Plants For All Seasons: Yards Can Be Transformed Into Habitat


          The bee flew over a row of houses looking for nectar.    There was a house there with a green lawn, but no flowers.   The next one was the same.   And the next one.  And the one after that.  But there!  In that yard, there was a strawberry patch, phlox, and the blue flowers of the native sage. The bee landed on one of the sage flowers and happily drank the nectar.

This is the situation for a lot of wildlife.   As forests and fields are turned into houses and businesses, many birds, insects, and mammals are losing both year round habitat and migratory stopovers.   However, both homeowners and community gardens can fill in this gap by planting native plants which can provide, food, shelter, and nesting places for both migratory and year round wildlife.  Even potted plants on the balcony of an apartment building or flowers in a community plot can provide food and a welcome respite.   Last year’s article generally focused on summer blooming plants, which while still important, is a limited time frame. This article will focus on plants that bloom at different times, which provides cover and food sources throughout the year. In addition, eliminating pesticides and fertilizers is also an important step.   

Spring:   

Strawberries: (Fragaria virginiana) Strawberries are a low growing plant which produce small white flowers from April through May and fruit in May and are a bird favorite. However, they do spread and require some space.

Creeping Phlox: (Phlox stolinifera) This plant flowers from April to June and is native to Quebec, Ontario, and all of the eastern U. S. going as far west as Texas and Nebraska. It is good for all smaller butterflies.

Lyre-leaved sage: (Salvia lyrata) This plant produces lavender to blue flowers from April to June and is native to Connecticut, the southern U. S., and the Midwest. It is a good plant for bees.


Summer: 
Bee balm: (Monarda didyma) Bee balm produces beautiful red flowers in July and, as its name implies, is a favorite of bees. Its leaves can also be used in tea.

Butterfly Weed: (Asclepias tuberosa) Butterfly weed produces orange flowers from June to September and, as its name implies, is a favorite for a number of butterfly species.

Milkweed: This includes a number of species in many parts of the country including the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), in the East, both of which bloom June to August. Western species include the California milkweed (Asclepias californica) and the the showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). Milkweed are the only plant on which Monarch butterflies lay their eggs and so they are a vital plant for this species.

Elderberry: (Sanbucas canadensis) This is a shrub which grows 3 to 12 feet, so it does require some space. It produces white flowers early in summer and then dark blue berries later, which are an important food sources for birds. The berries can also be made into jelly and wine.

Fall:
Spotted Joe Pye Weed: (Eupatorium maculatum) It produces small clusters of pink flowers from July to September, is native from Alberta to North Carolina, and goes as far west as Kansas and North Dakota. It is good for gulf fritilliaries and several species of swallowtail butterflies. However, this plant can grow to six feet tall, so it does need some space.

Jewel weed: (Impatiens capensis) It produces reddish orange flowers from July to October and is native to Canada and the eastern U. S. It is especially adapted to hummingbirds, but is also good for bees and butterflies. In addition, the sap is also an antidote for poison ivy and nettles.

Asters: This includes the New England Aster ( Aster novaeangliae) and the New York Aster (Aster novi-belgii). The New England aster flowers somewhat earlier, but both bloom through October and are native to Canada and throughout the eastern U. S.

Purple Coneflower: (Echinacea Purpurea) Coneflowers bloom from June to October and are native from eastern Canada to Florida and west to Kansas and Wisconsin. They are the plant from which echinacea tea is derived.

Winter:  
American Holly: (Ilex opaca) This is a shrub and so does require some space and produces its signature red berries in December, which are good for a number of bird species.

Scarlet Sumac: (Rhus glabra) This tree is native throughout North America and has brillant autumn color as well as fruit that lasts through the winter, making it one of the few food choices for birds in the later winter months.

Winter berry: (Ilex verticillata) This shrub grows 3-10 feet and is native to Canada and the eastern U. S. as far west as Texas and Minnesota. It produces bright red fruit in late fall and early winter and is popular with many bird species.

With development, habitat fragmentation, and pesticide use, many bees, butterflies, and birds are in decline, and in some cases, serious decline. Providing cover and food sources throughout the year is an an important way to help local wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder (nwf.org) is a good resource for finding plants for specific regions. In addition, from the first bee buzzing in the spring to a cardinal in the winter, yards can be transformed into amazing places for plants, wildlife, and people. Happy Spring!

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