One of the rewards of creating your garden is being able to sit back and enjoy the nature it attracts. There’s nothing like seeing butterflies float around your plants, bees grabbing pollen from flowers and birds filling up your space with song.
In addition, when you bring these insects and birds into your space, you are helping the ecosystem. But you can also draw animals that will wind up making your garden their feeding patch, destroying it in the process. Mammals like deer, rabbits and groundhogs are some of the big culprits.
The trick is planting items that will help you attract the wildlife you want and repel what you don’t.
Let’s start with the animals you want to see in your garden.
Bees are probably the most important from an ecological point of view, as their powers of pollination are responsible for 70% of the world’s flowering botanicals and a large number of its fruits and vegetables. In fact, it’s estimated that one of every three bites of food you take is due to bee pollination.
Butterflies are less efficient than bees because of their body structure, but are still important pollinators. They probe for nectar and favor flat, clustered flowers that provide a landing pad, since they “taste” with their feet. The key to birds’ role in pollination is more limited, and in the United States it is the tiny hummingbird who does a huge share of the work as it flits from flower to flower (or feeder to feeder) to get the fuel it needs to keep those wings beating about 70 times a second.
To ensure more pollinators in your garden, try some of these steps:
Plant in clumps, as clustering flowers makes them easier for pollinators to find and shortens the need for travel, reserving the energy of backyard pollinators.
Plant a section of native plants and wildflowers to increase nectar and pollen sources for butterflies and bumblebees. Warner’s has many of these plants in stock and a list of pollinators’ favorite flowers.
Choose a variety of plants that will bloom in rotation throughout the growing season. For example, crocus and wild lilac in the spring; snapdragons and foxglove in the summer; and zinnias and asters in the fall.
Choose a variety of colors and shapes, as different pollinators are attracted to different types. Flat petal flowers are a good landing pad for butterflies; funnel-like flowers attract hummingbirds; and both like bright colors. Bees can’t see the color red (blue and yellow work, however) and are attracted to sweetly aromatic blooms.
Build or purchase a “bee condo,” or leave dead trees or limbs for nesting habitats.
Use bee-safe pesticides and follow the directions for use carefully.
For the nibblers you don’t want eating up your garden, there are several varieties of plants that are resistant to garden pests and, in fact, can deter them from your backyard.
With deer, the most obvious choices are the ones that are poisonous to them. Daffodils, foxglove and poppies are all toxic to Bambi and deer will definitely avoid them.
There’s a whole other category of plants that – although beautifully fragrant to us humans – just plain stink to a deer. Sage, ornamental salvia, lavender, peonies or bearded irises just make deer turn up their noses – literally. They also don’t want to put their little mouths on something prickly, so lambs’ ear is another good choice.
Another creature you want to keep out of your garden is the rascally rabbit. Not only are they big eaters, their appetites extend far beyond your carrot patch to perennial and annual flowering plants, berries and woody plants – with a few exceptions.
A lot of the plants that deer don’t like also aren’t favorites of rabbits – like daffodils and lavender. Lilac bushes, marigolds, zinnias and snapdragons will also help keep them out of your garden.
Groundhogs are another creature that does not like lavender, along with many, many herbs (basil and sage seem to bother all three, but groundhogs also dislike chives, rosemary, mint and oregano).
They also are not fond of the spicier things in life, so garlic drives them away and they particularly don’t like the taste – and heat – of cayenne pepper. Mix a small amount of the spice with water and spray on your plants, and groundhogs will leave them alone.
With careful planning and a little prep, you’ll be able to share your backyard with the wildlife you want – and keep those garden destroyers out of your yard.
Happy Gardening! FBN
Misti Warner-Andersen is the manager of Warner’s Nursery & Landscape Co., located at 1101 E. Butler Ave. in Flagstaff. To contact Warner’s Nursery, call 928-774-1983.