Habit of Habitat
The Habit of Habitat Gardening
by Sandy Metzger, Master Gardener
Back in my pre-Master Gardener days, I really didn't know what I didn't know about gardening. And one of the things I definitely didn't know anything about was Habitat Gardening—hadn't even heard the term! Duh... I'm finding out, however, that I'm not the only one in the world who had never heard of it; that's why now when I'm talking about it, I just refer to it as "gardening for birds, bees, butterflies, and bugs".
Don't ask me about bugs. Entomology isn't my strong suit. 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 hopefully, the former will eliminate the latter; if they don't, the birds probably will. Sometimes even the supposedly safest of sprays can harm butterflies. Therefore, I simply use none and let the birds and bugs take care of themselves. This is the easiest way to do it.
Just like humans, these creatures need a home, water, food, and a safe environment to raise their kids. The greater diversity of plants you have, the greater diversity of
Add some rocks upon which butterflies can warm themselves and lizards can do their daily pushups. A small rock or log pile is perfect for lizard and insect hiding places. And a brush pile is a good thing to have as a bird cover for when any perceived predator (maybe your cat or a hawk) enters the area. Don't forget to include a couple of birdbaths, but not in deep shade or they'll grow algae more readily. One last thing—add a bench for people, to sit, relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, observe, and perhaps even photograph all the goings on in your garden.
Butterflies, on the other hand, need "landing pads", flowers such as Sidalcea, many of the salvias, Sedum, Rudbeckia, Gaillardia, Liatris, calendulas, marigolds, yarrows, linnaria, verbena, the buckwheats, and certainly the Buddleias (Butterfly Bush). They need two kinds of plants, those for nectaring and those for laying their eggs and which will later provide larval food. Some folks get nearly hysterical when they see holes and bite marks on the leaves of plants; I am simply convinced that it must be a butterfly caterpillar munching away! And remember, butterflies generally don't make an appearance if it's too windy or colder than about 65°.
We often think of bees as the only pollinators, but that's not so. Hummingbirds and butterflies are also great pollinators, for in the process of moving from flower to flower in their search for nectar, they brush against the pollen on the male anther and inadventently bring it to the female stigma in the next flower. It's quite comical at times to see the hummers shooing away the bees, and the butterflies trying to avoid the bees as they are all flitting around in their hunt for that next nectar-filled blossom.
Now bees, they don't work in the cold or the rain. Whenever we have long-lasting cold spells and late spring rains, there's the real probablity that your fruit trees will bear little if any fruit. But on a nice day, when the first blooms of late winter appear, those bees will be out doing their job. Plant rosemary, borage, and Ribes sanguineum and you're sure to have early bees. Other attractive plants would include the lavenders, coreopsis, Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, the buckwheats, the sedums, Queen Anne's lace, Wallflower, Phacelia, Scabiosa, Solidago, and the verbenas. With plants like lavender and verbena, you get a two-fer: they provide nectar for the bees and later, tiny seeds for the finches. Another two-fer would be the Ribes: early nectar flowers for the bees, butterflies and hummers, and later, gooseberries or currants for fruit-eating birds.
Did I mention that habitat gardening provides many benefits to humans, too? You get personal gratification from using no toxins in your garden, and you benefit the environment as well by having none run down into the storm drains and creeks. By not killing off the various creatures, you increase the numbers of pollinators in your garden. You add more beauty to your garden by planting a wide spectrum of colorful, nectar-filled, berry-laden, gorgeous flowers, shrubs, and trees. You provide sanctuary for the birds, bees, butterflies, and bugs. You get to enjoy these creatures throughout the year, their beautiful colors, their mating and nesting activities, their songs and calls to each other. And you save money by not buying any of those pesticides and insecticides (they are not cheap). And maybe, just maybe, you will have increased the value of your property! Certainly the value of your daily life. Get your fix on habitat gardening!