If you are trying to attract more birds to your backyard, adding native plants to your garden can benefit you, birds, pollinators, and other wildlife. Native plants have adaptations that exotic plants lack, allowing them to grow with less water and fertilizers while also requiring less maintenance. The climate, soil, and water of Northern Nevada make it tricky to grow certain plants in this climate. Selecting plants that are cold hardy and drought tolerant saves time and money. These types of native plants are more likely to make it through our harsh winters and dry summers.
Nectar-rich flowers will attract hummingbirds and other pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. The flowers that are successfully pollinated during the spring and summertime will provide seeds and fruit for birds to eat throughout the fall and winter. Native flowers will also attract beneficial bugs to feed migrant and nesting birds and control the number of harmful pests.
Trees are essential to make your yard more appealing to birds. Native trees provide shade, nesting sites, food, and perches for many backyard avian visitors. Most trees, however, take many years to attain a large size. For those looking for a quicker solution, fast-growing native trees like native willows (Salix spp.), cottonwoods, and aspens (Populus spp.) and ornamentals like Dogwood (Cornus spp.) are popular among birds and fast-growing.
Native shrubs also provide a place of rest and shade for birds, including those that would not otherwise visit your yard. Some shrubs that do well in our climate include cherries (Prunus spp.), junipers (Juniperus spp.), elderberries (Sambucus spp.), and raspberries (Rubus spp.), providing tasty berries throughout the summer and fall.
Native gardens encourage beneficial insect populations, a vital resource for nesting birds and the surrounding ecosystem. If you see a boost in insect populations in your native plant garden, think twice before using pesticides. It can be extremely harmful, or even deadly if birds consume insects treated with pesticides. Consider alternatives or talk to a professional if you are concerned about insect populations in your garden.
What is my Hardiness Zone?
The rule for gardening in the Reno area is that once the snow is off Peavine, you are safe to plant. Here are 10 plants that LAS recommends to get your bird-friendly native plant garden started:
1. Virginia Creeper
This fast-growing, woody vine produces small clusters of blackish berries in early summer. In the fall, the leaves turn an attractive bright red. This plant has compound leaves with five leaflets that have toothed edges.
Not only do birds love this plant, but other animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and deer will also snack on this plant.
Plant this vine along fences or a trellis. Virginia Creepers are great for ground cover as well. If there is nothing for the vine to grow up, it will simply grow outward making it an effective tool for erosion control. This plant can grow in a variety of conditions and is very hardy overall. It grows best in well-drained soil and full sun, but will likely grow anywhere. Water regularly until established, then occasional thorough waterings when necessary.
2. Western Redbud
Also known as California Redbud, this shrub belongs to the Pea family. The flowers last about two weeks, appearing before the leaves, and range in color from magenta pink, to red-violet. The leaves are rounded or heart-shaped and change colors in the fall to yellow then red and brown. The pods turn from purple to brown when ripe and contain 7 bean-like seeds. This is a larger shrub or small tree that grows up to 10-15 ft. tall.
The nectar draws in hummingbirds, other nectar-loving birds, and pollinating insects such as bumblebees. The seeds are eaten and then dispersed by birds.
This is a fairly easy-going and low-maintenance plant once established. It is cold hearty and drought resistant. Plant in full sun to partial shade with well-draining soil. Perfect for a border or front yard plant.
3. Red-osier Dogwood
Red-osier or red-twig dogwood is a medium-sized, deciduous, loose, spreading shrub. Typically growing 6-12 ft. tall, with conspicuous red bark and twigs. In the winter, the red bark can offer a pop of color to a dull landscape. This shrub blooms from June to August with clusters of creamy-white blossoms. The flowers are followed by clusters of small, fleshy white berries.
The berries feed a large number of bird species such as many species of game birds, Wood Ducks, Bluebirds, Grosbeaks, Crows, Purple Finches, Northern Flickers, Magpies, Mockingbirds, vireos, and many more. Mammals also forage on the leaves and twigs, such as bears, beavers, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, mountain beavers, and deer.
Red-osier dogwood does best in full sun to partial shade. It is an amazingly adaptable plant with no preference for soil type or pH and tolerating both dry and sometimes overly wet conditions. Consider applying a thick mulch around the base of the plant in summer and winter.
4. White Spruce
White spruce is a part of the Pine family. The evergreen foliage and seed-bearing cones provide shelter and food for a wide array of wildlife species. This is a faster-growing pine; once mature, these trees can reach heights of 40-60 feet tall, growing as wide as 10-20 feet. The mature, light-brown cones are quite small (only 1-2 in.) with thin scales, allowing many different species of birds to access the seeds inside.
If you plant this tree in your yard, expect visitors such as Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks, and Red-breasted Nuthatches to feast on the cones. Many other birds will seek shelter and potentially nest among the foliage. The evergreen foliage is eaten by a variety of wildlife species such as grouse, rabbits, and deer.
This tree prefers full sun with well-drained, moist soils. It has some drought tolerance, but on hot and dry days, it might appreciate an extra drink of water. It is, however, one of the most tolerant spruces for wind, heat, cold, and crowding conditions.
5. Sticky Purple Geranium
Sticky Purple Geranium, also known as Wild Geranium, is a native perennial forb with flowers that are pinkish-lavender to deep purple-magenta. Seeds occur in capsules that are elongated and hairy. The seeds and leaves of this plant are popular among birds, small mammals, deer, and others. This plant also attracts native pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and flies.
This is a unique wildflower, it is protocarnivorous. This means that it can dissolve protein from insects trapped on its sticky leaf surface. It is an adaptation to grow in nutrient-poor conditions.
This forb is drought tolerant, requiring little water once established. Plant in full to partial sun alongside other wildflowers. Like all geraniums, this species can become established in your garden by planting its seeds. Plant seeds in the fall at 1/4 inch below the soil.
6. Desert Marigold
Desert Marigolds are herbaceous, short-lived perennials. They have bright yellow, daisy-like flowers that clump together to form a mound. The showy flowers rise from a leafless stalk and bloom throughout the summer and fall. Their long-lasting blooms can reach one foot in height, turning papery with age.
Care for this plant is relatively low. Due to their high seed production, once a plant has successfully produced seeds, new plants can establish from the dropped seeds. Birds will feast on their seeds once they are ripe and help disperse the seeds to other parts of your garden.
Sow Desert Marigold seeds 1/4 inch deep in the fall or spring in a sunny area with well-drained soil. This plant thrives in poor, dry soil and might be sensitive to over-watering. Regular watering is not usually necessary but, an occasional drink might help the plant produce blooms quicker.
7. Blue Grama
This is a short, native, perennial grass with a green to greyish color and seed heads resembling small pennants. This grass is increasing in popularity due to its ability to withstand harsh drought conditions and its seed-producing ability, feeding many seed-eating birds and small mammals.
This grass grows well among wildflowers and other native grasses. This grass can grow in almost any type of well-drained soil in full sun. Once established, this plant requires very little water.
This is a perfect option to plant in areas that are typically overrun with weeds. After clearing the area from weeds, plant grama and other drought-resistant wildflower seeds in the area to keep weeds at a minimum.
8. Indian Ricegrass
This is a perennial bunchgrass with sage-green foliage that appears slightly wiry. In the fall, the seedheads form an elegant inflorescence containing nutritious seeds that are a favorite among small birds, such as sparrows and doves. The foliage also provides cover for birds and other small animals.
This is a hardy plant that tolerates drought and extreme seasonal temperatures. This plant thrives in well-drained, textured soils in full sun (southern exposure). Seeds should be planted in the fall at a depth of 1/2-1 inch. . Once the grass is established, lightly water and fertilize to improve growth. The establishment of this species is on the slower side, but once it is established, the high seed production will surely attract lots of hungry birds.
9. Rocky Mountain Maple
This tree or shrub is known for its ability to provide wildlife habitat, stabilize slopes, and provides gorgeous and low-maintenance landscaping. It has red bark contrasting the deciduous, small, light-green leaves. It can grow up to 25 feet tall but 5-7 feet is the average height. Female plants have inconspicuous, yellow-green flowers forming short branched, droopy clusters. In the fall, the tree produces winged nutlets (samaras).
This shrubby tree provides a large amount of food and habitat for a wide diversity of wildlife. Birds often seek these trees out to build their nests in the spring and to feast on the seeds in the fall.
This is a shade-tolerant plant that is fairly hearty but it does not do well in full sun or windy conditions. It is naturally an understory plant that grows under pine and fir trees. It can grow in a variety of soil conditions and is very easy to care for.
10. Rocky Mountain Penstemon
Rocky Mountain Penstemon or Beardtongue is an evergreen perennial forb and is a favorite of hummingbirds and small seed-eating birds. The long-lasting, showy flowers bloom in the late spring to early summer. The royal blue to purple flowers form clusters on the stalks arranged on one side of the flower spike.
Rabbits tend to avoid this plant while hummingbirds and other pollinators will stop by to enjoy nectar from its flowers.
These are cold-hardy and drought-tolerant plants making them ideal for Northern Nevada Climate. It typically grows 12 to 36 inches tall. It prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil, but it can tolerate a variety of soil conditions.