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The Coastal Gardener: Want more birds in your garden? Just add water

July 23, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • I found a piece of plastic drain pipe that fit perfectly inside the hollow post. A section of a thick wooden tree stake or wood dowel could also be used. Cut it to about 12 inches.
I found a piece of plastic drain pipe that fit perfectly… (Ron Vanderhoff,…)

I've probably never met a gardener who didn't also enjoy the delightful sounds and sights of warblers, wrens, bluebirds and thrushes in their garden.

A healthy, diverse garden will always encourage a few feathered friends, but the abundance of birds will be far greater with just a little planning.

In local gardens, it is fresh water that is the most overlooked ingredient in a bird-friendly garden. In our arid, summer-dry climate, it is fresh water that may do more to attract birds to a summer garden than anything else.

Unlike bird feeders and bird houses, which are specific to certain birds, fresh water is enjoyed by almost all birds: orioles, doves, hummingbirds, flycatchers, wrens, woodpeckers, finches, sparrows and more — and it's free.

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Wild birds need a continuous supply of fresh clean water at all times of the year, both for drinking and bathing. A source of water can dramatically increase the number of wild birds you attract in your backyard. Birds that may not visit your feeder or bird houses will come to your water supply.

In my own garden I supply fresh water in a shallow tray, out of reach of cats. My method is inexpensive to make, natural in appearance and can be assembled by almost anyone in less than an hour.

Here's a simple, effective way to add fresh water and attract even more birds to your garden:

It is important when adding a water supply that the water depth is no more than a couple of inches deep and that the edge has a gentle slope, so birds can land and then wade slowly into the water. Anything deeper and birds will avoid it. My simple terracotta tray makes it a snap to occasionally remove the top and give it a scrub. The rough bottom surface also gives birds better footing than does a slippery glazed surface.

Birds are attracted to the sound of dripping water or by movement on the surface of water. A dripper can be made out of an old one-liter soda bottle pricked with a needle and concealed in a tree overhanging the water. Perhaps I'll explain making one of these in a future column.

In my terracotta saucer I later added a "water wiggler" to the center. The ripples caused by these devices draw birds to the water like a magnet. This simple device sits in the center of the water and creates little ripples as it spins. These inexpensive devices are available at wild bird specialty stores and operate for about six months on two D-cell batteries.

RON VANDERHOFF is the nursery manager at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar.

Ask Ron

Question: A friend who specializes in growing home fruits told me about a new blueberry variety called "Bountiful Blue." When will it be available?

Robin

Laguna Beach

Answer: "Bountiful Blue" is a new blueberry for local gardens that I've been testing at home in my own garden. It's self fruitful and a heavy producer, with great flavor and amazing blue-green foliage that turns brilliant purple in winter. Look for the first few plants at nurseries this fall.

ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger's Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail stumpthegardener@rogersgardens.com, or write to Plant Talk at Roger's Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.

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