Q: I don’t have a large garden, but I love seeing birds. How do I attract them to my garden?
A: Birds are always fun to watch, particularly hummingbirds. Even if you have a small garden, or no garden, you can still plant to entice the birds to your house.
Containers filled with plants that appeal to the birds are easy and inexpensive. It’s surprising how even a small area filled with flowers brings birds to your yard.
Start with the pot. Terra cotta is good if you tend to overwater. Plastic pots are a little lighter, perfect for decks. All pots must have drainage. A hole in the bottom of the pot is a must, or you can double-pot, with an interior pot and an outer pot. You might also consider a plastic self-watering pot. Unless you want water running onto your deck, add a saucer under the pot. Make sure the saucer is removable so you can empty it. Even if you add gravel or pot shards (pieces) at the bottom of a pot without drainage holes, the plant roots will still be sitting in water and rot. Although you can use any size pot, the typical pot for a nice display of plants would be at least 12 inches wide at the lip and at least 8 inches deep.
Add soil. Garden soil by itself is too heavy for containers; I add at least 50 percent perlite to garden soil. Or you can purchase potting soil, which is lighter and has more drainage. Before you add the soil, place a couple of pieces of pottery at the bottom of the pot so the dirt doesn’t trickle out the drainage holes.
Add plants. This is the fun part. Look for annuals or non-hardy perennials and flowers with visible seeds. Plants birds love include: Aster, black-eyed Susan, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Crown Thistle (for finches), and Sedum. Plants for shade that attract birds include: Astilbe, Lobelia (cardinal flower), Coleus, and Heuchera (coral bells). If you want to attract hummingbirds, plant: Impatiens, Fuchsia, Nicotiana, Petunia, Salvia and Zinnia.
Use the right design. The rule of thumb with container gardens is to have three elements: a “thriller,” “a filler,” and a “spiller.” The thriller is the tallest plant at the back or even in the middle, the filler — not as big as the thriller — fills the pot with blooms and the spiller spills over the edge. In any one 12 inch pot, you can have one thriller, several small fillers, and a spiller.
Experiment with arrangements and colors for maximum effect, add a bird feeder and a small birdbath nearby, and watch the birds flock to your containers.
Jean Murray is a Linn County Master Gardener.