Planting for the Birds

Everyone knows that birds and butterflies are delightful garden visitors. Fewer people realize how easy it is to attract these beneficial guests, even to urban gardens. This spring, try growing a few of the native plants described below.  You might be simply delighted with the results!

Most Phoenix yards don’t provide blank canvases for the native plant gardener: Many a yard is comprised of water-loving grasses and other non-native plants that fail to attract a diversity of birdlife.  Sure, you’ll have a couple Mourning Doves and Great-Tailed Grackles perhaps, but you can do better than that and Audubon Arizona can help you.  

When Tice Supplee, Audubon Arizona’s Director of Bird Conservation moved to Arizona, she decided to convert her yard to native and drought-tolerant landscaping that would be both easier to maintain and would create habitat for wildlife. “My quest began with Arizona Municipal Water Users Association where I picked up a couple booklets on desert gardening: Xeriscape-A New Look for Arizona Gardens and Xeriscape Gardens-Plants for the Desert Southwest.” Tice made certain to avoid invasive species, including the biggest culprits such as Fountain grass, tree of heaven, and African sumac, but she did not exclusively landscape her yard with native Sonoran Desert plants.  “Many low-water plants from other desert areas also attract native Arizona wildlife.”   Below, Tice shares some of her favorite desert landscaping options that are both beautiful and easy to find in most major nurseries across the Valley. 

I love the desert ironwood tree (Olneya tesota).  The ironwood’s beautiful pale lavender flowers bloom in May, after the Palo Verde trees.  Your best bet is to either invest in a large boxed specimen or be prepared to wait, as these are fairly slow-growing trees (but well-worth the effort!)

Palo Verdes are fast growing desert trees that native birds love, particularly verdin. I recommend the blue (Parkinsonia floridum) or little-leaf/foothills (Parkinsonia microphyllum). Stay away from the long-leaf/Mexican variety; it sprouts youngsters everywhere and has long  and irksome sharp thorns.  

My top choice is chuparosa (Justica californica).  This plant’s winter flowers entice many a local and migratory hummingbird.  Fairydusters (Calliandra spp.) provide a nice accent; their delicate pink or red flowers bloom in late winter.  I personally love the smell of the native creosote bush (Larrea tridentata).  Their delicate yellow flowers attract native bees and butterflies and the scent of  their resinous leaves evoke memories of desert rain.   Some of my favorite non-natives that  grow quickly and are easy to maintain are Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), an evergreen shrub with lavender flowers that bloom multiple times through the year, and the late winter magenta bloom of the valentine or Emu bush (Eremophila Maculata). Any variety of verbena provides a nice ground-cover, though they do need to be aggressively trimmed or they will over run the landscape.Verbenas attract native bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.         

Flowering Perennials
The tubular red pink or lavender flowers of the penstemons attract our native hummingbirds. A robust garden of penstemons parryi will likely invite the colorful Costa’s hummingbirds to your yard.  To keep these flowers blooming year after year, be sure to harvest and spread the seeds.  Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) create wonderful late summer flowers that also produce seed for goldfinches.

The springtime desert in full bloom buzzes with life, inspiring us to do our part to plant native habitat in our own patches of land. This Saturday and Sunday Audubon invites the community to enjoy a day of springtime merriment at its annual Migration Celebration.  Visitors can visit our demonstration pollinator garden, open to the public year-round, and discover which plants will promote wildlife in their own gardens. Native pollinator attracting-plants will be available for purchase at the Migration Celebration plant sale all weekend long. 

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