Utilizing Perennials That Benefit Wildlife
Gardens are more than just appealing to the eye; they can also play a crucial role in supporting local wildlife. We can create thriving ecosystems in our backyard by strategically planting perennials that benefit wildlife. These perennials not only enhance the beauty of our gardens but also provide essential resources for birds, bees, butterflies, and other creatures.
One of the most popular perennials that benefit wildlife is the native milkweed (Asclepias spp.). Milkweed plants serve as a host plant for monarch butterflies. Monarch caterpillars forage solely on milkweed leaves, making this perennial a crucial lifeline for the declining monarch population. Additionally, milkweed flowers are a rich nectar source for various pollinators, including bees and butterflies.
Coneflowers are another group of perennials that wildlife enthusiasts adore. These beautiful, daisy-like flowers add a splash of color to your garden and attract a plethora of pollinators. Bees and butterflies are particularly fond of coneflowers, and their nectar-rich blooms provide a much-needed food source. Moreover, coneflower seeds are a favorite of birds like goldfinches, who feed on them during late summer and fall.
When it comes to attracting hummingbirds, few perennials can rival the vibrant red tubular flowers of the bee balm. These perennials are nectar-rich and serve as a favorite food source for hummingbirds. In addition to their ornamental appeal, bee balm plants can create a buzz of activity in your garden as these tiny, colorful birds flit about, sipping nectar from the blooms.
With their mesmerizing wing patterns and delicate beauty, butterflies are a pleasing sight in any garden. Consider planting butterfly bushes to attract and support these winged wonders. Butterfly bushes are known for their long panicles of fragrant flowers that are irresistible to butterflies. The nectar-rich blooms provide a continuous source of food throughout the summer, making your garden a haven for these enchanting insects.
To provide year-round benefits for wildlife, consider adding native grasses like little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) to your garden. These grasses offer essential cover and nesting sites for small mammals and birds. Additionally, the seeds of native grasses are a valuable food source for various wildlife, including songbirds. The natural beauty and low-maintenance characteristics of native grasses make them an excellent choice for the gardener and the local nature.
Incorporating perennials with diverse bloom times is critical to ensuring a constant supply of nectar for pollinators throughout the growing season. Spring-blooming perennials like Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) are essential for early-season pollinators such as bumblebees and honeybees. These perennials provide a much-needed food source when other plants are still dormant.
As summer arrives, consider adding the cheerful blooms of black-eyed Susans to your garden. These perennials are visually attractive and lure many pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hoverflies. Their glowing yellow petals and dim centers are a striking addition to any garden, and their nectar-rich flowers offer sustenance during the hottest months of the year.
Goldenrods are late-summer bloomers, providing a crucial nectar source for pollinators preparing for the winter. Despite the misconception that goldenrods cause allergies, these perennials are primarily pollinated by insects and not wind-pollinated like ragweed, which is the true culprit of hay fever. You can support pollinators by including goldenrods in your garden as they build their energy reserves for the upcoming colder season.
Some Perennials Offer Fruit That Attracts Wildlife
While perennials are known for their beautiful flowers, some also offer an abundance of edible fruits that attract wildlife. For instance, the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) produces seed heads that are irresistible to birds like finches and sparrows. Leaving these seed heads standing through the winter can provide much-needed sustenance for these birds when other food sources are scarce.
The native serviceberry is another perennial that benefits gardeners and wildlife. This small tree or shrub produces delicious berries that are a favorite of songbirds. Robins, cedar waxwings, and other birds are drawn to serviceberry bushes when the fruits ripen in early summer. Planting serviceberries in your garden provides tasty treats for wildlife and offers a unique and attractive addition to your landscape.
In addition to their aesthetic appeal, perennials like asters are essential for sustaining pollinators in the fall. Asters bloom late in the season, providing nectar for bees and butterflies when other flowers have faded. These perennials are especially valuable as they help pollinators prepare for winter, ensuring their survival until spring.
The native passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a unique and exotic-looking perennial that attracts pollinators, including bees and butterflies. This vine produces intricate flowers that are not only visually captivating but also a rich source of nectar. The passionflower's distinctive appearance can make it a centerpiece in your garden, benefiting local pollinators.
Incorporating perennial herbs like lavender and thyme into your garden can also provide valuable resources for wildlife. These aromatic herbs produce fragrant flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. Additionally, the foliage of these herbs can serve as cover and a nourishment source for beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which aid control of garden pests.
To create a well-rounded and wildlife-friendly garden, it's essential to consider nectar sources and host plants for butterfly species. For example, the parsley family, including plants like parsley (Petroselinum crispum), dill (Anethum graveolens), and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), are host plants for the Eastern black swallowtail butterfly. By growing these herbs in your garden, you can entice these stunning butterfly species and provide a suitable place for them to lay their eggs.
Another way to support wildlife in your garden is by including native shrubs and trees. Shrubs like viburnum and dogwood produce berries that birds find irresistible. These shrubs provide food, nesting sites, and shelter for birds throughout the year. Similarly, native trees like oaks and maples support diverse wildlife, insects, squirrels, and birds. These trees are essential components of healthy ecosystems, and their presence in your garden can have a lasting positive impact on local wildlife.
Including water elements in your garden can also enhance its wildlife value. Ponds, birdbaths, and even minor water containers can provide essential hydration for birds and insects. Adding aquatic plants like water lilies and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) to your water features can create a habitat for amphibians and insects, further enriching the diversity of species that visit your garden.
Avoid Using Pesticides On Your Perennials
While perennials are crucial in supporting wildlife, creating a holistic and sustainable garden environment is essential. Avoiding pesticides and herbicides is necessary, as these chemicals can harm pollinators and the creatures that feed on them. Instead, opt for natural and eco-friendly gardening practices to sustain a healthy and flourishing ecosystem in your garden.
Having different types of habitats within your garden is also helpful to attract a variety of wildlife. These habitats include open meadows, woodland areas, and even a brush pile. Such diversity in habitat encourages a wide range of wildlife species to visit and potentially reside in your garden.
Additionally, consider providing shelter for wildlife through nest boxes, bat houses, or bee hotels. These artificial structures can help support various species that might otherwise struggle to find suitable homes in urban and suburban environments.
By carefully selecting and nurturing a variety of perennials that benefit wildlife, you can transform your garden into a thriving haven for local fauna. From providing nectar-rich flowers for pollinators to offering food and cover for birds and insects, a wildlife-friendly garden is a beautiful space for you and a vital contribution to the conservation of biodiversity in your community. As you plan and cultivate your garden, remember how it can positively impact the natural world around you, creating a harmonious coexistence between humans and wildlife in your backyard.