May is “Gardening for Wildlife” month; a great time to talk about a few plants that can help you get started.
Creating a backyard habitat is one form of gardening that has the additional purpose of creating a stopover for migratory birds or a haven for butterflies. There are many plants to choose from to help you achieve a garden that can become an inviting place for wildlife.
Here are a few of my favorites that we have available at Caan’s:
Trees:
Amelanchier laevis (Smooth Serviceberry) – A multi-stemmed tree that will reach between 15 and 25 feet tall. Showy white flowers appear in late April with berries ripening in June. The leaves turn a fabulous yellow-orange to red in the fall. The fruit is a favorite of Robins and Cedar-Waxwings. The fruit is also great for making pies, if you can harvest it before the birds!
Amelanchier lamarkii (Apple Serviceberry) – Apple serviceberry is a naturally occurring hybrid between Amelanchier arborea and Amelanchier laevis that grows 15 to 25 feet tall. It exhibits characteristics intermediate between those of the parent species. Multiple stems are upright and highly branched forming a dense shrub, or if properly pruned, a small tree with a vase-shaped form. New leaves are purplish and slightly hairy. The fall color is yellow-orange to red. Again, it is a great food source for birds and people.
Cercis canadensis (Redbud) – A spectacular and hardy spring bloomer, with very showy pink to purple flowers held tightly on bare branches in early spring; somewhat coarse heart-shaped leaves; a top choice small ornamental tree for specimen use in the northern landscape. Redbud will grow to be about 25 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 30 feet. It has a low canopy and is great for planting under power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 60 years or more.
Thuja occidentalis ‘Nigra’ (American Arborvitae) – This evergreen is a dense, conical to narrow-pyramidal, evergreen tree that is native to eastern and central Canada south to northern Illinois, Ohio and New York with scattered populations further south in the Appalachians to North Carolina. ‘Nigra’ will grow to 20-30’ tall and to 5-10’ wide. It features flattened sprays of dark green foliage that retain good green color throughout the year including winter.
Abies lasiocarpa (Cork Bark Fir, Rocky Mountain Fir) – This fir has a narrow pyramidal shape that is similar in appearance to Blue Spruce. A slow grower, it may reach 15 feet in 10 years. The deep blue needles (leaves) are soft unlike spruce. They prefer moist well-drained soils and sheltered dappled shade when young.
Shrubs:
Viburnum dentatum (Arrowood Viburnum) – Arrowwood Viburnum is an upright, rounded, multi-stemmed shrub which typically matures at 6-10′ tall and 6 – 10’ wide. Non-fragrant, flat topped, white flowers appear in late spring. Flowers give way to blue-black, berry-like fruit which are quite attractive to birds and wildlife. Fall color ranges from drab yellow to attractive shades of orange and red. Native Americans possibly used the straight stems of this shrub for arrow shafts, hence the common name.
Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw Viburnum) – Blackhaw typically grows 12-15′ tall with a spread of 6-12′, but as a tree may reach a height of 30′. It commonly occurs in moist woods, thickets and on stream banks. Non-fragrant white flowers appear in spring. Flowers give way in autumn to blue-black, berry-like fruit which often persist into winter and are quite attractive to birds and wildlife. Glossy dark green leaves turn attractive shades of red and purple in fall. Fruits are edible and may be eaten off the bush when ripe or used in jams and preserves.
Cephalanthus occidentalis (Button Bush) – Buttonbush is a native, deciduous shrub with an open-rounded habit that typically grows 6-12’ tall. It frequently occurs in wet open areas, low woods, thickets, swamps, upland sink-hole ponds, river bottomland and stream/pond margins. Tiny, rounded flowers appear in early to mid-summer. The flowers have a unique pincushion-like appearance and are very attractive to bees and butterflies.
Perennial Flowers:
Echinacea (Coneflower) – Coneflower is a native plant which occurs in rocky open woods and prairies. Large, daisy-like flowers with slightly drooping, rose purple petals and large, coppery-orange central cones bloom in June to late July. The dead flower stems will remain erect well into the winter and, if flower heads are not removed, are often visited by goldfinches who perch on or just below the blackened cones to feed on the seeds.
Asclepias (Milkweed) – Milkweed is a native perennial or biennial which occurs in dry/rocky open woods, glades, prairies, fields and roadsides. Flowers give way to prominent, spindle-shaped seed pods (3-6″ long) which split open when ripe releasing numerous silky-tailed seeds for dispersal by the wind. Seed pods are valued in dried flower arrangements. It has a long bloom period, from late spring throughout the summer. Flowers are a nectar source for many butterflies and leaves are a food source for monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillars).
Lupine – Lupine is the lone host plant for a little butterfly called the Karner Blue. When Karner blue larvae emerge in the spring they will only eat lupine leaves. Lupine prefers loamy or sandy soil and can also grow in open woods. Lupine begins to emerge here in the early spring, typically mid to late May. The flowers last for a few weeks and are then gone until next year.
Buddleia davidii (Butterfly Bush) – Butterfly bush is a large, arching shrub that produces masses of flowers in midsummer to fall. Flower colors include blue, pink, red, violet, yellow, and white. This shrub grows 5 to 10 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety. This shrub typically grows from 6 to 10 feet tall by 4 to 10 feet wide. As the name implies, the shrub is particularly attractive to butterflies and a wide variety of other beneficial insects.
For additional information on gardening for wildlife, please visit these two sites:
http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Outdoor-Activities/Garden-for-Wildlife.aspx
http://www.mortonarb.org/?option=com_content&view=article&id=868&Itemid=6

Happy Gardening!