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posted: 7/27/2013 5:00 AM

Art in the garden: Plant a garden for the birds

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  • Crabapples are an important food source for birds in winter.

    Crabapples are an important food source for birds in winter.

  • Leave seed heads on coneflowers for seed-eating birds.

    Leave seed heads on coneflowers for seed-eating birds.

By Diana Stoll
The Planter’s Palette

Songbirds are a welcome addition to the garden. They contribute color and motion, and many have a voracious appetite for insect pests.

It's easy to plant a garden to attract birds if you provide their basic needs of food, shelter and water. A backyard bird feeder provides food and will bring many birds into the garden, but many insect- and fruit-eating birds never visit feeders. And to attract permanent residents, shelter and nesting sites are also required.

Plant a wide variety of trees and shrubs to encourage the greatest diversity of birds. Trees and shrubs that produce seeds or berries are the most attractive candidates. Mulberry, maple, pine, cherry, serviceberry, oak and beech are all good tree choices. Some of the best shrubs include holly, dogwood, viburnum, juniper, raspberry, blueberry, and elderberry.

Trees and shrubs that hold their fruits throughout the winter are particularly useful. Crabapples, hawthorn and cranberry viburnum may not hold the tastiest berries but birds are grateful for their berries as other food sources diminish.

The best mix of trees and shrubs will include evergreen and deciduous varieties. Evergreens offer the added advantage of shelter from weather and protection from predators. Thorny plants like barberry and rugosa roses also provide protective cover.

Many vines are attractive to birds for the fruits, the cover they provide, and nesting sites. Consider planting honeysuckle, grapevine, Virginia creeper, bittersweet, trumpet vine, or clematis in your bird-friendly backyard.

Annual and perennial flowers provide food for birds in the form of flowers, seed heads, and the insects these plants attract. Finches and goldfinches favor the seeds of annual cosmos, marigold and zinnia. Sunflowers are the favorites of many kinds of birds.

Quaking grass, love grass, globe thistle, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, coneflower and aster are perennial favorites.

Other plants attract insect-eating birds. Annuals and biennials include hyssop and mealycup sage. Perennials include butterfly bush, butterfly weed, phlox, sedum and blazing star.

To keep your garden friendly to birds, prune minimally. Leave trees and shrubs to grow in their natural shapes to provide cover and encourage nesting. Leave some seed heads on garden flowers for finches and other seed-eating birds.

Old stumps or dead trees left standing provide food and shelter for birds like woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatches.

Birds need water to drink and bathe in. Position a shallow birdbath in your garden and keep the water clean.

Birds love to play in the slow drip of a hose hung over a tree branch or water spilling over a fountain's edge. A ledge in the stream leading to our pond is the birds' favorite bathing spot in my yard.

• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit

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