The weather is warming up, wildflowers are blooming, and the birds are busy. It is time to start planting our habitat gardens! A habitat garden for birds should have four essential elements — water, food, places to hide, and places for the birds to rear their young. Native flowers, grasses, trees, and shrubs will feed the masses in terms of providing nectar, fruit, insects and seeds, and the plants will check off the nesting and hiding requirements as well. All you’ll need to do is buy the plants, plant them, and add water. Nesting boxes and feeders will round out the full ensemble.
Two things I like to repeat often when it comes to gardening with native plants — “take a cue from nature because nature does it best” and “work with nature instead of against it.” To let nature be your guide, go to the nearest wild space, observe, and consult your own thoughts about the place. Take a walk in the woods, through a meadow, or take a stroll around a lake, pond, or creek. What stands out as being attractive to you? Make a list of the plant combinations, the conditions in which they grow, and note the topography they thrive in. Consider the connection you feel to the natural surroundings. Is there a spot in your landscape where you can match the conditions and mimic the plantings?
To duplicate or mimic what you observe in nature, you have to think of your yard as an extension of the neighboring natural space. Research the species and the conditions these plants typically grow in, and then choose plants that are closely related for use in your landscape. Choosing species that are naturally adapted to these environments will make for happier gardening. Managing our properties in a more sustainable way means we will use less water and fewer chemicals. And spending less time with maintenance means we will get to spend more time viewing the visiting wildlife and actually enjoying the benefits of the garden.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve are both hosting plant sales in the month of April. These are most valuable resources for native plants as well as for advice on how best to use them in your gardens. The Botanical Gardens’ Native Plant Group will have experts on hand to answer questions and aide in sells during the Spring Plant Sale, held at Brookwood Village on April 15-17. The Ruffner Mountain Spring Native Plant Sale, in partnership with Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, will be at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve on April 30.
Michelle Reynolds is a native plant enthusiast on a mission to teach people how to put nature back into the urban landscape. She lectures, writes, and consults on gardens in and around Birmingham, Alabama. She is president of Birmingham Audubon’s Board of Directors.