Neighbours talking over the garden gate has long been a tradition. They share gardening tips, complain about the weather and pests yet are ever eager to discuss their gardens. That is what I had in mind when creating this blog. So stop by my garden gate to find out the latest happenings in my garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome
"All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child." ~ Madame Marie Curie"

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Birds, Butterflies and Bats

Too often we focus on the garden pests without paying much attention to the beneficial garden visitors. These visitors should be encouraged as they help keep garden pests under control. They are a sign of a healthy garden. Make your garden a haven for these visitors. Don't use pesticides!

You can't have butterflies without the caterpillars that will do some foliage damage but you can attract them to your garden along with a plant or two you are willing to use as butterfly bait for the caterpillars. Put these plants just slightly away from your main garden bed. Carefully remove any offending caterpillars to the appropriate bait plants. This will allow them to mature to the butterflies you want without destroying your crop plants. Plant flowers to attract butterflies. Marigolds and petunias are especially beneficial as companion plants in the garden and should be planted throughout the garden. In general butterflies like red, yellow, orange and purple single blossom flowers. Some herbs like dill, echnacia, and yarrow will attract butterflies. I had a swallowtail caterpillar last year so have already planted a pot of parsley to transfer any caterpillars to this year. If possible, plant a few milkweed plants to attract Monarch butterflies. Other great butterfly attactors are aster, bee balm, members of the carrot family, cleome, clover, dogwood, hollyhock, snapdragon, thistle, violet, and willow. We are very lucky that we have a nice patch of wild violets!

Birds can be very beneficial in the garden. I always hang at least one bird feeder and plant sunflowers for the birds. This is for the seed eating birds but anyone who has ever fed birds know that each variety of birs will attract otheres including the insect eaters like woodpeckers. We have a lot of sparrows. I have caught them on more than one occasion eating insects and spiders around the windows even though they love to eat from the feeders too. House and gold finches seem to prefer the feeders. We have at least three blue jays each with their own personality. They prefer unshelled peanuts and sunflower seeds. They are very entertaining birds especially when they are chasing squirrels out of the garden. Larger birds like the common grackle, robin or larger crow will take care of grub problems and they will help keep caterpillars under control. They seem to be attracted by other birds! If you are lucky you will attract a hawk or two. Hawks will go after the smaller birds but more importantly they will keep the rodent population in check. Owls will do the same thing. Attracting birds to you garden is easy keep in mind the basics of food, water and shelter. You will need to provide one or more feeders and keep them filled. Birds need to know they have a secured food source. For best results use squirrel-proof bird feeders unless you want to go through a lot of seed very quickly. Add a water source. Try to mimic natural water puddles by placing a shallow bird bath at ground level in a shady spot. If cats are a problem, raise the bird bath a couple of feed and keep it away from shrubs. A small pump can be used to create the sound of tinkling water. This will help attract birds and provide a soothing sound in the garden. The final thing needed to attract birds is shelter preferrably natural as in shrubs and trees. Add nesting boxes (bird houses) and nesting material.

Birds add an entertainment aspect to the garden. We live on the water so have the benefit of enjoying water fowl as well as song birds and birds in general. I think all birds are song birds after observing them so long. Some have songs that are prettier than others. Our water birds include many varieties of duck, tundra swan, Canada geese and the ever almost annoying cliff swallow. They have nests under our dock so I have some really nice pictures of the babies. However, for their size they are vicious little birds swooping within inches of your head if you try to use the dock before the babies leave the nest. My neighbour says they are good luck so they stay. The water birds don't bother the gardens with the exception of the swallow but only if they have a nest nearby. Some birds like my blue jays have their own personalities. Big Blue sits on the porch railing waiting for his daily peanuts. If they don't come fast enough he moves to the window sill where he will peck at the window until I toss out his peanuts. Little Blue sits on the eavestroph watching this closely and always manages to scoop up a few peanuts before Big Blue does. Neither are concerned over the door opening. Robins have their own personality as well. One robin decided to ensure his worm supply last year by following me around the garden when I watered. He'd stay about 4 feet behind me and followed me everywhere as long as the hose was on. We thought this was hilarious so my husband video taped him. Birds are welcomed in my garden anytime!

Bats are very beneficial in the garden. Some eat frogs, small mammals, fish and nectar but the majority of bats in a typical garden eat insects. The common brown bat can consume several hundred mosquitoes in a night as well as moths and beetles that can do a lot of damage in your garden. Mature trees provide roosting spots for bats. If you don't have mature trees install a bat box. Build the bat box from wood, and stain them brown to help retain the heat. Bat boxes should face south. Boxes smaller than 20 inches across by 24 inches tall likely won't be used. Chambers can be made using wood slats. Bat boxes should be mounted on the side of a building at leat 12 feet from the ground. Provide a water source larger than an average bird bath so the bats can swoop and grab a sip while flying.


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