The Best Plants for Attracting Birds and Other Pollinators to Your Garden
As ornithologist Pete Dunne, the former director of New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory, once wrote, "Birds are almost always where they are supposed to be." Attracting them is a form of matchmaking: You review your nearest bird club's local species checklist, then assess what you have growing in your garden, plus what's in the surrounding natural areas (a forest or field, for example). The goal is to figure out what you have the right conditions for, then make your place more robust and welcoming.
That's precisely what Margaret Roach, Living's founding garden editor and former editorial director has done, turning her Hudson Valley landscape into a paradise for almost 70 (and counting) species of birds.
When she moved to the property 30 years ago, she inherited big, century-old apple trees, remnants of a former orchard, from the original owners. They attract loads of pollinators while in bloom starting each May; now they are echoed by an espaliered Asian pear that she added at the back of the house. These hardy fixtures bear fruit in the fall, joining masses of easy-care shrubs that birds adore, like winterberry, spicebush, and chokeberry. "With each adjustment I've made, more wildlife has arrived," Roach says. "I now enjoy nearly 70 'regulars,' from scarlet tanagers to fluttering hummingbirds, as well as a growing list of butterflies, moths, and even dragonflies." Read on for Roach's tips on cultivating a haven for birds and other wildlife, including the plant life she introduced to create her now lush and lively landscape.
These are plants that grow naturally in the place where they have evolved. They provide nectar for pollinators, like moths and butterflies, and food and shelter for caterpillars. Members of the sunflower family (goldenrod, coneflowers, asters) are great options. Be mindful of so-called "nativars," cultivars of native species. These genetic variants are bred by growers for unusual leaf color or flower form. Hydrangea 'Annabelle', for instance, is loaded with sterile bracts instead of nectar-rich fertile flowers.
Crab apples, shown here on Roach's property, start fruiting in September.
In fall, goldenrod hosts many insects, like this locust borer.
Aim for a Steady Stream of Different Blooms
This means more food for wildlife, and a cascading buffet of fruit and seeds afterward.
Native chokeberry (Aronia melano-carpa), shown here, also produces white flowers in spring.
Hellebores and Hylomecon
A jumble of white Trillium grandiflorum and red T. erectum, hellebores, and yellow Hylomecon.
"Oak is the most powerful plant you can put on your property," says Doug W. Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home." The genus can host 532 species of butterflies and moths. If possible, make room for bird-sheltering native conifers, too.
Crab apples, shown here, bloom in spring.
A hummingbird feasts on a cardinal climber with its deeply cut foliage and rich crimson, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom from mid-summer to fall.