Gardening in Harmony with Nature

Wildlife_Horned Lizard copyDiversity is the key to the long-term resilience of a garden in our area’s erratic climate. Gardens with a variety of plants and habitat niches allow perennial plants to adjust to changing conditions year to year, emerging closer to a rock or farther out from shade each spring. Over time, plants with a range of different light and moisture requirements gradually settle into the places that most suit them.

Creating diversity in your garden will also promote a healthy diversity in the beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife that visit it. Pollinating insects help naturalize a garden by fostering generations of plants that gradually adapt to conditions there. Butterflies increasingly rely on gardens for nectar to sustain them on their migrations and for host plants to nourish their caterpillars. Flowering plants including grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees provide nectar, fruit, and seeds that benefit resident birds and prepare migratory birds for their long journeys. Gardens can provide much-needed water, shelter, and foraging opportunities to an amazing range of invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, and birds that we may never see.

General requirements for wildlife habitat are water, shade, perches, hiding places, food, and native plants. Avoid using pesticides or herbicides.

Click for tips on Organic Gardening.

Click to read Bloom Town, about the importance of local native plants in urban ecosystems.

Click to visit yardmap, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s  citizen science project designed to cultivate a richer understanding of bird habitat for people concerned with their local environments. Yardmap will show you how to make beautiful landscape maps, create bird habitat in your garden, and identify and enjoy your songbirds. 

Click for information about Beekeeping.

There are books in the library and lots of online references to help you create a garden that welcomes beneficial insect, birds, and other animals. Just to get you started, here are a few suggestions for…

  • butterflies—adult butterflies visit many different kinds of flowers, especially native thistles, verbena, cosmos, rabbitbrush, and yarrow. They feed in full sun and are attracted from a distance to large groups of flowers in red, yellow, orange, purple, and pink. They lack mouth parts for chewing and use their proboscis to sip nectar for energy and dissolved minerals to produce pheromones. Flat stones provide space for butterflies to rest and bask in the sun. Butterflies also visit damp rocks and muddy areas to obtain minerals for producing pheromones.
  • caterpillars—a developmental stage of butterflies that do have mouthparts for chewing. Many require specific native plants for nourishment including lupine, milk vetch, buckwheat, cud weed, milkweed, locust, aspen, willow, cottonwood, and many native grasses and sedges.
  • moths—more numerous than butterflies but seen less often because they are nocturnal pollinators. They are attracted to white or light-colored flowers with a sweet scent such as nicotiana, sacred datura, and yellow or white evening primroses. Moth caterpillars also rely on native plants including Arizona Virginia creeper.
  • bees—there are 1,300 species of native bees in Arizona. Click for the Arizona Bee Identification Guide. They are most attracted to blue, purple, white, and yellow flowers in flat clusters or with shallow blossoms such as those in the Aster and Buckwheat families. Long-tongued bees favor flowers in the Mint Family, while bumblebees are drawn to flowers with long nectar spurs such as monad, columbine, and larkspur. Bees are also drawn to flowering shrubs and trees. They pollinate more flowering plants than any other group.
  • hummingbirds—are most attracted to nectar-rich, tubular red flowers although the early-blooming flowers of  golden currant are very important to hummingbirds when they first arrive each spring in our area. Flowers popular with hummingbirds include various native species of penstemon, paintbrush, agave, larkspur, gilia, four o’clock, coral bells, monkey flower, honeysuckle, iris, and columbine as well as wolf berry, locust, hedgehog cactus, and agave.
  • lesser goldfinches—are drawn to prolific seed-producing flowers such as native sunflowers and other asters.