Tag Archive for: bird gardening

desert garden with flowering plants
Backyard desert landscape with low-water plants.

Did you know that what you plant today has short-term and long-term benefits? It’s true. As water resources become even more precious, planting wisely is more important than ever. You will enjoy the immediate effects of lowering your outdoor water use while enjoying the knowledge that you are creating a sustainable outdoor space for the future.

Another benefit is that low-water plants are beautiful and increase your outdoor enjoyment.

So, let’s discuss four ways of “planting ahead” to ensure that your desert landscape is resilient for years to come.

shady tree over seating area in backyard
Outdoor seating area underneath the shade of a ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree.

Plant More Shade

The benefits of shade in the garden cannot be overstated; trees are a great way to achieve that. Trees offer a welcome respite from the hot desert sun while adding beauty to the landscape. Additionally, trees reduce outdoor temperatures underneath their branches, and when placed on the west, east, or south side of your home, will save money on energy bills.

Native and desert-adapted trees don’t use much water, and plants grown under the branches of trees use less water than those planted in full sun.

Look at the areas around your home and see if there are areas where shade be added. If you have a narrow space where trees won’t fit, consider using tall shrubs such as hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) to provide shade.

 

purple flowering shrub
‘Rio Bravo’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’).

Plant More Color

People are naturally drawn to color, and you can improve your home’s curb appeal by adding colorful plants. Desert dwellers have many flowering plants to choose from – from groundcovers, shrubs, and vines. Additionally, we have a year-round growing climate so you can always have something in bloom outdoors.

To maximize the color impact of plants, group the same plants together in threes or fives instead of just one. Place colorful plants in high-visibility areas such as against a wall, the corners of your property, and near the front entry where they are sure to be seen.

Avoid the biggest color mistake and stop excessively pruning flowering plants into unnatural shapes. Most flowering shrubs need pruning once a year or less.

 

flowering shrubs growing in containers
Vibrant pots filled with Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica), ‘Blue Bells’ emu (Eremophila hygrophana), Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), and mealy cup sage (Salvia farinacea) attract pollinators under the filtered shade of a palo verde tree.

Plant More Wildlife

Our gardens can help benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. A bonus is that you get to view them up close! The easiest way to invite wildlife such as birds, bees, and butterflies is to incorporate plants they are attracted to.

Trees, shrubs, and even cacti can provide shelter, while the blooms from certain plants will provide nectar and seeds. One easy way to encourage pollinators to visit your garden is to replace thirsty flowering annuals in containers and plant flowering shrubs instead. The shrubs will use less water while still providing you with color. 

Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) is one of my favorite choices for attracting pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and larger bird species are attracted to the seeds.

 

colorful ground covers
A front yard that had the lawn removed. Flowering groundcovers such as gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), and angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis) add beauty for much less water.

Plant More Water Saving

Plants don’t use the same amount of water – some need more, while others do fine receiving less while still looking great. You don’t need a yard filled with thirsty plants because many beautiful plants use less water (and I’m not just speaking of cacti and succulents). 

Switch out high-water-use plants and replace them with those that need less water. Groundcovers are an excellent substitute for a lawn – particularly decorative ones. Many low-growing groundcovers have lush green foliage but require a fraction of the water that a lawn does. While they can’t be walked upon, they make a beautiful addition to the landscape, and many add a colorful element and provide a food source for pollinators. Even better, they require very little maintenance.

Planting ahead involves strategically selecting the plants we choose for our desert landscapes. These four ideas will help you create a beautiful yet sustainable outdoor space that will save water and provide a more sustainable future.

Need help choosing the right low-water plants? I invite you to visit AMWUA:Plants or explore the plants in my award-winning book, Dry Climate Gardening, where you will find useful tools to help you implement these recommendations.

I have picked up a new hobby, which was a bit accidental – birding!

As a horticulturist, birds go along with gardening, and I’ve always enjoyed them. One of my most requested speaking topics is about gardening for birds. However, I have begun to dive deeply into the fascinating birding world.

Birding is Fun with my Family

It may surprise you that the Southwest is one of the top bird-watching destinations. I am fortunate that there is a lovely riparian preserve a few miles from my home where you can see many different species of birds.

It turns out my two sisters also enjoy birding, so the other day, we met up early to go for a morning walk and explore the birds at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, in Gilbert, Arizona.

This photo is of me and my sister Jennifer, who is a year younger than me. She is also the invaluable assistant to ‘AZ Plant Lady’ who would be nothing without her ๐Ÿ™‚

It was a cold morning, but the birds were out, and so were we ready with our binoculars. The trails are level and circle eight different ponds. Trees and shrubs are allowed to grow in their natural shapes, providing plenty of shelter for birds, but we could see many in the trees and on the water.

We spotted the red of a Northern cardinal. I am always excited when I see one of these colorful birds because we don’t get many of them.

His mate was close by. Northern cardinals don’t migrate but stay in place all year.

We also spotted the orange breast of a robin but didn’t get a good photo of it.

An Anna’s hummingbird perched on the leafless branch of a shrub. His feathers are puffed up to help keep him warm. I am so grateful that we enjoy hummingbirds in our region all year. While we walked, we could hear hummingbirds everywhere.

From the tiny to the large, Canada geese gently honked as they saw us approach, hoping for food. We saw many other types of water birds, including pelicans – imagine pelicans in the desert! They leave in the summer.

A tiny verdin was busy eating tiny insects in a palo verde branch. I have a nesting pair of verdin in my own garden, and I love to watch their antics as they perch on my flowering shrubs. Verdins are just a little larger than hummingbirds. ย ย 

A roadrunner was out for a morning walk, but earlier, we spotted it in a tree. Roadrunners are fun to watch, especially when they catch small lizards.

A curved bill thrasher was enjoying the morning with his mate. I have a pair that visits my bird feeder at home. I like their golden eyes.

My youngest sister, Grace, is a professional photographer and took all these amazing photos. She kindly let me share them with you! You can see more of her stunning photos on her Instagram account, The Reluctant Birder.

I can hardly wait for another ‘sister’ birding walk!

I encourage you to observe the birds who visit your garden or go to some natural areas to view our feathered friends.