Gardening Can Be for the Birds!

Guest blog post by Nicole Jonas of Red Granite Farm

With the recent warm spring weather, home gardeners are getting eager to get their hands in the dirt. April is National Gardening Month after all! Perhaps you’d like to celebrate by planning a new garden space or refreshing an existing space that will be more inviting to your feathered friends.

The plants you choose will be dependent upon which birds you want to attract. Some families of birds will remain around your feeder all winter long, but most backyard birds will fly south when the Midwest weather turns cold.  If you plant a food source for birds, however, they are more likely to find your backyard on their migration pattern and return year after year.Beautiful Landscape

Two things are essential for attracting and keeping birds in your backyard: (1) an environment that is attractive to insects, which is a main food source for birds; and (2) cover, which is a place for them to live and build nests. A diverse combination of plants – perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, vegetable and even herb plants – can provide a year-round habitat and year-round food sources for many of our favorite backyard birds.

When planning a year-round habitat, it’s important to consider garden design. Select trees, shrubs and perennials that will provide flowers and fall color for aesthetics, as well as fruit and cover for the birds. Some of my favorite trees and shrubs that can give you this include Serviceberry, Crabapple, Barberry and Chokeberry.

The main foods of backyard birds include insects, seed (including nuts), fruits, berries and nectar. Because of their beak size and structure, some birds will be able to eat larger and tougher fruits while others will only be able to eat mushy fruit and smaller seeds from perennials and annuals. NOTE: Hummingbirds are in a class all their own. They sip sweet nectar from many perennial and annual flowers, especially those with a trumpet shaped flower.

OriolesOrnamental grasses can be a good choice for attracting birds, as well. When left standing into the fall and winter, grasses provide the birds with cover and the seedheads can provide a food source.

Even if you have a diverse plant pallet, you may still need to attract birds to your backyard with a feeder.  Woodpeckers especially love a suet feeder in the winter; a feeder of sunflower seeds attracts cardinals. In the summer months, you will find finches flocking to a feeder full of thistle seed. Orioles, however, will only stop if you have grape jelly and oranges ready at just the right time in May.

Have particular questions about making your yard more enticing to birds? Feel free to leave comments on this post or send me a message on Facebook.

Nicole in greenhouse

Nicole in the Greenhouse Photo credit: Val Plagge of Corn, Beans, Pigs, Kids

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nicole earned a degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Iowa State University (ISU). Her husband, Steve, earned a Horticulture degree from ISU in Fruit and Vegetable Production. On their farm near Boone, the Jonas family produces vegetables, fruits and perennial plants. Red Granite Farm will open May 1. Choose from more than 200 varieties of hardy perennials, vegetable and herb starts plus succulents. Red Granite produce is available at the North Grand Farmer’s Market in Ames. Farm fresh eggs from free range chickens are available at Red Granite Farm, Story City Locker and the Gateway Express station in Ames.