Landscape and Garden for the Birds and Butterflies

Birds and butterflies bring pleasure to everyone, especially gardeners, birdwatchers and children. The view of a red cardinal in February's dull landscape can cheer even the casual observer.

Birds not only bring beauty to our yards, they help control insects.Though many people put up bird feeders, the requirements for attracting more beneficial wildlife include plants that provide food, sources of water and shelter such as ground cover plants and brush piles.

A wet place in the garden can attract butterflies, frogs and salamanders. A dripping hose can provide enough water for the mud needed by robins and swallows for nest building.

Even though caterpillars and birds can do some damage to beneficial plants by eating them, they pay their rent by reducing the number of harmful insects and plant diseases in your vegetable, herb and flower beds. In addition, once a commitment is made to supporting wildlife, the cost of poisons will drop significantly.

Oklahoma State University Fact Sheet F 6435, "Landscaping and Gardening for Birds," points out that trees and shrubs are important to attracting wildlife. Perennial flowering plants, vines and vegetable crops attract birds. If you use a birdbath, there should be ten-feet clear all the way around it to prevent predators. It also helps to put a rock and stones in the birdbath for birds to sit on. Move birdbaths away from bird feeders to reduce the water spoilage.

Whenever possible, leave dead branches and tree trunks in the landscape for birds such as chickadees, warblers and nuthatches to hunt in them. Ground birds will spend the winter in a stack of limbs. Birds use dust for dust baths. If a small area can be left unplanted and dry for them, they will use it. Stir the soil and put some sand or crushed eggshells nearby for the grit they need.

Fact Sheet F 6435, "Landscaping and Gardening for Birds," has a six-page chart of trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants that you can gradually add to your landscape to attract wildlife.

And, gardeners do not have to use native plants exclusively. For example, plant a bed of petunias and zinnias to provide nectar got hummingbirds in the summer. English ivy provides shelter for wildlife all year and Cosmos seeds are eaten by Goldfinches.

Oklahoma State University Fact Sheet F-6430 "Landscaping to Attract Butterflies, Moths and Skippers" is a 12-page publication that identifies trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials that are attractive to adult butterflies for nectar and caterpillar stage insects for food.

Habitat can be created even in a small yard or on a balcony. Use a large pot or a series of pots to plant small trees such as Paw Paw or Dogwood, berry-bearing shrubs such as Winterberry, and then plant ivy or other low growing plants at the bottom.

When planning a spot to support wildlife, think in layers: Tall, medium and small trees plus shrubs plus ground cover.

Planting ideas: In half sun plant Columbine, in full sun plant Butterfly Bushes, on a fence plant a Trumpet Vine and in garden spots that stay moist plant Sweetspire or Spicebush.

A book that is useful for our area is, "Landscaping for Wildlife" by Jeremy Garrett, published 2003 by University of Oklahoma Press. Garrett's emphasis is on providing wildlife habitat all year.

The elements are food, water, cover and features for specific creatures you want to attract.Honeysuckle provides fruit for songbirds, cover for rabbits and most years a bird will nest in the vines. Spring Azure butterflies use the nectar.

Cherry Laurel is a durable tree that provides berries, cover and a place to build a nest.

Hackberry provides berries for birds and is a host plant for mourning cloak, hackberry emperor and American snout butterflies.Providing water is especially important in the winter and during the heat of the summer. Use a patio pond or plant a children's wading pool in your yard.

A pond with water plants will attract lots of wildlife. Consider: Buckbean for hummingbirds, Water Plantain for Cardinals and songbirds, Joe-Pye-weed for butterflies and hummingbirds, Milkweed for caterpillar food and nectar, and, Spicebush for hosting Eastern Tiger and Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies.

If you can attract box turtles to your yard, they will eat garden slugs, grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars. (Avoid applying slug-killing chemicals where turtles live.) Provide a moist shady spot and a wet place to soak in the hot months and turtles will come to stay. Feed box turtles ripe fruit such as watermelon, cantaloupe and bananas.

"Landscaping for Wildlife" has charts and drawings that illustrate gardens for attracting butterflies, birds, reptiles, amphibians, etc. plus nest box designs with patterns and construction tips.

The book is out of print at OU Press so it sells for $70 online. The North America Butterfly Association offers it at $30, or (541) 388-1659.

Garrett owns a nature tour company in Vermont

Oklahoma State University Fact Sheets are available from Muskogee's Extension office at the fairgrounds, 686-7200 and online at

Web sites with information on back yard wildlife habitat include: Wild Birds Forever, The Wild Ones at and Birds of Oklahoma


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