Homegrown Habitat Mail: Great, basic advice on planting for the benefit of birds and pollinators
August 2, 2023 — A reader from Old Lyme wrote to Sarah Middeleer:
I saw your work with Homegrown Habitat and wanted to reach out. We are working to create a native garden in our property in Old Lyme, CT to make it more attractive to birds and pollinators. Would you have recommendations about specific species to plant and, ideally, a calendar for when to plant them?
We have a team working to prepare the ground and are thinking to start planting in the fall. Here are some pictures to give you a sense.
We welcome your thoughts!
Sarah responded with some great, basic advice:
It would be unhelpful for me to guess which plants would be good for you to use, given all of the unknowns. Normally I’d spend quite some time getting to know the owners, their site conditions, their aesthetic preferences, etc, before making plant recommendations.
But here are a few general guidelines:
- Since native plantings sometimes look less “neat” than traditional landscaping, it helps to have distinct edges such as a low wall or stone edging around the native garden to convey intentionality;
- plant densely, using native ground covers rather than mulch, and allowing plants to grow very closely;
- plant in tiers, using low, medium and higher-growing plants together;
- forget the old rules about dead-heading and fall cleanup, because many beneficial critters rely on leaf litter and old hollow stems in which to overwinter;
- if you have heavy deer pressure, surround plants that are attractive to deer with those that aren’t, such as plants in the mint family, grasses, and ferns.
There are many other nuggets of advice, and many good books to help. The Wild Seed Project has wonderful short books on native ground covers, shrubs and trees for the Northeast. Laura Erickson’s book 100 Plants to Feed the Birds is helpful, as is Native Plants for New England Gardens, by Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe.
The book The Living Landscape, by Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke, is a favorite resource of mine. And another delightful book is American Plants for American Gardens, by Edith Roberts and Elsa Rehmann, first published in 1929 and re-issued in 1996. These authors brilliantly describe different ecosystems and the native plants that naturally flourish in them.
But hiring a good local designer who can guide you in this effort is strongly recommended.
Sorry I can’t offer you specific plant recommendations, but I congratulate you on your goal to support birds and other wildlife with your plantings. You will be amazed at how the right plants will attract a huge variety of pollinators and birds.