This Week in the Garden: Planning on backyard birding

Sometime last year, a message came to me from a member of the organization Two Thirds for the Birds. Based out of New York, the organization has the simple goal of encouraging gardeners and landscapers to commit to planting native plants that support birds. Its motto: Healthy Landscapes, Healthy Birds, Healthy Us.

Signing on simply means a commitment to planting two native plants for every three planted, remove invasive plants, and use no pesticides. Why? According to the organizers, “North America has lost close to 3 billion birds since the 1970s, almost a third of the entire bird  population.”

Community built with expert advisement, the organization has a website,, with gardeners, educators and institutions signing on to the commitment of restoration. The aim is to create habitats for birds and bugs that are appropriate for your region. If you are not certain where to begin in the garden, there are referrals online and in our towns to help you take your first steps.

Not everyone wants a web address to figure these things out. The first step is to locate master gardening programs, arboretums that showcase local flora, consult local horticulture experts or  even connecting with natural history hubs. Most of my findings have been by reaching out to local ecologists, conservationists and researchers. When gathering plant information, I always ask what wildlife they host.

The goal doesn’t have to meet the expectation of becoming an expert gardener, birder or  botanist. Rather, the goal is to find ways to avoid suppressing nature and enjoying it. The  organization suggested chemical free practices that include: “Feed the soil and its biome, not  the plants; close the loop–keep all biomass on the property–give your plants the food they made for themselves: be creative with compost, reduce the load on our landfills and the release of greenhouse gasses. Water very seldom, water very deep. Leave dead wood  whenever possible – it is an endangered micro habitat. Avoid shearing and pruning – every cut is a wound. Spend time in your landscape not fussing, just observing. Let go.”

Some of you will find all of this less involved work in the garden disappointing. The garden is your personal investment. Ironically, you might enjoy that native plants have far less gardening  struggles than exotic plants. A big relief. This also doesn’t mean one should stay away from the  garden so the birds will arrive or that plants should never be watered when they seem to need  help. The biggest effort will be to tend to the soil. Soil management and biome support is by far  the most important key to successful gardening of any type.

What can be discovered. Over time, a wild garden becomes shaped and trimmed by wildlife:  bugs, mammals, birds. Once acclimated, plants develop a healthy immune system, fostered by  their own mulch-making. A wild garden can become lush, and floral, even in winter. Plants like  Toyon (Heteromeles arbuifolia) burst into bright red berries just in time for feeding winter birds.

Wild gardens attract birds immediately. First the passerines (songbirds/perching birds) arrive,  then larger species follow. If there is a …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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