Attracting wildlife to your Indianapolis garden
Birds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbird moths are just a few of the beneficial and beautiful creatures that might populate your garden—if you provide the right environment. Every living thing has three basic needs: food, water, and shelter. Provide for those needs, and they will come.
Birds play an important role in contributing to the balance of our complex ecosystem. Many birds feed on insects, consuming thousands of pests a day, making them one of the best natural means of insect pest control in the garden.
Plants are a key to making a garden bird friendly, providing shelter, nesting sites, refuge from predators, and a source of food. If you have the space, create a combination of wooded areas and open space, thus pleasing the widest variety of birds.
Like people, birds have individual food preferences. A wide selection of plants with different fruiting and seeding habits will attract the greatest number of bird species. In birdfeeders, the food that attracts the widest selection of birds is sunflower seed. A blend of proso millet, unhulled sunflower seeds, and cracked corn will satisfy an even larger number of seed-eating birds. Fatty foods such as suet and peanut butter are also good and provide energy. Keep bird feeders and feeding tables clean, and be sure the food is protected from moisture.
Different bird species look for different features in their homes. Purple martins, superb for insect control, are social birds that like to nest in high-rise apartments. Bluebirds like a 5-by-5-inch floor space and a 1.5-inch entrance hole. Check reference sources for more detailed information on birdhouse specifications for different species.
Birds need water both to remain hydrated and for fun. To draw birds closer to your home, provide a birdbath. They love splashing about in the shallow water and taking occasional sips. The gentle sound of moving water also is an attraction. Place it in an open space so there isn’t nearby cover for a cat or other predator.
Butterflies: Flowers in motion
Butterflies and moths are indicators of a healthy environment. They also are lively, colorful additions to gardens, providing hours of viewing pleasure. To thrive, butterflies require nectar for energy, water, shelter, and sun for orientation and to warm their wings. And they are attracted to all sorts of things that most people aren’t, such as dead plants, rotting logs, manure, dead animals, and decaying fruit. Swallowtails, little blues, the sulfurs, and red-spotted purples revel in muddy puddles from which they derive important minerals.
It is possible to compromise between an environment that a butterfly would consider a dream home and one that you’re happy to live with. Plant a selection of nectar-rich flowers such as sweet alyssum, marigold, asters, purple coneflowers, daylilies, and butterfly bush. Check with your local Cooperative Extension to find out what plants are the best for the butterflies and caterpillars in your area.
For water, provide a birdbath or create a low-lying area that can collect water to create a drinking pool for the butterflies. You may get to see the males of certain species gathering by the dozens to drink. These congregations are known as drinking clubs.
In a wildlife habitat, avoid any chemical insecticides, including Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Although it is nontoxic to other creatures, Bt kills all leaf-eating caterpillars. Fungicides, rodenticides, and herbicides should also be eliminated from your gardening arsenal. Instead of using chemicals, handpick large pests such as Japanese beetles, and use liquid soap to control smaller pests.
Attracting beneficial wildlife to your garden is a rewarding mission that brings both aesthetic and environmental benefits. Provide for their basic needs, then sit back and enjoy the show.
Other beneficial creatures for the garden
- Diet: aphids
- How to attract: pollen plants
- Diet: aphids, small caterpillars, leafhoppers, thrips, and others
- How to attract: alfalfa
- Diet: slugs, snails, cutworms, root maggots, Colorado potato beetle larvae
- How to attract: plant ground covers and perennials, provide stones or logs where they can hide
- Diet: aphids, thrips, scale, mealybugs, whiteflies
- How to attract: angelica, coreopsis, cosmos, sweet alyssum
Parasitic Wasps (such as Braconid)
- Diet: aphids, beetles, caterpillars, flies, sawflies, scale insects, and true bugs
- How to attract: pollen and nectar plants
About the Author
Kristie Smith is the founder and CEO of the Indy Homes Real Estate Team. She is a REALTOR, and is one of the most recognized and accomplished Indiana real estate agents. Ranked among Central Indiana's top 10 real estate teams, the Indy Homes Team specializes in relocating families moving to the Indy area, as well as Helping People on the Move locally in Indy.
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