Backyards For Nature
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are native plants so important?
Native plants that are local to our area provide the fruits, nuts, seeds, and nectar that are nutritious, digestible, and well-timed to meet the needs of our birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. They are hosts to the native insects such as butterfly and moth caterpillars that are essential to birds and other animals in our ecosystem. Pesticides are kill these beneficial insects and should be avoided. The locally native plants are suited to our local climate and soil. When planted in the right spot, they don’t need to be watered except when first planted. Fertilizers are not needed. If you replace grass with native plants, there will be less mowing as well. Plus, with locally native plants you help preserve the biodiversity and gene pool of our area.
Don’t I need a big yard to provide a wildlife habitat?
An average-sized yard, or even a small one, is plenty big enough to provide the food, water, cover, and places to raise young so wildlife can thrive. A balcony or patio can attract wildlife, too, especially birds and butterflies, with native plants in containers, water, bird feeders, and a birdhouse.
How can I attract more birds to my yard?
Instead of additional feeders, you’ll want more native plants because they provide the essentials for birds to survive. For food, they need plants that offer fruits, nuts, seeds, nectar, and foliage for insects.
Do I need to rip out my non-native plants?
No, you can keep your favorite ornamental plants. Consider removing overgrown or unhealthy plants to make room for native plants hosting birds and other wildlife. You should remove invasive plants, which are aggressive and threaten our native ecosystems. Some of the worst offenders are often found on residential properties. These include Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, Canada Thistle, Norway Maple, Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Stiltgrass, and Japanese Honeysuckle.
Will I need a landscape designer?
Probably not. Even if you want to completely redo your yard, you can create your landscape design on graph paper. First sketch in your house, garage, driveway, existing trees, and any other permanent features in your yard. Next, based on discussion with your family members and your own ideas, sketch in additional areas for plants. Around the periphery of your property, you can pencil in some large trees. Underneath these trees, you can fill in smaller trees and shrubs. Low-growing perennial plants, ferns, and other groundcovers can grow beneath the woody vegetation. Elsewhere you can add other islands of vegetation, perhaps a hummingbird/butterfly garden, a meadow, or a swath of small trees and shrubs. Before purchasing the plants, do some research so your selections reflect their requirements for sun or shade and wet or dry soil. Of course, you probably will not be able to do everything the first year, but you can execute your plans over several years. For assistance with designing with native plants, see Request a Site Visit.
Where can I purchase native plants?
Native plants are available at local retailers. Several area nature centers offer native plant sale events in the spring and sometimes in the fall. See Sources of Native Plants for these lists.
How can I get rid of invasives and other weeds?
Eliminating weeds, especially invasive weeds, is the most troublesome and time-consuming garden task. Invasive plants, which are not native to our region, spread aggressively, crowd out native plants, lack natural enemies, and are a threat to biodiversity. Also, they don’t offer high quality food for wildlife.
Learn to identify the invasive plants in your garden. Determine the best control method for each species. Usually cutting or mowing repeatedly will exhaust the plants and kill them. Pulling is less desirable, because you’re disturbing the soil and inviting more unwanted plants. Replant the cleared area with native plants, positioning them rather close together. Use native groundcovers and mulch to cover any bare soil that will shortly fill in with more invasives and weeds.
For more information, see: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Conservation/WildPlants/InvasivePlants/Pages/default.aspx for management tools for controlling invasives and a list of invasive plants in Pennsylvania.
Why don’t hummingbirds come to my nectar feeder?
Hummingbirds won’t use your hummingbird feeder if the sugar water is dirty. Change the sugar water at least once a week in cool weather and more frequently when temperatures are high. If the solution looks cloudy, put fresh sugar water into a clean feeder. Plant nectar producing flowering plants like Trumpet Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, Cardinal Flower, Bee Balm, or other flowers to attract hummers. In fact, a hummingbird’s diet is largely insects, which are mostly found around flowers. Hummingbirds enjoy perching on small, exposed twigs on a nearby tree or shrub.
Should I plant a Butterfly Bush?
No! You’ve seen lots of butterflies nectaring on Butterfly Bush (Buddlea davidii), so it’s hard to resist. A plant originating in Asia, it’s an invasive plant in twenty states. In Pennsylvania, it’s on the Invasive Plant Watch List. Its wind-borne seeds spread long distances, including to nearby natural areas, and overwhelm native plant communities.
To attract adult butterflies to your yard, offer a variety of flowering native plants. Include native asters, goldenrods, milkweeds, mountain mints, and other nectar-rich native flowers to provide nectar spring through fall.
What can I do about deer?
Deer are abundant in some areas and will eat many native plants. Usually they don’t eat native ferns, grasses, and perennials like asters, mints, goldenrods and others. Many woody plants are deer resistant, among them the birches, oaks, Redbud, Spicebush and several viburnums and dogwoods. For a list of deer resistant native plants for southeastern Pennsylvania, go to http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_20028673.pdf . Unfortunately, if hungry enough, they will eat plants that are unappealing.
Regular applications of a deer repellent on your plants can dissuade most hungry deer. Two or three applications every three weeks early in the growing season should suffice.
To protect newly-planted trees and shrubs, enclose each plant with sturdy fencing that’s well anchored with two or three metal stakes. The exclosure should be sufficiently tall and wide to keep the tallest deer from browsing your precious young plants. Keep the fencing in place until the plant becomes about 5 feet tall and beyond the reach of deer. Usually you can remove the fencing after about 3 years and move it to another new plant. Of course, you can provide complete protection for the plants in your yard by installing an 8-foot high fence around your entire garden.
Create a Habitat
Learn how to create a healthy habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife at home.
Wildlife-friendly plants for Southeastern Pennsylvania and where to buy them.
Backyards for Nature Blog
Creating habitat and celebrating nature in our gardens.