Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Here Are 5 Vines That Will Attract Birds To Your Garden

Hummingbird with Trumpet Vine

As I noted in a previous article, bird-watchers who want to see them up close usually attract them with bird feeders, houses and baths. There are, however, other ways of enticing them that shouldn't be overlooked. The landscape can be transformed into a bird sanctuary by including plants that provide food and shelter. Ornamental vines are important components of such a plan.

Here are 5 ornamental vines that birds find irresistible.

A Clarion Call For Hummingbirds 

Trumpet Vine (pictured above) or Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) is a climbing deciduous vine native to the southern United States. Travelers may have noticed it growing up and over fences and signposts along the highway. Large, bright yellow, orange to red trumpetshaped flowers appear from midsummer to fall. Campsis is popular world-wide for its stunning flowers, and because it attracts hummingbirds.

Campsis is cold-hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 10. For best results, plant in full sun, well-drained soil with average to poor fertility. Plants are drought tolerant when established and heat-loving. It is best planted next to a permanent structure for support.

Carolina Jessamine - Gelsemium sempervirens

Yellow Garlands of Spring 

Gelsemium sempervirens – known as Carolina Jasmine, Carolina Jessamine, Yellow Jasmine, and whatever else comes to the viewer’s mind – is another great native plant that provides nectar for the birds. It’s grown mostly for its glorious early spring flowers. Southerners wax nostalgic about it. Unfortunately, it is cold hardy only in USDA climate zones 7 through 9. The flowers usually appear before the hummingbirds arrive, so is best planted as a nectar source for other species. I’ve written much more about it in a blog article, Carolina Jessamine – The Yellow Garlands of Spring.

Wild and Wonderful 

English Ivy - Hedera helixMost of us think of English ivy and all its varieties as a rampant but boring evergreen covering, or worse. But look closer and you’ll find a plant with lots of interesting variations that can not only provide mass ground- or wall covering, but also shelter and an ornamental food source for birds.

Some folks dislike ivy for it's vigorous growth habit. The very characteristic that makes it a fine ground cover can render it unwelcome; it covers ground. It's true that ivy can be troublesome if completely unchecked, but ivy does not damage trees or sound structures. It isn't a parasite. It cannot harm a mature tree, but it could outlive an old one. It cannot collapse a sound building. Ivy is a major food source for many birds, and the fruits ripen up just in time to fatten them before winter arrives. Hedera ivies also provide abundant shelter.

It Keeps Institutions From Crumbling 

Boston Ivy - Parthenocissus tricuspidataBoston Ivy - Parthenocissus tricuspidata - is native to east Asia, not Massachusetts. Each leaf is composed of three lobes. In juvenile foliage, each lobe is very distinct. It is a vigorous climber, as anyone who has seen it on a wall knows well. Fall brings bright colors of yellow, orange, red or burgundy. The walls it adorns seem draped in a majestic tapestry. It is also widely used to cover trellises, pergolas, and as an ornamental ground cover for erosion control. Small flowers appear in July or August followed by fruits in October or November, and birds love 'em.

Boston ivy grows in any fertile, well-drained soil, and thrives in USDA climate zones 48. In other words, it'll probably perform well in your garden.

A Native With Great Possibilities 

Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquifolia
Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia - is native to many parts of North America, from Quebec to Florida, and westward to Colorado. It's a member of the grape (Vitaceae) family. The relationship is easy to see when you look at the flowers and fruits, but I don't recommend them for human consumption. Each leaf is composed of five leaflets. It climbs vigorously. Fall brings bright colors of yellow, orange, red or burgundy. The depth of fall color seems to depend upon available sunlight. Virginia Creeper is widely used as an ornamental ground cover, but its fall color and ability to cover walls, trellises and pergolas makes it popular as well.

Virginia Creeper thrives USDA climate zones 3-9, a broader range than Boston ivy will tolerate. Its fruit and dense growth habit make it very attractive to birds for food and shelter.

These suggested vines, along with many bulbs, perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees will be welcome additions to your landscape from the birds' points of view.

Remember to think outside the bird feeder when you plan to feed the birds.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

5 Flowering Perennials That Attract Birds

Bird on Echinacea flower seeds

Bird-watchers who want to see them up close usually attract them with bird feeders, houses and baths. Why not? The avian friends are provided their creature comforts, and we enjoy the pleasure of their company. But they are also attracted to natural sources, especially foods. By planting flowers that produce seed and nectar, we can beautify our landscapes and feed the birds at the same time.

When choosing them, consider bloom time, the types of seeds and nectar produced, and the species they would attract. From early to late, nectar to seed, this will provide extended seasons of color and bird-watching interest. Otherwise, planting for the birds should follow the same principles you would for planning any garden.

There is also a financial benefit; perennial herbs and vines produce nectar and seeds season-after-season so you don’t have to buy so many so often.

You must remember that to grow flowers successfully for the birds, you shouldn’t dead-head them,i.e. remove the spent flowers. It defeats the purpose if the seeds aren’t allowed to mature. Another consideration is that plants should be chosen for their minimal maintenance requirements. Selections that require pesticides to prevent insects and diseases present a hazard to the birds.

Here are 5 flowering perennials that the birds and you will love.

Coreopsis is a bright-flowered plant that resembles large asters. In fact, Coreopsis is a member of the Aster family. Most are yellow, but some are in pink shades, too.

Coreopsis is commonly known as tickseed, and for good reasons. Coreopsis means "bug-like", in reference to the little dry fruits called achenes which in some ways resemble insects. Not only are the seeds small and brown, their hair-like structures cling to passers-by who brush against them; and they don't just drop off, they must be picked off. Thus the name, Tickseed. Birds love them!


Dendranthema, commonly known as “hardy garden mum”, is a gorgeous, old-fashioned looking plant with blossoms that resemble large daisies. Colors vary, but my favorite shade is pink. It’s what you might expect to see in your grandmother’s garden. Maintenance is minimal. It blooms in late summer or fall. Birds are attracted to their abundant seeds.


Echinacea is known worldwide for its showy flowers, reputed herbal remedies, and abundant seeds. It’s native to the United States and Canada, and known by many names including Hedgehog or Purple Cone flower, and Comb flower. All because of the very obvious seeds. Birds notice them, too. The handsome flowers are often used in decorative fresh and dried arrangements. The plants require very little maintenance, are drought-tolerant, and will grow just about anywhere.


Rudbeckia is one of my summer favorites, and not mine only. I often pass cars parked beside highways, the driver and passengers strolling among bright-flowered patches to pluck bouquets. Birds also love the seeds of Black-eyed Susans.

They’re mighty easy to grow, especially R. fulgida, which is the great-granddaddy of the most reliable perennial cultivars. If they’ll grow untended beside the highway, they ought to thrive for you. Read my article, Rudbeckia – Where Black-eyed Susans Grow, for in-depth info on this memorable and ever-popular selection.


I admit that Sedum is not the first flower that comes to mind to those who want to feed the birds, but I want to remedy that. As you know, sedum flowers prolifically. All those tiny jewels at shoe level are perfect for ground-feeding species.

Beside the fact that the seeds nourish birds, sedum is a marvelous ground cover for filling cracks and crevices in rock gardens and stone walls, and for cascading out of containers. What’s more, sedum will grow just about anywhere. If you garden from USDA climate zone 3 to 9, sedum will probably thrive for you.

These suggestions, of course, do not represent all the plant choices to consider. Asters, Centaurea, Cosmos, Gaillardia, Helianthus, Leucanthemum, Papaver, Solidago, Tagetes, and even those cursed Taraxacum (Dandelions), attract birds. Think outside the bird feeder when you think of feeding the birds.!

For these and many other bird-friendly plants,!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

5 Ways To Transform Your Yard Into A Bird Sanctuary

Chikadee bird

5 Ways To Transform Your Yard Into A Bird Sanctuary

I know what you’re going to say. “I see birds in my yard all the time. What more do I need to do?”

I’m glad you asked.

Fact is, birds really could use your help. Sure, diseases and weather-related hardships take their toll. Habitat is diminishing in some areas, or the neighborhood just isn’t what it used to be.Cats, especially of the feral persuasion, are estimated to kill 1.3 – 4.0 billion birds annuallyin the United States. Accidents and collisions with man-made vehicles and structures account for the deaths of millions more.

With those things in mind, here are five ways to transform your yard into a bird sanctuary:
  1. Make your yard a welcoming place for birds. Provide the basic things birds need – food, water, shelter, and places to nest. Plan your landscape with your feather friends in mind. Include shrubs and trees, and especially native plants that produce their favorite foods. Cedar waxwings swarm my holly and mulberry trees for the berries in spring. Pileated woodpeckers swoop in to peck the bright red magnolia seeds from their pods. Provide bird baths and shallow pools for water. Erect bird houses, nesting boxes, and leave nesting materials about for them to snuggle up in.
  2. Provide foods they’ll actually eat. Black-oil sunflower seeds work best for our birds, while millet and nyjer seeds go mostly untouched. We found that some brands of suet are ignored, but others are devoured in short order. If you’re not sure what will work for you, experiment with small amounts of different foods, or ask a bird-lover in your area. When you get it figured out, make sure you keep an ample supply in your feeders.
  3. Keep it clean. You wouldn’t want to eat in a nasty restaurant, would you? Neither do the birds. So, keep the feeders and water sources clean. A monthly scouring works. Wooden feeders should be lightly brushed to remove caked-on food. Metal suet cages and plastic bird feeders can probably go in the dishwasher. Birdbaths should be scrubbed with a wire brush. Keep fresh water on tap. If discarded seeds and hulls begin to accumulate, rake them up and get rid of them. And don’t forget to tidy up in and around the bird houses, too. Germs, mites and untold kinds of pestilence will congregate in dirty nesting boxes.
  4. Prevent accidents from happening. Most of us have heard the sickening thunk of a bird flying into a window. It might’ve thought it was portal into a better world, a way to escape, or the image (mirrored) of a foe. At any rate, the window turned out to be none of those things. You can avoid such accidents by attaching decals or stickers to your big windows. See-through screens outside the windows might soften the blow. Not only windows, but who-knows-what-else can hurt the birds: porch fans, low-hanging strings, hammocks, nets and chemicals can be hazardous. Scout for them, and think how you might mitigate or eliminate the danger.
  5. Now, about those cats. Even precious puddy tats are capable of catching innocent little birds to leave as gifts on your doorstep. If you can’t or won’t keep your cats indoors or feral beasts roam about, mount your feeders, baths and nesting boxes so the felines can’t get at them. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t feed your birds on the ground.
A Tale of Two Kitties cartoon image

These few steps should help you help the birds. Think how satisfied you’ll feel knowing the good you’ve done for the birds.

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