As you get your garden plans ready for the coming spring and summer, and as you get those seeds started, keep wildlife in mind. The Monarch butterfly now teeters dangerously on the edge of extinction, and honeybee numbers continue to decline. But there are some simple things you can do to help!
1. Plant native! Bees, birds, and butterflies rely on plants that are indigenous to your area for food and shelter. More and more garden centers and nurseries have special sections for natives or mark certain plants as being native. But if not, you can use this website to find your nearest source of native plants. The National Wildlife Federation also has some great tips on native plants to use to attract wildlife. The various species of Milkweed (Aesculus spp.) in particular are helpful for Monarchs, who exclusively feed on and lay their eggs on Milkweed.
2. Avoid invasive, non-native plants. These foreigners (which include Butterfly Bush, Burning Bush, Japanese honeysuckle, Barberry, and Russian olive) do not provide wildlife with the food and shelter they require, and spread a little too easily by seed, sprouting up in woods and choking out native plants. Yes, there are new cultivars of Butterfly bush that are supposedly sterile and won’t produce seed. But even so, studies have shown wildlife to be far more attracted to native plants like Milkweed, Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Elderberry, coneflower, and others. Most states have a invasive plants list (usually found on the state’s department of agriculture or forestry website) that, while not binding, should be a helpful in knowing what to avoid planting in your area.
3. Be messy! Leave an area of your garden undisturbed, and let some shrubs grow out a little. Birds or bees may build a nest under a pile of sticks and leaves and branches and afford them some shelter, and in turn let them reproduce.