Attracting Birds to the Garden
Not just fun to watch flying and foraging through the garden, birds provide valuable insect-removal services. Encouraging them to call your garden home can help keep insect pests under control and, let’s face it, just plain makes your garden a more interesting and lively place to enjoy! Here are a few tips to draw birds to your garden by providing them with the food, shelter and water they seek.
Plant for multiple needs Plant trees & evergreens for nesting and cover, and berry producing trees and shrubs for food. Many flowering perennials set seeds that birds love if you leave the spent flowers. Here is a printable plant list of plants that encourage birds.
Provide a water source Preferably near shrubs or trees that can provide shelter in case a predator approaches. Should be shallow (1-2”) and be emptied and scrubbed clean every few days to minimize mosquitoes, algae and accumulated droppings and shed feathers.
Create a brush pile Pile storm-damaged or pruned branches into a loose pile at the edge of your property to provide shelter.
Leave some leaves Rake fallen leaves into shallow piles (off the grass). Earthworms, pillbugs, insects and spiders will collect in decomposing leaf piles and attract the insect-eating birds. It’s fun to watch birds dig and scratch through the piles!
Research feeder types Different birds prefer different feeder types and locations. Provide the appropriate type for the birds you’d like to attract. Suet holders mounted on trees will attract different birds than a nyjer sock or a platform feeder.
Bird seed/feed choice will also influence the types of birds you attract. For example, safflower seed attracts cardinals, nuthatches, titmice and chickadees, while squirrels and blackbirds generally leave it alone.
To keep squirrels from raiding the bird seed, use a birdseed with hot pepper added (or you can get hot pepper additive to mix with your favorite bird seed blend). Squirrels don’t like the spicy flavor, while bids don’t even notice it.
While ‘squirrel-proof’ feeders seem expensive, they can save money in the long run in the cost of replacing squirrel-chewed feeders, and all that birdseed that they gobble up. Plus, watching squirrels be defeated by the feeders is always amusing.
Keep feeders full year ‘round Birds learn to forage where the food is readily available. Once they learn your diner is always open, they will return regularly.
Minimize use of pesticides Many of the insects that live on and around plants are tasty to insect-eating birds, including some plant pests and the insects that feed on them.
Keep Kitty inside! While she may be a loving ball of fur indoors, outside she’s a lethal predator.
Long-term Effects of Plant Stress
Hot, dry summer weather can have consequences for your landscape plants beyond the obvious wilting leaves. Days, weeks or even months later your plants may develop a disease or insect problem that was in part caused by summer weather.
In plants, the concept of the “disease triangle” describes the interaction of host (the plant), pathogen (the disease) and the environment (where the plant grows). In a healthy plant, this triangle is in balance: a plant with little predisposition to disease in an ideally suitable environment, with little disease pressure. When the triangle becomes unbalanced, a diseased plant is the result.
Summer provides many opportunities for the triangle to become unbalanced. Most plants are stressed by high temperatures and dry conditions. Some plants are stressed by high humidity. Late day rains are often not enough to relieve dry conditions, but leave leaves wet through the night, providing opportunity for fungal and bacterial pathogens to grow. Well-meaning homeowners may actually overwater plants during a drought, leaving the roots damaged and starved for oxygen. Increased populations of insects feeding create small wounds that permit pathogens to enter the plant, while at the same time weakening the plant.
Just like people, high levels of stress make fighting off disease more difficult. Just as you are more susceptible to the flu after a long, difficult week at work, your landscape plants may begin developing disease in or after summer.
Plant diseases are not the only consequence of plant stress. Stressed plants both produce fewer chemicals that naturally deter insects, and produce more chemicals that attract insects that feed on them. This can result in insect infestations that can cause problems for an already weakened plant.
And the susceptibility may last beyond the time of the stress.
For example, a shrub may develop a winter mite infestation long after the summer because it was stressed by heat and dry soil. It wouldn’t occur to you that the previous summer might be a factor. Or a tree may begin to show signs of disease and decline years after a drought.
So what can you do to prevent plant disease or insect infestations when the weather is completely uncontrollable? You can make sure that the factors that you can control are as ideal as you can make them:
Choose plants suitable for the location, with sun exposure and soil in mind. (Controlling the host)
Make the soil, which is a large part of the environment, as good as possible with soil amendments, organic fertilizers, and adequate soil moisture. (Controlling the environment)
Controlling the pathogens themselves is difficult as many are soil- or airborne. Practicing good plant hygiene by removing and disposing of dead or diseased leaves and branches helps.
Be alert for problems after periods of stress for your plants and you just may catch a problem developing early when it’s easy to treat.
Irrigation Systems-Good, but not Perfect
I had an irrigation system installed so I would not have to worry about watering my plants in the summer. It seems to be working fine, but in spots my plants look like they are wilting in the heat and my lawn doesn’t look good. I spent money on this system so I wouldn’t have to deal with this-what gives?
Welcome to the almost-but-not-quite perfect world of irrigation systems! While they can take a lot of pressure off you in summer as far as meeting the water needs of your landscape, they are not a “set it, forget it, and walk away” solution.
As much as you invest in an irrigation system, they are still simply clocks and hoses when it comes down to it. While an irrigation controller can handle multiple programs, ensuring they the needs of different parts of your landscape are met, it can’t actually “think”. The smartest irrigation controller cannot know what a human would know that would affect irrigation and make decisions adjusting frequency and volume. For example, are there several days of rain forecast? Dial back the frequency. Has it failed to rain in weeks with unusually high temperatures? Increase water volume by increasing time.
Not only are the best irrigation clocks relatively “dumb”, but even the best system design (as in the location and output of all the sprinkler heads and drippers) is only 50% as efficient as natural rain-and that’s at the start. Drippers and sprinkler heads get damaged by equipment, foot traffic, playing children and animals. Landscape additions may lay at the edge of the system, typically the area of weakest coverage.
A well-designed system will work great most of the time, but it is not quite enough when weather extremes affect the landscape, particularly heat and drought. During those times you may notice some wilting plants and browning grass. While not pretty, usually everything recovers when the extreme weather ends. (Cool season grasses, regardless of irrigation, will go dormant or semi-dormant for the summer once the thermometer hits 90F for any length of time. They rebound as temperatures drop in fall.)
You may ask why not just set the system to put out more water-that should cover any hot weather we get, right? Well, no. During “normal” summer weather that would be too much water and can lead to disease problems (and certainly higher water bills.)
Irrigation systems are designed to supply enough water for most situations, even in summer. During periods of extreme heat and low rainfall they can supply enough for your landscape to survive, though some cosmetic issues may arise. If that concerns you, it won’t hurt to assess and hand water any areas you might be concerned with.