Bird Friendly Gardens

Elly May Clampett from the 1960’s hit situation comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies” would be the first to tell you that nothing’s better than having lots of critters around. While you might not have enough wealth borne of “Texas tea” to invite all of Elly’s exotic animals into your garden, it’s relatively easy to create a great space that’s “for the birds”.

Just like the Clampetts with their cement pond, birds like and need water for drinking and bathing.

An artistic bird bath makes a great garden focal point. Place your new garden accessory in an open space that’s fairly close to overhanging branches.  The birds will feel more secure if they can see any feline attackers well before the final pounce.  The branches give them a quick place to go should Morris successfully sneak up on them.

Make sure the bowl has gentle side slopes and that it’s no deeper than three inches in the center.  If you already have a bird bath that’s too deep, add stones or pebbles to give your fine feathered friends something to stand on.

I like to have a couple of stones that are above the water level to give bees and butterflies a place to go for a drink without drowning.

You don’t have to have graduated the sixth grade in twelve years like Jethro Bodine to know that clean water is important for all of the critters. Replace the water every few days and scrub the bowl periodically to remove algae and other crud.  This will also prevent your bird bath from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

Landscaping that keeps the critters – and you – happy is much easier than boiling “golf eggs” or separating Milburn Drysdale from a dollar. We’ve already added water.  Now, incorporate some food and shelter.

Sunflowers are easy to grow annuals that produce seeds that chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays and others love. All you need is plenty of sun and a decent, well-drained soil.

If you have plenty of space, consider using serviceberry or “sarvis tree” if you’re from Bug Tussle. It’s Latin name is Amelanchier . This large shrub reaching 20 feet or so produces berries that make a great pie, but the birds won’t let you find that out.  They’ll eat every juicy fruit at the precise moment of ripeness.  Add it to back of the shrub border and you’ll be able to enjoy the white flowers in March even if you miss out on the pie.

Other bird-friendly plants include zinnias, purple coneflowers, snap dragons, coreopsis, dogwoods, viburnums and ornamental grasses like switch grass.

Hollies are great for food and shelter. Selections like ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, ‘Burford’ and ‘Needlepoint’ produce lots of attractive and nutritious red berries.  Our native American holly (Ilex opaca) is great for the birds but doesn’t transplant very well.  Remember that individual hollies are male and female.  The males won’t produce fruit but are necessary for pollination.

If you’re looking for some quality entertainment, don’t pack your bags for “Californy’. Invite birds, butterflies and other desirable critters by adding water, food and shelter to the landscape.

 You don’t have to be a “double naught spy” to find some help with your gardening problems.   Check out our website, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center Pender County  259-1238; New Hanover County 798-7660;  Brunswick County  253-2610.  You can also find great local information at and on Facebook.  Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.  Or, stop by the Plant Clinic at the Arboretum between 10 am and 4 pm Monday through Friday.


Al Hight, NHC Extension Director


NC Cooperative Extension and Arboretum: 6206 Oleander Drive • Wilmington, NC 28403 • Phone 910-798-7660 • Fax 910-798-7678
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