Habitat gardening—until about 15 years ago, that was a term and concept that had eluded me. Now, it’s a way of life. I simply refer to it as gardening for birds, bees, butterflies, and bugs. As a habitat gardener, I’ve learned to tolerate a bit of messiness because nature doesn’t work in tidy, parallel rows. And a few insect holes and bite marks on leaves come with the territory as do some random weeds like Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, and wild radish. If you are fastidious, meticulous, and compulsive about having a perfectly neat, weed-free garden, then perhaps habitat gardening is not for you.
But what a habit it is—the good kind! It simply means that you make your gardens appealing and safe for the creatures, especially the pollinators. Grow plants that will attract them and feed them. Keep clean water available. Don’t use toxic sprays. And plant a diversity of trees and shrubs so they can build their homes and thrive.
I’m not a bug expert. All I know is that if you have enough of the right plants in your garden, there will be both good bugs and bad bugs, and the former will eliminate the latter. If they don’t, the birds will. Your garden will be in balance.
Like humans, birds, bees, butterflies, and bugs need a home, water, food, and a safe environment to raise their kids. Here are some tips:
- The greater diversity of plants you have, the greater diversity of these creatures you’ll attract.
- Think in terms of levels or layers. You need tall trees to provide an upper canopy where birds spend much of their time, singing, checking out the opposite sex, and building nests. You need an understory of shrubs, all sizes of flowering plants and ornamental grasses, and even a muddy or moist spot where male butterflies meet to swap stories and gather minerals for mating. Trees and shrubs also provide a windbreak that butterflies appreciate.
- Add some flat rocks where butterflies can warm themselves and lizards can do their daily pushups.
- Build a small rock or log pile for lizard and insect hiding places.
- Create a brush pile or teepee as a bird cover for when any perceived predator like a cat or hawk enters the area.
- Use no toxic sprays and let the birds and bugs take care of themselves. Often, even the safest of sprays can harm butterflies
- Include a couple of birdbaths, but not in deep shade or they’ll grow algae more readily.
One last thing—add a bench to sit, relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, observe, and perhaps even photograph all the activities in your garden.