Plan your garden for wildlife now
Gardeners have been daydreaming over seed catalogues since New Year's, but with actual Spring finally within sight now, it's time to place orders and make those dreams come true.
Those who also garden for wildlife will want to keep the birds, bees, butterflies, and other animals in mind when making those seed and plant selections.
Lots of varieties of annuals and perennials, plus garden vegetables, can provide food for wildlife with nectar-producing blooms and/or attract pollinating insects that become part of the food chain for others.
So how do you choose from all those enticing catalogue pictures and listings?
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists recommend using local native plants when you can, or non-natives if they're not invasive in your local area.
"Don't choose hybrids with double flowers because the flower structure may prevent flying insects from gaining access to nectar or may even have nectar-production bred out," said WDFW's North Puget Sound regional wildlife program manager Russell Link.
WDFW's Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program information (available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/backyard/ ) includes some specifics about plant choice to benefit wildlife, like hummingbirds and butterflies. These include both local native and non-native plant species, but natives are usually best.
Links says plants that are native to local habitat in Washington are best suited for our soils and climate so they usually grow more easily. By nature of being native, they have the potential to be truly "sustainable".
The appropriate native plant usually require less care, especially watering, once they are established. And most important to wildlife enthusiasts, many native plants are more readily used by the native wildlife with which they evolved.
Plant and seed catalogue companies from across the country may include species "adapted to the Northwest," but remember that is not the same as "native to the Northwest."
Thanks to increasing interest in "sustainability," sources of native plants and seeds are increasing in Washington. The Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS) provides a list of nurseries by county that sell native plants and seeds (see http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/nurserylist.html .)
Whether you go native or use non-invasive exotics, keep those pollinators in mind.
"I buy a lot of "six packs" from a local nursery," Link said, "and when shopping, I'll give the flats of flowers a little shove to see what flies off. Some flowers, like Sweet allysum, will produce a flurry of of flying pollinators."
Link also notes that most vegetables are pollinated by flying insects.
"I grow scarlet runner beans because they have attractive red flowers, are tasty, and attract bumblebees and hummingbirds," he said.
Some plants pollinated by insects specifically attract night-flying moths that provide food for bats, including Sweet William, Fireweed, Honeysuckle, Bee balm, Mock-orange and Yucca. Bats Northwest has more information on moth-friendly plant species at http://www.batsnorthwest.org/attracting_insects.html .
Link's book, "Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest," is a good source of further information on plant choices for the wildlife garden. For more details on how to purchase this reference, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/book/index.html .