Habitat in the backyard – Part 3: Birds, bees and blooms!

Teach young children to encourage and observe wildlife in your home, school or daycare center by planting flowers.

This is the third in a series of wildlife habitat articles that helps adults encourage wildlife in schoolyards, backyards, parks and other public areas. Since most children and adults enjoy observing wildlife, there are a number of small projects that could be done in an afternoon to encourage mammals, birds, reptiles and insects to populate the places you love.

Flowering plants provide food and shelter for creatures in your landscape with their nectar, leaves, fruit and seeds. They also add beauty to the landscape. Some plants are better at attracting wildlife than others. A good publication on what plants attract pollinators and beneficial insects is available online from Michigan State University (MSU) Extension.

Top ten tips for planting flowers to attract wildlife:

  1. Avoid “double” flowers. In order to get a showier bloom, the plant sacrifices pollen and nectar.
  2. Plant a mix of flowers so that something is in bloom throughout the growing season.
  3. Have diversity in terms of color, shape, height and size. Different animals and insects are attracted to different colors.
  4. Plants in the carrot family (carrots, fennel, queen anne’s lace, parsley, parsnip, etc.) will attract pollinators with their blooms and swallowtail butterfly caterpillars with their leaves.
  5. Plant in drifts or clumps to attract more creatures.
  6. Long tubular flowers are good at attracting hummingbirds.
  7. Leave some plants behind in the winter. Some insects will overwinter in the dead stems of plants. The seeds and fruits can also provide an important winter source of food.
  8. Be very careful when using pesticides. Always read the label carefully and be aware of wind that might carry the pesticide where it might injure or kill desirable creatures.
  9. Leave an area un-mowed and see what flowers grow there naturally.
  10. Leave hiding places among your flowers to provide habitat for amphibians, reptiles, insects and small mammals. Overturned flowerpots, statuary with nooks and crannies, stumps and other pieces of wood all make attractive habitats.

Take time to plant a beautiful garden and attract friendly creatures at the same time. Observe your garden throughout the year and see who your visitors are.

More information from MSU Extension can be found in the “School Yard Habitat for People and Wildlife” bulletin and is available online

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