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by Julie Dees

The first thing that comes to mind when you mention planting a garden is “FOOD”. Even if you are only growing some herbs, ornamental flowers, or a few potted posies, you can still choose plants that are “food“. Food for the birds, bees, and butterflies, that is.

Planting gardens designed for birds and pollinating insects is not a new thing. For centuries, gardeners have known the importance and value of beneficial wildlife. They selected plants to attract and sustain these helpful little workers.

Feed the Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

Today we’ll highlight some common beauties that you, the birds, and the insects will all enjoy. This list is a small sampling of plants that will do double duty. They’ll look pretty while also feeding your new little garden friends.

Asters – Asters are part of a large family (Asteraceae) of unique, star-shaped flowers. They are as popular with the bees and the butterflies as they are with the people who plant them.

Bee Balm – Bee Balm, aka Monarda, is a member of the mint family – meaning it can be invasive and should be contained. It prefers full sun and is also a favorite of hummingbirds.

Borage – The nectar replenishes itself in a matter of minutes after a pollinator has taken a drink. This makes borage a bee magnet. A popular herb for centuries, the blue flowers are often used in drinks and salads.

Crocus – Crocus blooms are often the first food of the year for bees coming out of hibernation. They arrive in late winter to early spring. The plants are happy in pots or in the ground and are a great option for naturalizing a lawn or open area.

Dahlias – Dahlias are a lovely, tender plant that enjoy full sun and rich, moist soil. Plant lots of them as they make one of the best cut flowers as well as a generous buffet for the good bugs.

Fennel – The blooms of fennel benefit our insect friends while the seeds feed the birds. This versatile herb is also a human favorite that grows well in full sun in well-drained, moist soil.

Lavender – Depending on the variety, lavender comes in white, pink, and popular purple shades. This fragrant summer-blooming plant thrives in well-drained soil in full sun.

Roses – Roses need a hard pruning in late winter/early spring. Regular deadheading during flowering prolongs the blooming season. Rosehips are a nutritional treat for birds and people alike as they make a lovely tea.

Sunflowers – These recognizable giants of the garden are a triple threat. They provide beauty, nectar for the pollinators, and seeds for the birds. They are also one of the easiest plants to grow.

A Few Cautions

There are a lot of gardening practices that can be harmful to the very creatures we are trying to attract to our yards. Here are a few tips to help protect them:

Don’t use pesticides and herbicides. Pesticides are designed to kill bugs. Period. Even if the label states they won’t harm beneficial insects, birds, or wildlife – don’t trust it. Instead, try to garden naturally or use safer methods of deterring pests. Herbicides and fungicides can also be highly dangerous to insects and wildlife. Use caution.

Diatomaceous Earth is not a cure-all product just because it is natural. It is not a safe alternative to chemical pesticides. It IS a mechanical pesticide which means it will kill any insect it comes into contact with. It slowly dries their exoskeleton out until they die from dehydration. Don’t use it anywhere the birds, bees, or butterflies may come in contact with it.

If you’re buying started plants, be sure they weren’t grown or treated with any chemicals. Many big box or mega stores are selling potted plants that are full of possible poisons. These ingredients can kill beneficial insects and birds as well as make people sick. Read labels and ask lots of questions.

Provide a water source for your winged visitors. (While this isn’t a caution, it’s an important thing to remember.) They need something to drink after all that work pollinating your plants. A birdbath, shallow pan, or saucer filled with pebbles or marbles for them to land on is perfect. Be sure to refill it with fresh water every day.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, what do you think? Have we inspired you to add some lovely plants to your garden, just for the birds, bees, and butterflies? Do you have any favorite flowers you’d add to the list? Let us know!

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