by Kathie Hopkins
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener
Many gardeners enjoy the natural wildlife that shares their garden space. The swallowtail butterflies, goldfinch and hummingbirds are beautiful additions to the garden design that a homeowner has envisioned. In order to attract wildlife to your garden, keep their needs in mind when designing the space. The area must provide adequate food, cover, water and a place to raise young. Any kind of landscaping attracts wildlife – robins, mice and beetles. A natural landscape may bring in orioles, waxwings and finches or even rabbits and deer. Learn to attract the ones you want and live with the others. This doesn’t mean the area is designed specifically for wildlife; you must enjoy it also.
Wildflowers attract insects and birds via nectar, seeds and fruit. Hummingbirds enjoy bee balm (Monarda didyma) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). They are particularly attracted to bright colors such as red, orange and purple and plants such as fuchsias (Fuchsia hybrida), currant bushes (Ribes spp.) and penstemon (Penstemon spp.). Trees and shrubs that produce nuts and berries are food sources for birds and small mammals. Birds you might attract include: black-capped chickadee, blue jay, hummingbirds and tufted titmouse. Trees in the front range area that provide fruit or berries include American hackberry (Celtis spp.), flowering crabapples (Malus spp.), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) and mountain ash (Sorbus spp.). Plants that offer seeds for wildlife include lilacs (Syringa spp.), rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.), and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). Ornamental grasses also provide seeds and some examples include blue fescue (Festuca ovina var.glauca), blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutifolia ‘Stricta”) and quaking grass (Briza media).
If you are interested in attracting butterflies to your yard, they will need a nectar source for the adult and a food source for the larvae (caterpillar). Butterflies like cosmos (Cosmos spp.), asters (Aster spp.), verbenas (Verbenaceae spp.), and zinnias (Zinnia spp.). Butterflies prefer flat, single rather than double flowers. And they like the flowers in full sun instead of shade. Sources include sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), roses (Rosa spp.), and elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). The butterflies will lay their eggs in a plant that provides a food source for the caterpillar; use fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), dill (Anethum graveolens) or violets (Viola spp.) to provide their nutrition. The caterpillars of the monarch butterflies must have milkweed plant to feed on; it is their sole food source, so consider allowing this plant to inhabit your backyard.
A mixture of trees and shrubs provide the best cover for wildlife, birds will use the shelter to build nests and protect their young, while butterflies will use it for shade as well as protection from predators. Other sources of shelter can be brush piles, hollow logs and thick stands of brambles. Even a dead tree will be used as a nesting site or perch. A diverse selection of plants will encourage more species of wildlife to your yard, so mix juniper and chokecherries, bur oak and hackberries into your yard. If you are attracting birds to your yard, think about putting a bell on your cat to warn the birds of its approach.
All wildlife need a source of water. Birds need water for drinking and bathing. If the bird’s feathers are dirty, the bird is unable to fluff up, leaving it without insulation from heat and cold. Many birdbaths come with a heater or you can buy a drop-in heater to use during the winter months. Refill the water every day. Scrub the birdbath frequently to avoid mosquito larvae and contamination from bird droppings. Keep the water in an open area so birds can be on the lookout for predators. Butterflies will appreciate a rock with a small depression to hold a puddle of water; they will use the area for sunning and drinking.
Other wildlife that will be attracted to your yard, include insects and snakes. Ladybeetles are wonderful aphid eaters; praying mantis, dragonflies and spiders will provide organic pest control in your garden. Earthworms are not technically an insect, however, they are very beneficial to the soil. Soil with actively decaying organic matter attracts earthworms and compost piles help meet their needs. Earthworm castings are seven times as rich in some of the soil nutrients and their natural tunneling aids in aerating our dense soil. Snakes can also be seen in a native backyard habitat. Most snakes aren’t dangerous and they eat mice and rats. The familiar garter is slender with three stripes on its body, one down the back and one on each side. They feed primarily on frogs, toads and worms. If you are unable to identify the wildlife that is in your garden, try www.coopext.colostate.edu/wildlife/; this website offers identifying characteristics and wildlife management information.
Remember that using any pesticide has the potential to harm or kill the wildlife that you are attracting to your backyard. Try handpicking the pest as your first solution. If this doesn’t decrease the damage to an acceptable level, you might consider a species-specific control such as Bt. However, the use of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is organic, will kill all caterpillars, so use the Bt carefully.
The use of bird feeders is controversial. Many naturalists advise that birds don’t need the feeders and the only advantage of the feeder is that it attracts the birds to an area that allows people to see the birds at close range. If you decide to use a bird feeder, be responsible by keeping it clean and ensuring that shelter is nearby.
Postpone garden clean up until early spring so the birds can enjoy the seeds that are on the flowers. Coneflowers and sunflowers are good examples of flowers that provide hundreds of seeds during the winter. Remember to keep a water source thawed for the birds.
If you are interested in creating a native habitat in your yard, you can receive more information from the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, National Wildlife Federation, 1400 Sixteenth Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036-2266. They will send you a kit with a wildlife planting guide, instructions to build your own nesting box, a video entitled, “Wildlife in Your Own Backyard,” information on creating a wildlife habitat and the application for certification. The purpose of this program is to counteract the destruction of wildlife habitat by land development by making sure properties in developments include habitat. The joy and beauty of your garden will be increased by the wildlife that inhabits the space.
For more information on backyard gardening for wildlife, call the Larimer County Cooperative Extension Office at 498-6000 and request Fact Sheets #7.232 - Ornamental grasses, #7.233 - Wildflowers in Colorado, #7.415 - Deciduous shrubs, and #7.419 - Large deciduous trees. You can also download these fact sheets directly from the website at www.larimer.org/extension
Gardeners who are considering making changes to their yard to attract wildlife should be certain that sufficient water is available for the next two years before planting trees, shrubs, perennials and turf as new plantings require additional moisture for 1-2 years to get established. Make your plans now for a native habitat and you will be ready to plant when the rains come.
Q. What is deadheading?
A. Deadheading refers to the practice of cutting off the spent blooms from your flowers. The plant is putting its energy into producing flowers, which turn into seeds, thereby ensuring that the species persists. By cutting off the flowers, the plant is encouraged to put out more flowers so that seed is generated. Deadheading may extend the bloom period for several weeks or give you a second “flush” of color in the late summer.
Q. When should I dig up my dahlias?
A. Summer bulbs such as dahlias, cannas and gladiolus will not live through Colorado’s dry, cold winters. After the foliage has been killed by frost, dig up the bulbs, brush off the surrounding soil and keep the bulbs in a cool, dry place until next spring when you can plant them again. Some gardeners will replant the bulbs into fresh potting soil and keep the entire container in a cool, dark spot while moistening the soil occasionally. Then put the pot outside when the frosts have left us again.
Q. How will the drought affect my trees, shrubs and perennials through the winter?
A. In Colorado, plants require additional moisture in dry fall and winter
months. This is particularly important for plants that have been
planted in the past year as their root systems are not yet fully developed.
Given the drought of the past year, fall watering is critical. Understand
the present watering restrictions in your area and plan your watering appropriately.
Plants will have a better chance of making it through the winter if they get sufficient moisture in the fall. Watering deeply once per month (holidays can be a good way to remember to water) will help your plants get the water they need. Water when the air and soil temperatures are above freezing. Tree roots extend way beyond the dripline in mature trees and within the initial planting area for newly planted trees so focus water depending on the age of the tree. Since watering restrictions are likely next year even with a good winter snow pack, be sure that water will be available for the next 12 months before planting new landscapes.
Mulching is another way to help your plants survive the coming winter.
Place three inches of mulch over the root system but keep the mulch approximately
6 inches from the trunks of trees and shrubs. Mulch will help moderate
soil temperatures and retain moisture.
Drought stressed lawns that have not been regularly watered this summer will probably not benefit from aeration this fall as the ground is quite hard and plugs will not be easily pulled. In addition, aeration creates holes that will promote drying and will not heal quickly. Actively growing and regularly watered lawns will benefit from aeration.
High temperatures and drought conditions are the causes of leaf scorch on many aspen, maple and linden leaves this year. Many trees were not able to draw up the moisture needed to match the loss from intense heat. In most cases, the branches are still alive and new buds have been set for next year.
Before the first frost, dig geraniums that you wish to save for next year. Plant in a container large enough for the root system and prune and place them in a shady area.
The authors have received training through Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.
Gardening and Insect Fact Sheets are available on-line by clicking HERE.
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