Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 3.26.2009


Nesting Green Home & Garden Special Issue

Seasonal Salads What to plant for tasty greens year-round

Conserving Water, Anticipating Surprises A profile of Deborah Brady

Small Space, Big Tastes Ten herbs you can grow in your apartment

Not a Yolk Backyard chickens produce

Eco-Paint the Town Environmentally friendly options

2009 Spring Planting Guide


On the Wing
Plants that attract birds and butterflies
by Suzi Steffen

Your garden can be a riot not only of flowers and vegetables but also the wings of birds and butterflies Here are some tips for building or adapting a garden to attract everything from the little to the big. 

Butterfly and butterfly bush. Wiki Commons.

First, though, obligatory warning:

Pesticides kill insects and spiders. (Duh, right?) Birds eat insects, so if you want birds around, killing insects doesn’t start you down the right path. Organic gardening does a lot more for the ol’ circle of life.

Plant colorful annuals and perennials; splashes of color attract birds and insects. And native plants, of course, require much less water or worry since they evolved for this climate. At the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program (, you can find a list of perennials and plants that attract butterflies. Penstemon, lupine, perennial phlox, the lovely checker mallow and the little but powerfully cute viola sempervirens all make butterflies happy, as does the obviously and aptly named butterfly bush

In general, experts say to let some of your plants go to seed in order to attract more birds. They also say for birds, plant trees and bushes that have berries, fruits or nuts. Those are usually deciduous, and though they lose their leaves in the fall, they make up for that in the spring and summer. Crabapple, red alder, Pacific dogwoods and of course all of the normal fruit trees and shrubs provide beauty, but also protection. If you want hummingbirds, make sure to put in some red and orange tubular plants like trumpet creeper and red columbine

Coniferous trees like our famous Douglas fir and Sitka spruce and evergreen shrubs like salal or mountain lilac keep birds happy year-round and provide food, shelter and insect life. 

Keep cats inside or heavily belled when outside, and follow the basics of planting as many vines, native grasses, flowering plants, trees and shrubs as possible in your space. You’ll soon be rewarded with the sight and sound of fluttering, chirping wildlife. 

Check out and for a lot more about native plants and how to design your garden to maximize birdwatching potential!