Tips to Deer-Proof Your Garden
Deer have gone to extremes. They’ve made themselves at home in suburbia and even in towns. Their numbers are up—and so is the level of damage to gardens. Haircut sweepings are no longer effective, because today’s deer are accustomed to the human scent. Even stinky sprays, homemade or commercial, may not work. Hanging wind chimes or foil pie plates in hopes of scaring them away? Bambi and his pals will only laugh. Instead, consult lists of the most deer resistant plants, and avoid or remove plants that attract deer, such as tulips, pansies, hostas, arborvitae and yew. There’s no sense in actively tempting deer to visit your yard!
But don’t be tricked into a false sense of security. “No plant is truly deer-proof,” says Brooke Maslo, an assistant extension specialist in wildlife ecology at Rutgers University. When deer are hungry, especially in fall and winter, any plant in your yard may become dinner. Contact your local extension office for a list of what deer do and don’t find appealing.
Check out the best deer resistant bulbs for spring blooms.
Try Deer Deterrents
Deterrents are worth a try, and are best used before pests are a problem. At the low end of cost and effort, hang bars of strong-scented soap or use homemade garlic spray. Apply blood meal or deer repellent granules around plants, or spray them with commercial products to make them smell and taste bad. The measures may also deter rabbits, another common backyard pest. Motion-activated water sprays, lights and other gadgets are worth a try, too. Know that what works in one garden may not work in another. And when food gets scarce, all bets are off. Another solution is planting just out of reach. Plant flowers and veggies in containers on a porch or deck, away from deer and rabbits. Keep pots away from railings and steps, as deer stand on their hind feet to browse.
An energetic, barking dog is also a fantastic ally. “Since my dog passed away, the deer readily hop the yard fence to clear out my bird feeders,” reports Brooke, ruefully. “And on some mornings, I have a doe asleep in the yard.” Psst—pet owners should avoid these plants that aren’t safe for dogs.
The only real way to avoid deer altogether is an 8-foot-tall fence of plastic-net deer fencing around your vegetable garden or yard. “The best advice I can give is to support deer management efforts on a larger scale,” says Brooke. “Reducing local populations alleviates landscape damage more effectively than any backyard-scale attempt.” Until fertility control or special hunting regulations prove successful, be ready to go on the defensive—and take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
Problems with squirrels? Check out the best squirrel-proof bird feeders.
Deer-Resistant Plants to Grow
Even foraging Bambis might turn up their noses at these plants.
Paeonia lactiflora, Zones 3 to 8
You’ll eat up the showy, fragrant blooms of this classic beauty, but deer and rabbits won’t. With tons of varieties and an array of flower forms and colors, peonies offer a lot to love. “It’s an old-fashioned, fabulous flower that gives more than it takes,” says Kathleen Gagan, owner of Peony’s Envy nursery in Bernardsville, New Jersey.
Salvia x sylvestris, Zones 4 to 8
Sometimes called meadow sage, this perennial salvia has spikes of vibrant violet-blue flowers. Not only is it a deer resistant plant, but it’s also drought tolerant once established, is at home in the dry soils of rock gardens and is loved by hummingbirds.
Echinacea species, Zones 3 to 9
Daisy-like petals burst from this low-maintenance perennial that comes in a range of colors. Plant pretty disease and deer resistant coneflower in a sunny spot with well-draining soil.
Bergenia crassifolia, Zones 3 to 8
Its nickname, pigsqueak, might be animal-inspired (its leaves squeak when rubbed), but most deer and rabbits say “no, thank you.” In spring, stems of pink flowers rise above large, glossy leaves. Often used as a shady ground cover, it thrives in dry soil and drought.
Cleome Hassleriana, Annual
Because of its spiderlike flowers, cleome—which is also commonly called spiderflower—is a nearly unmistakable annual in a sunny garden. It grows quickly from seed, towering up to 4 or 5 feet, and offers fragrant pink, lavender, purple or white bicolor flowers. A pollinator favorite, it handles drought, and animals leave the hairy, sticky stems alone.
Nepeta species, Zones 3 to 9
Catmints are easy to grow, long-blooming, heat-tolerant and deer resistant plants. After the flowers fade, shear off the spent blooms and about a third of the stalk for a second round. Check out more purple flowering plants to grow in your garden.
Gold Zebra Foamy Bells
Heucherella, Zones 4 to 9
Gold Zebra’s yellow and green leaves are accented with brilliant gold and blood-red centers. This deer resistant plant has showy white flowers that attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other helpful pollinators.
Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes Salvia
Salvia Hybrid ‘BBSAL01301’, Annual OR Zones 9 to 11
It’s both airy, with spikes of blue-purple blooms, yet substantial at 40 inches tall and 30 inches wide. The flower color is delightfully closer to blue than purple. Hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinators can’t get enough of this deer resistant plant.
Jack of Diamonds Heartleaf Brunnera
Brunnera Macrophylla ‘Jack of Diamonds’, Zones 3 to 8
If you adored Jack Frost brunnera for its green and silver heart-shaped leaves, you’ll flip for the larger 9- to 10-inch wide foliage of this shade perennial. Deer give it a wide berth. Bees find an early nectar source in the tiny blue spring flowers.
Lobelia cardinalis, Zones 3 to 9
Eye-catching stalks of vibrant scarlet, white or red flowers pop in any summer garden from July to September. Cardinal flower blooms attract butterflies and hummingbirds, while rabbits and deer usually avoid the plant.
Arkansas Blue Star
Amsonia Hubrichtii, Zones 4 to 9
Prepare to be enchanted by this low-maintenance, native perennial. In fall, its feathery green foliage becomes blazing gold-yellow. Deer avoid it, while butterflies and bees love its beautiful, sky blue blooms.
Asclepias Incarnata, Zones 3 to 6
Native to swamps and wet meadows, this butterfly and hummingbird magnet also tolerates dry soil. The 3- to 4-foot tall plants are topped with fragrant showy pink to mauve flowers in mid to late summer. You’ll find both monarch and queen butterfly caterpillars munching on the leaves, while deer tend to leave it be. Check out the ultimate guide to growing milkweed for monarch butterflies.
Weigela florida, Zones 4 to 8
This large, dense flowering shrub produces bunches of blooms in spring. Traditionally, the pink flowers may reappear in summer, but new cultivars are available in many different shades and produce more blooms throughout summer and fall. Weigela tolerates clay soil, and deer generally avoid it.
Next, learn how to create the ultimate backyard wildlife habitat.
Tanagers are colorful songbirds that dot the treetops and call out a husky song across America every summer. In mountain pine forests of the Southwest, from southern Colorado to Arizona and western Texas, a pair of tanagers—a red male and yellow female—might look like summer tanagers at first glance. But the male has more brick red plumage, not rose-red like a summer tanager. These are hepatic tanagers, members of a tropical species that’s very widespread, found all the way south to Argentina. The species actually gets its unique name from the male’s liver-like coloring.
Discover 8 surprising facts about tanagers.
The female of this species is a richer yellow color with gray cheeks. Hepatic tanagers are barely migratory, just withdrawing from the northern edge of their range in fall, and a few can be found in Arizona even in winter. Another good place to look for this species is Big Bend National Park in Texas. Hepatic tanagers eat mostly insects, such as caterpillars and beetles, but also enjoy berries, especially in late summer.
Check out 4 vibrant tanager bird species to know.
The flame-colored tanager is a more uncommon American visitor than other types of tanagers. In fact, these birds were never found north of the Mexican border until 1985, when a single male appeared in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains. American bird-watchers have reported several of the birds since, and the birds have been reported nesting in Arizona. But the flame-colored tanager is still considered a rare species in the mountains of southern Arizona and western Texas.
Males are reddish-orange with dark stripes on their backs and distinctive white wing markings. Female flame-colored tanagers are olive green and yellow. They look similar to female western tanagers, but watch for those white wing spots.
Next, learn more about scarlet tanagers.
How to Identify Summer Tanagers
The male summer tanager is the only bird in America with completely rose-red coloring. Unlike a scarlet tanager that is red only in spring and summer, a male summer tanager keeps his bright colors in all seasons. Their vibrant, flashy plumage lights up a forest. Tanagers also have a distinctive bill shape. Moderately thick, it’s ideal for feeding on large insects and small fruits.
Discover 8 surprising facts about tanagers.
Female Summer Tanager
Unlike the bright red males, females are a rich mustard yellow color. Check out the 4 vibrant tanager bird species you should know.
Juvenile Summer Tanager
Juvenile summer tanagers aren’t even illustrated in most bird guide books, because they wear this gray-brown plumage for such a brief time. On the bird above, gray-brown streaks of juvenile plumage are being replaced by the yellow feathers of its first-year immature plumage. In their first fall season, as they migrate to the tropics, young males are completely yellowish like adult females.
Before they migrate north the next spring, they go through a partial molt, replacing some yellow feathers with red ones. One-year-old males are patchy red and yellow, and no two birds show the exact same pattern. After their next molt, they have the solid rose-red coloring of the adult male.
Summer Tanager Song
All across the southern United States, from California to the Carolinas, a slow, lazy robin-like song is a clear sign that a summer tanager is present. Even if it isn’t singing, you may hear its characteristic call-note, a snappy pick-i-tuck. This species sounds the same across their range.
Learn about why birds sing in spring.
How to Attract Summer Tanagers
A nickname for the summer tanager is “bee bird” because it eats so many wasps and bees, sometimes catching them in midair, before rubbing them against branches to remove the stingers. To attract this species, plant native flowers that attract flying insects. These birds also enjoy overripe fruits like bananas and berries and may be drawn to birdbaths or other sources of water.
Summer Tanager Range and Habitat
Interestingly, they favor different habitats in different regions. In the Southeast they are common in oak and pine forests, while those in the Southwest concentrate in tall cottonwood trees along lowland rivers. In fall they migrate to tropical wintering grounds that stretch all the way from Mexico to South America. During spring migration, summer tanagers and other North American songbirds have a long flight across the Gulf of Mexico.
Next, check out 8 types of orioles to look for in North America.
How to Identify Scarlet Tanagers
Scarlet tanagers are medium sized songbirds, 7 inches long with a wingspan of 11-1/2 inches. The male is unmistakable in summer—bright red with black wings and tail until fall. Before migrating south, males perform a costume change, molting their red feathers and replacing them with yellow-green tones like those of the female. Males go through another molt in late winter before heading north, so when they reach the eastern woods, they have the brilliant colors you know and love.
The male scarlet tanager generally arrives earlier than the female, but the female won’t come looking for him until he has established a territory in the forest. Once he has this turf, he’ll sing from the treetops to attract a female and to warn other males to stay off his territory.
Discover 8 surprising facts about tanagers.
Female Scarlet Tanager
The female scarlet tanager is more subtly colored, sporting soft yellow-green plumage with darker olive green wings and tail. It makes sense for her to be camouflaged, because she builds the nest and incubates the eggs. However, the male does step up to help feed the young.
Check out 4 vibrant tanager bird species to know.
Juvenile Scarlet Tanager
Young birds are dull greenish-yellow like the females. One of the best ID clues is the shape of the bill—thick at the base, with a curved outline.
Scarlet Tanager Song
Scarlets announce their annual arrival with a hoarse, whistled song. They sing phrases in a rapid pattern, similar to an American robin with a sore throat. They also make a short call, “chik-burr.”
Listen to the scarlet tanager’s song.
Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
What Do Scarlet Tanagers Eat?
Scarlet tanagers use their fairly thick bills to eat mostly insects, and also some berries. Tanagers don’t flock to oranges the way orioles do. But when the first males return from the tropics in early spring, they may have trouble finding insects to eat, so they’re more likely to try different things. They occasionally visit backyards for sugar water, suet, mealworms and grape jelly. You may entice them with other fruits like bananas or sliced watermelon. And provide a water source, especially a birdbath with a dripper or a small fountain that creates the sound of trickling water.
Scarlet Tanager Nest
These birds are choosy about nesting sites, so they won’t stay around for summer unless you live close to forest land. The female builds a shallow, saucer-shaped nest, usually high in an oak tree, and lays two to five light speckled eggs.
Check out 9 proven tips to attract nesting birds.
Scarlet Tanager Range and Habitat
This species tends to stay high in treetops in deciduous forest canopies. Throughout summer, scarlet tanagers are widespread in the eastern states and southeastern Canada, mainly in forests dominated by oaks. They spend winters in lowland rain forest areas of the Amazon basin in South America. Passing migrants can show up almost anywhere.
Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.
Next, learn how to attract orioles to your backyard.
How to Identify Western Tanagers
Birders in the west are in the right area but may need luck to spot the flashy feathers of western tanagers. With bright red heads, vibrant yellow bodies, and black wings with prominent wing bars and black tails, males resemble a bright flickering flame. They measure 7-1/4 inches long with a wingspan of 11-1/2 inches. Despite the bold field marks, these birds are hard to find, often hiding in the treetops of western conifer forests.
“Western tanagers are more often heard than seen at our place,” says Sally Roth, lifelong naturalist and author who lives amid a dense pine and spruce forest in the high Rockies of northern Colorado. “When I hear one singing, I lift my binoculars to find it,” Sally says. “That color is unmistakable! It sure catches your eye against the green of the trees.”
Discover surprising facts about tanagers.
Female Western Tanagers
Females and young males are less showy, sporting muted yellow bodies with black wings and a grey back. Check out 4 vibrant tanager species you should know.
What Do Western Tanagers Eat?
As western tanagers arrive from Mexico and Central America during spring migration, they seek extra fuel in backyard offerings of dried and fresh fruit, especially orange halves. They may also visit sugar water feeders and eat grape jelly. Sally sees one or two western tanagers at her feeders each spring. “But once they claim their nesting territory, they aren’t interested in the feeder—there are too many tasty caterpillars around,” she says.
Like orioles, western tanagers consume mostly insects once breeding season begins. Protein-packed grasshoppers, wasps, ants, termites and beetles are favorites. The birds nab bugs in midair or carefully pluck them from foliage, branches and flowers as they forage through trees and shrubs.
Western Tanager Song
The male is extremely protective over his breeding area. He belts out a robinlike song, full of rising and falling whistles, to stake his claim.
Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Western Tanager Nest and Eggs
Meanwhile, a female scouts out a nesting site almost as soon as she arrives at the breeding grounds. She swiftly flies through open tree canopies until she finds a suitable spot to raise a family. Nest-building duties are the female’s job, although the male is never far away. Four or five days after she begins building, the pair has a brand-new twig home that is filled in and lined with materials such as bark, moss, stems, grasses, pine needles and feathers. The female lays three to five bluish-green eggs with irregular brown spots.
Learn about 8 different kinds of bird nests and how to spot them.
How to Attract Western Tanagers
A backyard filled with trees is the best way to encourage western tanagers to call your landscape home or stop by for a quick snack. When they’re passing through during fall migration, berry trees and shrubs like serviceberry, blackberry and elderberry help to fill them up. Birdbaths, especially those with moving water, lure western tanagers and many other species throughout summer and during spring and fall migrations.
Western Tanager Range Map and Habitat
This species breeds as far north as Canada’s Northwest Territories and may spend as little as two months in the brisk locale before heading back to the tropics. Look for them in evergreen forests in summer and in any kinds of woodlands, riversides, or even deserts during migration.
Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.
Warblers are some of the most exciting birds to see during spring migration. These colorful spring birds leave their warm wintering grounds south of the border in Central and South America and migrate up to the norther parts of the country. Although warblers are tiny, their brightly colored feathers make them stand out as they flit from branch to branch, hunting insects.
There are over 50 species of warblers in the United States and Canada, but most warblers don’t visit backyards, because they aren’t feeder birds and typically stick to forested areas. We rounded up 16 types of warblers you might see this spring. But there are many more warbler bird species out there to spot, so make sure you keep your binoculars and field guides handy!
1. Common Yellowthroat
It’s worth a visit to a marshy area for a quick look at common yellowthroats. Although they try to remain out of sight, they flit in and out of reeds and cattails. Listen for the wichity-wichity-wichity song from mashes, and look for the male’s distinct black mask. Learn why birds sing in spring.
2. Magnolia Warbler
This easy-to-spot warbler spends time in low shrubs and small trees. During spring migration, magnolia warblers zip through the eastern half of the U.S. on the way to their breeding grounds in Canada and in northern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
3. American Redstart
Bright yellow plumage is common among warblers. But the male American redstart, covered in mostly black, breaks all the rules. Their bold patterns and behaviors are impossible to miss. Redstarts are among the most active warblers, showing off orange-red patches as they flit through trees. Be on the lookout for redstarts if you’re birding on eastern forest edges.
American redstarts stand out, not just for their brilliantly bright feathers but also for the way their feathers are used. Redstarts fan out their tails in a display thought to startle insect prey into the open. These birds can show up nearly anywhere in migration, with the exception of the far West, and they nest in parks and woodlots throughout most of North America.
4. Hooded Warbler
Unlike many warblers, this species forages, and even nests, close to the ground. The male’s black hood around a yellow face helps with ID when he’s spotted in his ideal habitat—shady undergrowth in the southeast and northeast during summer breeding season. Check out the top warbler hotspots to visit in spring.
5. Yellow Warbler
It’s hard to miss the brilliantly colored yellow warbler. Step outside in summer and you might hear this whistled tune: Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet. Yellows, our most widespread warbler, sing while nesting across much of the United States and Canada, especially in shrubland and woodland thickets. Females are pale lemon in color, while the males sport bold orange streaks along their chests. One of the most common of the 50 warbler species, you won’t have to go deep into the forest to see one. Yellows can be found near open woods, streams, orchards and even roadsides.
6. Black-Throated Blue Warbler
Warblers often sport yellow feathers, but the plumage of black-throated blue warblers would make a stunning prom ensemble. The formal black and white is accented with rich blues in males, white females show a blush of faint indigo. White patches in the wings remind many birders of pocket squares. Black-throated blue warblers thrive in the dense forest understory from the southern Appalachians to the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Quebec.
7. Chestnut-Sided Warbler
No other warbler bird sports this unique color combination. An olive-yellow cap and rufous sides make the chestnut-sided a showstopper. It passes through the eastern U.S. during migration, so be on the lookout for this beauty on forest edges. Learn how to tell the difference between a yellow warbler vs goldfinch.
8. Yellow-Throated Warbler
The vibrant yellow throat is an important field mark. These warblers are early migrants and spend their summers in the southeastern U.S. They forage high in the canopy of swamp and pine forests. Learn how to identify palm warblers.
9. Prairie Warbler
Don’t let the name fool you! These streaky-faced birds prefer dense thickets throughout the eastern U.S. Males have signature chestnut-colored marks on their backs. Females have similar, though subtler, markings. Learn more about prairie birds: the stunning species of the grasslands.
10. Black-Throated Green Warbler
Listen for the male’s recognizable song, zoo, zee, zoo zoo zee, and then look up—way up! These types of warblers stay high in coniferous or mixed forests throughout summer in the northeast. They are “green” because both males and females have olive backs.
11. Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Most warbler bird species rely heavily on bugs. But yellow-rumped warblers are sometimes enticed to suet feeders. Some of the last to head south in fall, these warblers shift to eating berries in the southern states. They return north very early in spring migration as well. Try adding water features to the landscape to help lure these birds to your yard. Also look for pine warblers at suet feeders.
12. Black-and-White Warbler
The contrast of black-and-white warblers gives them a look of sophistication. Their methodical feeding style adds a touch of class. Black-and-white warblers mimic nuthatches by creeping along tree trunks and branches in search of invertebrate snacks. They’re widespread east of the Rockies, and a few show up in the West each year.
13. Blackpoll Warbler
Most types of warblers are long-distance migrants, but blackpolls take this to the extreme. Some of these songbirds summer in Alaska and winter in Brazil. Each weighs as much as a pen, yet in fall they complete epic journeys, flying nonstop from the eastern seaboard to northern South America. Blackpolls gorge on insects to build fat reserves to fuel their three-day trip. Learn how to identify a Tennessee warbler and a Nashville warbler.
Admittedly, ovenbirds don’t quite look the part. Their olive-brown backs are offset by streaks on their bellies. A splash of deep orange running along the tops of their heads gives each a racing stripe of color. Behaviorally, ovenbirds aren’t your typical warbler species, either. They spend their time foraging along the forest floor. They even build dome-shaped nests, for which they are named, directly on the ground. Learn how to identify a Wilson’s warbler: the warbler that wears a hat.
15. Kirtland’s Warbler
Only a few thousand Kirtland’s warblers are found in the world. The majority nests in jack pine forests in central Michigan, with populations expanding into Wisconsin and Ontario. Each year during migration, a few are spotted between their breeding ranges and their wintering habitats in the Bahamas. See amazing photos of rare yellow cardinals.
16. Townsend’s Warbler
The West has less warbler bird diversity, but a number of species can be tracked down in the region. West of the Rocky Mountains, the stunning Townsend’s warbler is fairly common during migration. It breeds in the wet evergreen forests from Idaho to Alaska, and winters along the West Coast, inland in Arizona and Texas, and south into Mexico and Central America.
Next, learn to identify 15 types of hummingbirds found in the United States.
Mulch is good for your plants and a great labor saver. It reduces evaporation, slows weed growth, improves soil quality, and makes your gardens look more attractive. And more, it’s inexpensive and easy to apply.
Common Types of Mulch
Wood chips and bark are the most common types of mulch, but you can even use stones to good effect.
In most cases, a mulch backyard greatly simplifies your gardening chores. Mulch includes a variety of materials that you use to cover the bare soil in your gardens. Most often you think of it as organic materials such as wood chips, cedar bark mulch, and compost, but it also includes materials like stone and gravel. Adding a layer of mulch pays off by:
- Reducing water loss from the soil. It slows evaporation and improves water absorption when it rains or you turn on the sprinkler.
- Slowing weed growth.
- Improving soil quality. Organic types enrich the soil as they decompose.
- Protecting plant roots from hot and cold temperature extremes and sudden fluctuations.
- Adding color and texture as part of your overall garden design.
Whether you’re an ardent gardener or a casual one, you’ll have less watering, weeding, fertilizing and general maintenance.
Use organic mulches when possible, because they decompose and improve the soil as they break down.
Use an aged organic mulch (partially decomposed wood products) to improve the soil and encourage all-around plant growth. It will continue to decompose and add nutrients to the soil. It’s often sold in bulk. You may have to bag it yourself. Haul it home in a pickup or have it delivered.
Use fresh organic mulch (wood chips and bark) where you want to control weeds and improve appearance, but where soil improvement isn’t needed, such as around trees and shrubs. While organic, it hasn’t begun to decompose and will last longer than aged mulch. It’ll also enrich the soil as it decomposes.
Learn more about the Ruth Stout Method and more tips to garden greener.
Use stone mulch to stabilize garden areas vulnerable to washout, for example, on hills and around downspouts. Or use it to improve the appearance of your garden.
Learn how to plant a rain garden to minimize water runoff.
Which Mulch Keeps Its Color the Longest?
Most natural organic mulches will turn gray in about a year, depending on the amount of sunlight that hits them. However, if you want more color to accent the colors of your plants and flowers, buy custom-colored organic mulches (such as the red dyed mulch pictured above). They’re processed with vegetable dyes in several colors. Expect the color to last for two to three years. Bright colors like red bark mulch might run a bit during a hard rain, but the color should wash off nearby walks. Colored mulches also tend to have finer textures, a characteristic that helps them mat together and stay in place on slopes. Ask for colored mulch at your local nursery.
Stone mulches also come in a variety of colors, depending on the rock types available. The colors won’t fade, but lighter-colored rock may need periodic cleaning to keep it looking fresh.
We asked a garden expert: Is it OK to use rubber mulch?
Will Mulch Work Everywhere?
Nope. Organic mulches spread over damp, low areas may retain too much moisture for plants. Sometimes they’ll encourage an overpopulation of slugs and other pests that’ll eat or harm certain plants. And rock mulches can get extremely hot and bake shallow plant roots. It’s always helpful to talk to a local nursery expert about local problems and your specific yard conditions when selecting mulch. And ask for recommendations.
Chunky Mulches Last Longer
Bark mulches consisting of large pieces will last longer than smaller bark and shredded-wood mulches.
In general, pick a type with larger chunks, because it’ll decompose more slowly. And choose bark-type mulches (such as pine bark nuggets) before shredded wood types (such as cedar bark mulch, cypress and hardwood). Keep in mind that mulch reduces maintenance but doesn’t eliminate it. Organic mulches have to be replenished periodically, usually every two to three years. Psst—Fall leaves make great mulch for your lawn.
Will Mulch Stop Weeds?
Pull all weeds before mulching and add at least a 4-in. layer to keep weed seeds from germinating.
Mulch won’t stop weeds completely. Applied deep enough, it will prevent many weed seeds already in the soil from germinating and growing. But it won’t stop weeds that have already rooted. Tough weeds like dandelions will push right through if you don’t dig them out first. And more weed seeds will blow in and take root in the mulch (in both organic and stone). All mulch-covered gardens require maintenance, though less than if you don’t use mulch.
How Thick Should I Apply Organic Mulch?
Spread about 4 in. of mulch to slow weed growth and retain moisture. However, clear a 6-in. area around woody stems to prevent rot.
A layer of mulch 3 to 4 in. deep will keep most weed seeds in the soil from sprouting and increase moisture retention. However, more isn’t always better. Limit the depth to 5 to 6 in., especially around shallow-rooted plants. And pull back mulch from the base of plants so it doesn’t cause rot.
If you want to use organic mulch on slopes, apply a shredded type about 6 in. deep. It’ll mat together and stay in place better than a thinner layer.
Note: Cocoa bean mulch is popular in some areas because of its deep brown color and chocolate odor. But it’s a bit tricky to use effectively. Apply it no more than 1 in. thick, because thicker layers tend to retain too much water and become moldy. You may also have to replenish it more often because it blows away easily when dry. Also be aware that dogs can get sick if they eat or chew on this mulch.
Where To Buy Mulch and Getting It Home
You can easily calculate how much mulch you need by multiplying the length and width of the garden bed (in feet) and dividing the result by 3. This will give you the volume you need in cubic feet (cu. ft.) to cover a bed 4 in. deep. The volume of mulch in a bag will be printed on the label. You’ll be surprised by how many bags you’ll need. A medium-size SUV can hold about a cubic yard (27 cu. ft.), or about 14 bags. When spread 4 in. deep, that much covers a bit more than a 7 x 11-ft. rectangle. A big garden takes a lot! Consider delivery or bulk (dumped, not bagged) for large areas.
Check out the best new garden plants for 2021.
Should I Use Landscape Fabric Under Mulch?
Place a porous landscape fabric under stone to separate it from the soil and slow weed growth. Don’t use fabric under organic mulches.
Use fabric only under stones and gravel. It’ll keep the rocks from sinking into the soil and make removal much easier if you want to change it later. The fabric will also slow down weeds that have rooted in the soil. Choose a fabric that allows water and air to pass through. Avoid using impermeable plastic, especially if you have trees, shrubs or other plants nearby.
Unfortunately, landscape fabric also makes weeding extremely difficult; you can’t get a shovel down through the rock and fabric. And it’s tough to pull weeds that root into the fabric.
Don’t use fabric under organic mulches. It’s better to let them decompose and mix into the soil.
How Do I Keep My Stone Mulch Clean?
You’ll have to pull weeds occasionally, but the main problems are leaves and other debris from trees and shrubs that clutter the appearance. The easiest way to remove debris is to suck it up or blow it away with a leaf vacuum. Stone placed directly under a tree is virtually impossible to keep clean. Better to choose organic mulch, because the tree debris will blend in.
The Hummingbird Handbook
Birds & Blooms executive editor Kirsten Schrader writes, “At Birds & Blooms, we tend to focus on hummingbirds in the backyard. But in this book, John Shewey offers up everything you’ve ever wanted to know about hummingbirds, so teaming up on this project made perfect sense. He captures the spirit and allure of these captivating birds in every fascinating fact, historical tidbit, amusing anecdote, species profile and plant pick.”
Hummingbird Coloring Book
One reason we love to read hummingbird books is because we love to marvel at their colors. Hummingbird fans will love this coloring book, which features realistic detailed images to color however you please. Pair it with a pack of colored pencils for a wonderful gift. Also consider 16 hummingbird feeders and accessories your birds will love.
Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds
This little book is ideal for anyone who’s just learning about hummingbirds in their yard. It covers common species, feeding tips, and all the basic info you need to get started. Looking for more book ideas? Check out the top 10 birding and gardening books we love.
Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America
This field guide does a great job of pointing out specific ID markers to help identify butterflies in the field, even if you don’t get a detailed look. You also get a good overview of hummingbirds and their lives. Psst—we found holiday gifts any bird lover will absolutely adore.
Stokes Hummingbird Book
The full title of this Stokes guide is The Hummingbird Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying and Enjoying Hummingbirds, and that pretty much says it all. This book is available in paperback and e-book formats. Psst—don’t miss these gift ideas for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Hummingbirds: A Guide to Every Species
This is the first book to detail all 338(!) known species of hummingbirds. From the tiny bee hummingbird from Cuba to the giant hummingbird of South America, which is 10 times the weight, they’re all here. Next, check out our favorite nature books for kids.
Hummingbird-friendly flowers have three things in common. Their blooms are tube-shaped, brightly colored, and they grow where it’s easy for hummingbirds to hover and sip. If you want to attract more of these beautiful birds, plant these flowers that hummingbirds like in your yard or garden.
1. Cardinal Flower
Lobelia Cardinalis, Zones 2 to 9
Size: 3 to 4 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide
Cardinal flower, named for the red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, needs mulch to retain moisture during summer and protect its root system during cold northern winters. It’s one of the top flowers that hummingbirds like.
Why we love it: This deer-resistant, reseeding and self-rooting perennial lights up partial shade or full sun areas that boast consistently moist soil. Flower spikes open from bottom to top, and stay in bloom for several weeks.
Check out the top 10 red flowers that attract hummingbirds.
2. Bee Balm
Monarda species, Zones 4 to 9
Size: 1 to 4 feet tall and wide
For a surefire way to attract hummingbirds, grow bee balm. This beauty grows up to 4 feet tall in full sun and starts flowering in midsummer. You can even find several varieties on the market that are resistant to mildew. Whether you choose natives or cultivated varieties, the birds can’t resist the nectar-rich blooms. Bee balm needs sun, moist soil, and plenty of air circulation to ward off powdery mildew.
Why we love it: After the tubular pink, red, white or violet flowers fade, the round seed heads add beauty in fall and winter and may self-sow.
Check out the top annual flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Penstemon species, Zones 3 to 9
Size: 1 to 4 feet tall
Penstemons are North American natives that come in many forms. It’s best to plant those that are native to your area. They’re low-maintenance if you place them in full sun and soil with excellent drainage; they hate wet feet, especially in the winter.
Why we love it: The options are nearly limitless. Choose from a wide palette of flower colors, including white, yellow, blue, purple, red and orange.
Hosta Species, Zones 3 to 9
Size: 6 to 30 inches
Although most hostas are grown for their leaves, they also have flowers that hummingbirds like. The large bell-shaped blooms are excellent nectar sources in hues of purple to white.
Why we love it: Everyone thinks of hummingbird plants for sunny areas, but the little fliers like a sweet treat in the shade, too.
Nepeta Species, Zones 3 to 9
Size: 1 to 3 feet tall, often wider than it is tall
Catmint is easy to grow, long-blooming, heat-tolerant, and deer- and pest-resistant. After the flowers fade, shear off the spent blooms and about a third of the stalk for a second round.
Why we love it: Hummingbirds especially like Siberian catmint’s blue blooms (Nepeta sibirica). Just be aware that this variety can be an aggressive grower.
Check out the top 10 purple flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Agastache species, Zones 4 to 9
Size: 1 to 5 feet tall
It’s no coincidence that a common name for one of the agastache species is hummingbird mint. That type excels in dry regions. Choose anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) in northern, wetter climates. Tiny tubular flowers on slender stalks grow in a variety of colors and shapes. Full sun and excellent drainage are essential for keeping plants happy.
Why we love it: Deer and rabbits leave it alone.
Learn how to create an ideal hummingbird habitat.
7. Eastern Red Columbine
Aquilegia Canadensis, Zones 3 to 8
Size: 1 to 3 feet tall, 1 foot wide
This easy-to-grow perennial performs in part to full shade. It reseeds itself to replenish older plants, which tend to lose vigor after three or four years. The airy habit allows it to grow among other plants.
Why we love it: Sure, you can find cultivated varieties of columbines, but native columbine, with its crimson spurs and bright yellow stamens, is an early-season favorite flower that hummingbirds like.
Psst—hummingbirds will also love these pink nasturtium flowers.
8. Trumpet Honeysuckle
Lonicera Sempervirens, Zones 4 to 10
Size: 10- to 20-foot vine
If you have a fence, arbor or trellis in full sun to part shade, plant a colorful trumpet honeysuckle vine. Hummingbirds go absolutely wild for this climber. We don’t always recommend honeysuckle—many types are invasive—but this one is an exception worth considering. It’s native to many areas, and hummingbirds will visit all summer for its nectar. The vine climbs up to 12 feet tall and thrives in full sun to partial shade.
Why we love it: After a flush of blooms in late spring, flowers continue sporadically until fall. Prune or don’t prune—your choice.
Also try these easy-to-grow native plants.
Salvia species, annual to perennial Zones 3 to 10
Size: 1 to 6 feet tall
Pick a salvia, any type of salvia—hummingbirds like them all. The tubular blooms are just right for dipping a beak into. Salvias grow best in full sun to part shade. Annual salvia is a garden favorite, but don’t forget the power of the perennial variety. The blooms can reach 1 to 5 feet tall, flowering in bright shades of purple, indigo, maroon and even red. Grow in full sun, and you’ll probably want to add a few extra for the butterflies, too.
Why we love it: Almost continuously blooming, especially in hot, dry conditions, salvias come in a huge selection of colors and plant habits. Many gardeners grow it because it’s a good drought-tolerant option in summer. Don’t forget to grow it in well-draining soil for best results.
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Zinnia Elegans, annual
Size: 6 to 48 inches tall
Humans and hummingbirds like zinnia flowers for several reasons. They’re easy to grow from seed. The birds sip from the central florets, and you can snip the blooms to create indoor bouquets.
11. Flowering Tobacco
Nicotiana spp., annual
Often flying under the radar, this might be one of the best-kept secrets among hummingbird plants. Yes, it is an annual, but once gardeners discover the power of this flower, they eagerly plant it again and again. You can find it in a whole spectrum of colors, including pink, white, red, lavender and green.
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12. Red Hot Poker
Kniphofia, Zones 5 to 9
Red hot poker is one of the most dramatic and visually appealing flowers in the garden, pale yellow at the base and bold orange on top. Some varieties have an extra jolt of orange. The plants grow up to 4 feet high and are among the earlier summer bloomers.
Bonus tip: You really want to plant these in well-draining soil. They’re prone to rot in boggy or even moist soil.
Plant these gorgeous pink and orange flowers that look just like a sunset.
Delphinium, Zones 3 to 7
This towering treasure makes a statement at the back of a mixed border, as a vertical accent or in a container. With dozens of blooms on each stem, it gives hummingbirds plenty of nectar sources to share with butterflies and other bugs, too.
Check out beautiful blue flowers for every garden.
14. Trumpet Vine
Campsis radicans, Zones 4 to 9
We see dozens of photos each year of hummingbirds at trumpet vine, and there’s a good reason. They love this sweet beauty! A perennial favorite of both butterflies and hummingbirds, it grows up to 40 feet tall.
Bonus tip: When you plant this stunner, it pays to invest in a good trellis, or put it next to a tree, telephone pole or sturdy fence. If you can provide this vine with good support, it will last for years.
Discover the top 10 vines for hummingbirds.
15. Coral Bells
Heuchera, Zones 3 to 9
Don’t overlook the power of pink, a color available in many species that we normally think of as having red flowers. Coral bells are valued for their foliage and shade tolerance. In late spring, the plant sends up attractive, long-lasting wands of tiny flowers that invite hummingbirds all summer long.
Bonus tip: Spend time getting to know the different cultivars, which have some of the garden’s most diverse and beautiful foliage options. It won’t be long until you have your own favorites.
Check out more of the best shade garden plants for your shady areas.