Gardening for Bees, Birds, and Butterflies

Wood pigeon sitting in a magnolia tree
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No matter how big or small you garden may be, supporting the pollinators will help you while you help them. Attracting bees, birds, and butterflies to share your garden has many advantages (and a few potential pitfalls). Plus it’s enjoyable just to watch and listen to them. Well, most of the time anyway – haha! I’m less thrilled when they’re raiding my berry patch or fruit trees.

Green in Real Life blog space bar small left flower

Since today is “Don’t Step on a Bee Day” it seemed only fitting to share a post about planning a garden for bees, along with their pals the butterflies and birds. Bee-friendly gardening is a big part of what our garden goals and there are plenty of associated scribbles in my planning notes.  

Planning and Planting Food Sources

Providing Food Sources

One of the simplest things that you can do to create a friendlier habitat is to include food sources for bees, birds, and butterflies. I’ve listed some of the most popular options in my idea sheet below. Native plants to your area are also a great option. Nectar bearing flowers are great plants for bees. These types of flowers are also great for feeding butterflies. Seeds, berries, and fruits will help to bring local bird species into your garden. Beware – they might love your edible gardens and fruit trees, too.

Avoid Invasive and Pest Plants

Before selecting, double check for any plants that may be prohibited by your local council or other authority’s weed-buster programs for invasive species. Many invasive plants owe their prolific spread to being very attractive to pollinators and carriers as food sources. One region’s bee, bird, and butterfly garden gem may be another region’s pest plant. It’s a common issue for us here in NZ were our temperate weather and great growing conditions allow introduced garden varieties that are great options elsewhere to spread, naturalise, and flourish to the detriment of our native flora.

Food Sources for All Seasons

When planning your plantings, don’t forget about food sources through the changing seasons, which can be feast-and-famine for wildlife. Our winters are temperate, so we can grow all year round with good plant selection. 

For over wintering birds in colder climates, you can leave some fruit and seeds in situ during your autumn clean up and some leaf litter on the ground for insect foraging. If you have bird feeders, position them safely, use good quality food that is appropriate for your local species, and always keep them clean.  Bird feeders can be a spreading point for disease, so feeder hygiene is essential.

Bee, Bird, and Butterfly Planting Idea Sheet

The follow-on infographic/idea-sheet was created many years ago, before Green in Real Life transitioned from Blogger’s blogspot to our home here at greeninreallife.com. The branding and design is dated, but good ideas are always in fashion, so we’ve keep it with our updated post:

Home garden bee, bird, and butterfly-friendly planting ideas
Bee on lavender flower

Access to Water in All Weather

Multiple sources of clean water are also beneficial. Avoid using chemicals in and around your water sources. If there is any chance that the water has been accidentally contaminated by nearby activities, change it out straight away.

Water Sources for Birds

Birds are attracted to the sound and noise of moving water so if you aren’t lucky enough to have a pond or stream in you garden, misters and fountains are options. If you are using a bird bath, you might consider adding an agitator. We have a static bird bath, and it still gets plenty of preening visitors. Our temperatures don’t drop low enough in the winter to freeze the water (at least not for long), so our basic bird bath is good-to-go year round. There are heated bird bath options for colder climates. Melting snow takes a lot of energy, so fresh water is very attractive for over wintering birds.

Water Sources for Bees

Bees need safe access for drinking, such as a shallow sloping non-slip edge, stable floating landing pads, or stones. If you can, have any perching islands extend over/past the lip of water containers so that the source remains safely accessible even if you’ve had a heavy rainfall.

Water Sources for Butterflies

Butterflies get their drinking water via their nectar, but they also enjoy puddling so, areas that collect little pools of shallow water are their preference.

Fluffy white cat on a wooden deck in the sun with potted citrus plants

Safety and Shelter

Birds in particular will benefit from layering in your garden, especially where it helps to create safe places for them to perch, feed, or perhaps even nest out of the reach of predators…including your pets!

If you are keen to go the extra mile, you can include customised safe nesting options. Perhaps you’d even like to open your own insect hotel (Air Bee and Bee?). These can be as simple or as elaborate as you like – see our bee-friendly habitat post for ideas. When you are doing garden chores like pruning, end-of-season plant removals, and general clean-up, be mindful of nests, larvae, etc.

Butterflies are a little more free-range. I make a special exception for monarch butterflies and their caterpillars. If you are keen to create a monarch friendly garden, you’ll need to include swan plants (milkweed) for caterpillars and you may also want to provide protection from pests and predators.

Monarch caterpillars on swan plant with seed pods

Pesticides and Chemicals

Another friendly choice is limiting (or better yet eliminating) your use of pesticides, especially neonics. This controversial family of pesticides is linked to the decline of bee populations and colony collapse disorders. We definitely have a few dubious items lurking around our place, including some mystery materials left by the previous owners.  If you are disposing of unused chemicals, please follow you local council guidelines – most have free drop-off services for safe disposal.

Select your plants and seeds with care. Well-meaning gardeners might accidentally be killing friendly insects with our kindness. Some seeds and bulbs are pre-treated with pesticides and fungicides. Some garden stores and nurseries still use systemic pesticides. Both of these can make our new “bee friendly” plants not so friendly.  Worth keeping in mind for informed shopping choices.

Bee on bright orange flower

Personal Safety and Crop Protection

Share with care. Bees can sting. Butterflies lay eggs that become caterpillars and munch on your plants. Birds can sing, swoop, poop, and might take a liking to your edibles. A definite pitfall of creating a wildlife friendly garden!

I like having birds in the garden. I don’t like having birds throwing mulch all over the place whilst digging for insects, and I don’t like having them raid my fruits and veggies. Especially since they’re rather messy about their harvesting. If they raided cleanly, I might be more accommodating, but they seem to prefer pecking a little and them moving on to their next snack. And pooping. Sigh.

I’ve tried bird decoys, reflective tape, and all the usual tricks. A scarecrow would be futile, since they don’t seem to give a hoot about my flailing scare efforts (even when wielding the hose!) or being chased by our dogs.  In the end, I’ve resigned myself to either sharing or netting.

Gardening for Bees, Birds, and Butterflies

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