  Write down the types of animals you have observed in your neighborhood. Then decide which of these animals are most appealing to you.
  2. Evaluate Your Backyard:  Record what features you have in your yard.  Sketch out any natural or man-made features; walkways, utility lines, meters etc. Think about how you use your backyard.
  3. Select Wildlife Food Plants:  Choose trees, shrubs, vines and flowers that benefit the types of wildlife that you want to attract.
  4. Furnish Cover:  Your landscape plants are where wildlife species will seek protection, live and raise their young.   Construct nesting boxes, birdhouses and feeders to supplement your natural habitat.
  5. Woo Wildlife With Water:  Your landscape is not complete without water.  Birdbaths, fountains or garden ponds will attract a variety of wildlife.
  6. Create Your Landscape Plan:  Make a diagram to help plan for trees, pools, rock piles, and flower gardens for the enjoyment of both you and your wildlife visitors.

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Attracting Songbirds

Landscape plants provide both food and shelter for songbirds.  It is good to create a landscape with many different species of plants...the more diversity you have the more songbirds you will attract.  When choosing plants for your wildlife garden remember that some modern hybrids are sterile and may not produce seed or fruit.  When possible plant native varieties. 

Create an open area surrounded by a mixed shrub and flower border.  Choose plants with a variety of heights and don't forget to add your water source.  Your water source could be a pond or birdbath.  The sound of trickling or running water will attract many birds.  The National Wildlife Federation recommends the following plants for planting in the central region of the United States for attracting songbirds and wildlife.

Plants That Attract Songbirds and Wildlife

 Annuals

Cosmos

Cypress-Vine

Heliotrope

Impatiens

Lantana

Marigold

Indian Paintbrush

Annual Phlox

Scarlet Sage

Zinnia 

Perennials

Basket-of-gold

Blazing Star

Butterfly-weed

Candytuft

Cardinal Flower

Wild Columbine

Coral Bells

Dame's Rocket

Scarlet Gilia

Lavender

Oswego-tea

Showy Stonecrop

Mexican Sunflower

Sweet William

Evergreen Shrubs

Cotoneaster

Oregon Grape-holly

Chinese Holly

Pfitzer Juniper

Bearberry

Waxleaf Privet

Japanese Yew

Deciduous Shrubs

Japanese Barberry

Bayberry

Blackberry

Bluebeard

Blueberry

Butterfly Bush

Sand Cherry

Virginia Creeper

Red Currant

Redosier Dogwood

Firethorn

Winterberry Holly

Amur Honeysuckle

Tatarian Honeysuckle

Common Lilac

Amur Privet

Serviceberry

Trumpet-creeper

American Cranberrybush

Blackhaw Viburnum

Deciduous Trees

White Ash*

Quaking Aspen

American Beech

Choke Cherry

Wild Black Cherry

Crabapples

Hackberry

Red Maple

White Mulberry

Northern Red Oak

Pin Oak

White Oak

Pecan

*Due to the destruction of Ash trees by the Emerald Ash Tree Borer please use caution when planting Ash.

Evergreen Trees

Eastern Hemlock

Rocky Mtn. Juniper

Austrian Pine

Eastern White Pine

Japanese Black Pine

Loblolly Pine

Ponderosa Pine

Eastern Red-cedar

Colorado Blue Spruce

Norway Spruce

 

Please consult with your local nurseryman about appropriate substitutions for your area.

Backyard Birdfeeding

Each year millions of Americans enjoy the leisurely activity of birdfeeding.  While most people mainly feed birds in the winter, many now enjoy year-round feeding.  In fact, the most crucial time in the life of many songbirds is in the early spring when naturally occuring seeds are more scarce.  It is especially enjoyable to watch adult birds feeding their newly hatched babies at your feeding station.  Bird feeders can be as simple as seed placed on the ground or complex, designed to attract specific types of birds.  Remember to locate your feeder where you can enjoy it from inside your home.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed a study of seed preferences by songbirds.  The study shows birds that prefer large seeds are highly attracted to sunflower seed, specifically the smaller, black oil-type.  Birds, such as sparrows, that like smaller seed, prefer white proso millet.

Bird Seed Preferences

The following table lists the seed preferences of 13 common Missouri songbirds.  (Seeds in BOLD indicate HIGH attractiveness.)
American GoldfinchBlack-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, Hulled Sunflower, Niger "Thistle" Seed
Blue Jay:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, Hulled Sunflower, Fine Cracked Corn, Peanut Hearts
Brown-headed Cowbird:  Black-oil Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Red Proso Millet, Canary Seed, Hulled Oats
CardinalBlack-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Red Proso Millet, Hulled Sunflower, Wheat, Safflower Seed
Chickadee:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, Hulled Sunflower
Common Grackle Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Hulled Sunflower, Fine Cracked Corn, Peanut Hearts, Niger "Thistle" Seed, Hulled Oats
House Sparrow:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Red Proso Millet, Hulled Sunflower, Fine Cracked Corn, Canary Seed, Wheat
Mourning DoveBlack-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Red Proso Millet, Hulled Sunflower, Fine Cracked Corn, Canary Seed, Peanut Hearts, Niger "Thistle" Seed, Wheat, Safflower Seed, Hulled Oats, Milo, Rice
Purple Finch:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, Hulled Sunflower, Canary Seed, Niger "Thistle" Seed
Song Sparrow:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Red Proso Millet, Hulled Sunflower, Fine Cracked Corn, Canary Seed, Peanut Hearts, Safflower Seed
Tufted Titmouse:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower
White-crowned Sparrow:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Red Proso Millet, Hulled Sunflower, Fine Cracked Corn, Canary Seed, Peanut Hearts, Milo, Rice
White-throated Sparrow:  Black-oil Sunflower, Black-striped Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Red Proso Millet, Hulled Sunflower, Fine Cracked Corn, Canary Seed, Peanut Hearts, Wheat, Safflower Seed, Hulled Oats, Milo
 

Types of Bird Feeders

Tube feeders come in many different styles.  They are great for feeding smaller birds and can hold a variety of seed.  Some come with squirrel-proof cages attached.
Finch feeders are a tube style feeder that has small openings to hold the smaller Niger seed that finches love.
Hopper feeders are made to hold larger quantities of seed.  They can be mounted to a pole or hang from a tree and can accomodate larger birds.
Suet feeders are made for clinging birds like woodpeckers.  They may hang vertically or horizontally and hold suet cake. 
Tired of fighting off the squirrels?  Maybe a squirrel feeder is for you.  They come in several styles, mount to the side of a tree and hold peanuts or corn.