More Trees, Please
Discover why they're at the root of any plan to attract birds and butterflies.
By Kris Wetherbee, Oakland, Oregon
I've always been enamored by trees. They can add elegant stature, unique character or beautiful blooms to the landscape. But trees make yards lively in other ways, too.
As a group, trees have the potential to be the most valuable resource in your yard for attracting birds and butterflies. Trees offer multipurpose appeal as cover from the elements and predators, and offer places for birds and butterflies to perch, rest and produce offspring.
Trees also can provide edibles in the form of fruit, seeds, nuts, nectar, pollen, insects or sap.
Take a Look Around
If you don't have many trees in your yard, or if they're not helping you attract the birds and butterflies you'd like, I have some suggestions that will give you a good start.
As with any project, it's best to take stock of what you have first. Make note of the trees in your yard. Do they vary in structure, height, bloom season and vegetation?
Are there any that produce fruit, nectar, nuts, seeds or sap? Are there food sources available throughout the year?
Does your yard include evergreens for winter shelter? Where are the trees located? What about suitable nesting sites?
Decide which existing trees provide shelter, breeding sites and food, and then remove any that don't make the grade—especially if the tree is unhealthy, unsightly or unsuitable for your yard.
Next, determine which wildlife attributes are still lacking and what types of trees will help fill those needs. The number of trees will vary according to your space, but a good rule of thumb for an average-sized yard is one or two large trees, at least one grouping of smaller trees and shrubs, and one clump of conifers for winter shelter.
The first step in selecting trees is to pick species that are compatible with your climate, specific soil type and light conditions. Also check what size the trees will be when fully grown, and make sure they will not overwhelm the allotted space.
Not all trees flower or produce food at the same time of year, so the more types of trees you have, the more enticing your yard will be. Keep the buffet coming by offering both evergreen and deciduous trees with overlapping blooming and fruiting cycles.
For example, in spring, dogwood offers insects and buds for birds to eat, and is a host for many butterflies in the blues family. Serviceberries (Amelanchier) provide June fruit, while mountain ash (Sorbus), fringe tree and magnolia follow with fall fruit offerings. Hollies and hawthorns bear fruit in fall that persists into winter and often through early spring.
Birds like finches, juncos and nuthatches favor seeds. Seed-producing trees include redbuds and maples, along with the seed-filled cones of spruce, fir, pine and hemlock.
Even sap from trees like oak, birch and maple can be a feast for some winged wildlife, especially butterflies like mourning cloaks, anglewings and wood nymphs. And any insects attracted to the sap may become a meal for nuthatches and other insect-eaters that search nooks and crannies for grubs, ants and other bugs.
Trees with multitasking abilities are naturally more valuable. Maples, for instance, offer summer shelter, food for birds and nesting sites. Others, like willows and tulip poplars, offer those benefits, plus serve as caterpillar hosts for mourning cloaks and tiger swallowtails, respectively.
When you broaden the appeal by growing a variety of trees, the result is bound to be a backyard sanctuary that appeals to you and your family, as well as your winged friends.
7 Tempting Trees Arborvitae
species): Evergreen conifers with a wide array of sizes and forms. Wildlife benefits: Seeds, cones, insects, four-season shelter and nesting sites. Landscape attributes: Evergreen, textured bark and minimal pruning to maintain shape. Zones 2 to 10.
Beech (Fagus species): Medium to large deciduous trees. Wildlife benefits: Fruit (nuts), seeds, insects, nesting sites, shelter and caterpillar host plant. Landscape attributes: Spring flowers, contrasting gray bark, coppery-red fall foliage, textural fruit and dense shade. Zones 4 to 9.
Dogwood (Cornusspecies): Ornamental deciduous trees. Wildlife benefits: Fruit, flowers (nectar), insects, nesting sites, seasonal shelter and caterpillar host plant. Landscape attributes: Beautiful spring blooms, colorful fall foliage, and some have colorful or attractive horizontal branching patterns. Zones 2 to 9.
Fir (Abies species): Large group of coniferous trees. Wildlife benefits: Seeds, cones, insects, four-season shelter and nesting sites. Landscape attributes: Evergreen appeal, colorful upright cones and woodsy fragrance. Zones 3 to 10.
Fringe Tree (Chionanthus species): Deciduous flowering trees. Wildlife benefits: Nectar flowers, fruit, nesting material and summer shelter. Landscape attributes: Fragrant, lacy clusters of snowy-white flowers, and colorful fall fruit and foliage. Zones 4 to 10.
Magnolia (Magnolia species): Evergreen and deciduous trees. Wildlife benefits: Flowers (nectar), seeds and shelter. Landscape attributes: Some of these beautiful trees have fragrant flowers from winter to summer, but it varies with species and location; has large, glossy leaves and showy cone-like clusters of bright-red seeds. Zones 4 to 11.
Redbud (Cercis species): Deciduous, spring-flowering trees. Wildlife benefits: Flowers (nectar), seeds, insects, summer shelter and nesting sites, nesting materials and caterpillar host plant. Landscape attributes: Spectacular spring flowers, attractive foliage with three seasons of color (reddish purple in spring, blue-green in summer, yellow in autumn), beanlike seedpods. Zones 4 to 9.
Editor's Note: Kris Wetherbee is the author of Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Other Winged Wonders to Your Backyard. To purchase a signed copy, go to her Web site through the Links at www.birdsandblooms.com.