Tag Archives: organic pest control

Planning a Bird-Friendly Garden

When we think of nature’s helpers in the garden, we often immediately think of bees and butterflies. We tend to overlook birds, but they’re just as helpful to have around. Songbirds like Cardinals, Bluebirds, and Chickadees feed on various garden pests, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds pollinate flowers, and larger birds like Barn Owls and Kestrels feed on voles, mice, and other rodents that can damage your garden. 

Sadly, many bird species are declining. They’re facing the effects of climate change, habitat loss, and pollution. Providing a bird-friendly garden can help your garden be more productive while giving these incredible creatures a helping hand. Here’s how you can plan a bird-friendly garden for next year.

Layout

You might think that birds wouldn’t care about the layout of a garden, but they do! To start with, you generally want to avoid large open expanses. Songbirds are more likely to visit your garden if you add elements of height and cover. These could be shrubs and fruit trees as well as taller patches of annuals and perennials like sunflowers, Joe-Pye Weed, delphiniums, and hollyhocks. 

The exception to this is openings beneath large trees. These can be great spots for owls and hawks to hunt. They’ll perch in trees on the edges of clearings waiting to swoop down on unsuspecting prey. 

Think about creating a bird-friendly garden with patches of different layers. The tallest layer would be mature trees, followed by shorter trees and shrubs and vining plants like grapes or native Trumpet Honeysuckle on large trellises. Next are herbaceous plants like many of the annual vegetable crops, herbs, and flowers we grow, and last is the bottom layer of mulch like straw hay, wood chips, or decaying leaves. These layers provide habitat for perching, nesting, hunting and foraging, and cover from predators. 

Selecting Plants

The best thing you can do when adding plants for a bird-friendly garden is to select as many native species as possible. These are the plants that birds and their prey are well-adapted to using. They’re also generally low-maintenance and tolerant of local conditions.

If you can add trees to your property, they can help birds and other wildlife. Some great options include native hickories and beeches, which provide protein-rich food for birds like Blue Jays and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Native cherries and dogwood are also excellent choices because they produce berries that are favorites for many songbirds. Just be sure to research what will do well in your area. A local field guide to native trees or chatting with your county extension agency can be helpful.

Patches of dense, twiggy shrubs, small trees, or hedges are great places for songbirds to seek cover and nest. Native options like Eastern Red Cedar, Southern Arrowwood, and willows work well. Those that do double duty by providing fruit for you and the birds are also great options. Consider raspberries, elderberries, or mulberries.

Herbaceous plants provide seeds for birds, nectar for hummingbirds, and habitat for insects that birds feed on. Great native choices include rudbeckia, echinacea, bergamot, butterfly weed, goldenrod, and coreopsis. You can also help birds by allowing any bolting lettuces to go to seed. Their little seeds are a favorite of species like Goldfinches. Take a look at plants bloom times and plan a garden with something blooming all season.

Other Additions for a Bird-Friendly Garden

Water Features

Birds are also attracted to water sources. Providing a spot in your garden where they can drink, and bath can make your garden much more attractive. Birdbaths are a decent option, but moving water can be more enticing. Consider a birdbath with a bubbler or a fountain. It’s critical to keep this water clean. You may also want to add a partially submerged stone to allow bees and other insects to get water without drowning.  

Houses

While they’re unnecessary for all bird species, birdhouses can help attract cavity nesters. Don’t just grab the first birdhouse you see, though. It’s best if you start by considering what species of bird you’d like to attract. Specific species have specific nesting requirements. Houses may need to be a certain size, a certain distance apart, or hung at a particular height. 

Bluebirds are an excellent choice because they’re helpful in the garden and have lost nesting habitat to invasive starlings. You can make or purchase bluebird houses with a hole that’s 1 1/2 inches in diameter to allow bluebirds in but exclude larger starlings. If you struggle with rodents, you may want to add a larger house with a 5-inch diameter entrance to attract barn owls. 

What to Avoid

  • Don’t use pesticides in your garden. These chemicals harm species like birds, toads, and predatory insects that naturally keep pests in check. Using them can make pest pressure worse over time. Even organic, low-impact products should be used sparingly. 
  • Leave the leaves! Dead organic matter like leaves and small twigs is great for your plants and birds. They provide habitats for worms, pupae, and insects that are essential food sources for baby birds. 
  • Keep natural areas. While not all gardeners have the space, if you have some natural areas let them remain untouched. Leave standing dead trees which make excellent nesting sites. Resist the urge to clean up fallen trees, limbs, and brush. These provide habitat for birds and insects and eventually rot down, adding organic matter back to the soil. 
  • Don’t clean up all your dead plants. We discussed this more extensively in our post, Wildlife-Friendly Garden: Fall Clean-Up, but leaving some dead plant material through the winter is important. Many flowers like echinacea and sunflowers hold seeds for birds, and the stalks may be home to overwintering insects that birds will feed on during the winter. When all the annuals have died back, these standing dead plants provide perches.

More Articles

Check out a couple of our other bird articles:

Tips for Organic Pest Management

Especially for new gardeners, seeing your veggies getting munched by pests can really dampen your gardening enthusiasm. There are a few ways you can solve your pest problem without resorting to chemicals.

Control

Handpicking

If you have a small garden one of the best things you can do is handpick pests. Small insects like Potato beetles are easy to squash with your fingers. For larger insects like tomato hornworms you may want to carry a bucket of soapy water to drop them into.

Note leave any hornworms with white eggs on their back. These are eggs of parasitic wasps that will help control the problem.

Ducks

Ducks and other small livestock can be helpful in ridding your garden from certain pests. Ducks are great at eating slugs! Of course, they’re a serious commitment and can also harm your garden by eating and trampling plants.

Organic Pesticides

These include products like neem oil and diatomaceous earth as well as homemade options. A popular mixture is one quart of water with 4-5 drops of dish soap and a few garlic cloves. After soaking for a few hours the garlic can be strained out and the mixture sprayed onto the plant’s leaves to kill and deter pests.

With any pesticide it’s important to keep in mind you may also be harming beneficial insects.

Prevention

While it may be too late for this season prevention is always the best option.

Plant a Trap Crop

If you notice that one particular variety of brassica is particularly infested with cabbage worms you can use this to your advantage. Use these varieties to draw pests away from others. Some folks choose to burn a trap crop that becomes heavily infested. This can help prevent pests from reproducing and being a problem the following season.

Plant a Late (or Early) Crop

If you struggled with Mexican Bean Beetles at the beginning of the summer you may have better luck with a fall crop. Experimenting with when you plant and learning about pest’s life cycles can help you work around their peak times. Keeping a garden journal can be really helpful with this!

Use Row Cover

Row cover can be used for more than just frost protection. Lightweight row cover is perfect for keeping out some pests as long as it’s set up over plants early. We sometimes use row cover or tulle to protect brassicas from cabbage moths.

Practice Crop Rotation

Avoid planting the same type of crop (ie. brassicas) in the same place more than one year. Many pests over winter in the soil and will be ready to attract plants again the following year. Check out our post, Planning Crop Rotation by Plant Family.

Attract Beneficial Birds/Insects

Some birds and insects are the natural predators to common garden pests. Making your property a haven for these creatures can help prevent pests from getting out of hand.

Keep Plant’s Healthy

Weak plants are more likely to attract pests. Keep your plants healthy by weeding, watering, and building healthy soil.

Pros and Cons of Gardening with Ducks

Animals are part of any natural ecosystem. Adding small livestock to your garden can provide a host of benefits. One great option is ducks. However, there are pros and cons to adding ducks to your garden.

Pros

They’re great at slug patrol.

Having a couple ducks roam through your garden is one of the easiest ways to deal with your slug problem. They love slugs! They’ll happily wander around keeping your plants or mushrooms slug-free. They’ll also eat a host of other pests. 

They don’t scratch like chickens.

Unlike chickens, ducks don’t scratch to forage for food. While chickens are helpful to turn over a plot after or before the growing season they can be destructive to plants in the garden. Their vigorous efforts tear up roots and shorter plants. Ducks on the other hand simply plod flat-footed through the garden. They’re generally not destructive. However, they may eat or trample seedlings and some greens. 

They provide fertility.

Ducks obviously produce manure which is an excellent source of fertility for the garden. If they’re allowed to roam the garden during the day they’ll add fertilizer as they go. Ducks should be kept in a coop at night and you can compost the manure/bedding from their coop.

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Cons

They need a water source.

Ducks need a water source big enough for them to bath in. It helps keep their feathers in good condition. Muscovy ducks, native to South America, need less water than other breeds but still benefit from being able to bath.

They’re noisy.

I’ve heard some people claim that ducks are a quiet alternative to chickens but in my experience it isn’t true. Ducks quacking can rival a rooster’s crow. They may not be a great choice if you have close neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate barnyard noise.

They need a coop, space, and other care.

Ducks aren’t free. You’ll need to build or buy a sturdy coop, predator proof coop as well as feed. You’ll also need to care for them at least twice a day all year round which can make it tougher to leave for family vacations. The more space you can offer them to roam the happier they’ll be/

They can be destructive. 

They’ll dabble in wet areas adding to any mud problems you may have. As mentioned above they can also destroy small plants and won’t hesitate to sample your lettuce!

If you decide to add ducks to your garden system consider the pros and cons. They can be very helpful and rewarding but they still require money, time, and patience.