Oregon Native Plants - Part 2: Providing Food for Wildlife

Oregon Native Plants - Part 2: Providing Food for Wildlife

No matter the size of your outdoor space, transforming it into a haven for wildlife is a gratifying and impactful endeavor.

By incorporating native plants, you can play a crucial role in the conservation of beneficial insects, native birds, and other fascinating creatures that visit your yard. Your efforts become part of a broader collective to create sustainable ecosystems, one backyard at a time.

If you're unsure where to begin or have started but need more direction, fear not. You will learn as we explore some fundamental principles to help you establish a high-quality backyard habitat that teems with life. The first step in attracting more wildlife to your garden is understanding and addressing their basic needs. In this installment, we'll delve into the crucial aspect of providing food for the diverse array of creatures that will visit your garden. From insect pollinators to birds, creating a well-balanced and sustainable food source is the foundation of a flourishing habitat.

Bumble bee on Allium Anna's Hummingbird
Bumble bee || Anna's hummingbird

Habitat Gardening for pollinators and wildlife:

What is a pollinator? National Park Services states A pollinator is anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma)”. Many of our most endangered and threatened wildlife species fall under the category of pollinators so considering them in plant choices is crucial. A number of these vital creatures rely on specific native plants from a wide range of plant families. The key to creating a haven that caters to a wide variety of pollinators, lies in planting an array of natives with different flower types and that bloom at different times.

This act of providing a variety of nectar sources throughout the year is the single most important thing you can do to provide a robust source of food for all wildlife. In addition to pollinators you will attract a myriad of other insects, many of which play beneficial roles in maintaining the health of your garden such as aiding with pest control.

Bee in the garden Orange-Crowned Warbler
Bee in garden  ||  Orange-crowned warbler

Most songbirds predominantly rear their young on insects and caterpillars. By planting for these insects and caterpillars you will provide a vital food source for the song birds during the crucial nesting season. Larger creatures like birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals will feed on the pollinators themselves as well as the fruits and seeds that will grow on plants after pollination occurs (your veggie garden will also thank you). If you plant natural food sources for wildlife you will see a much greater variety of birds and the hassle and cost of feeders become unnecessary. That being said bird feeders are also an excellent way to get up close views and can help further supplement the diet of the avian friends in your yard.

Native Plants for Pollinators:

Don’t worry if the process of plant selection sounds daunting, over the course of this blog series we will provide native plant suggestions for a variety of applications as well as what to look for when selecting additional plants. The following native plants are known to attract a large diversity of pollinators and are great choices for a native pollinator meadow.

Meadow Checkermallow - Sidalcea campestris Oregon Sunshine - Eriophyllum lanatum Oceanspray - Holodiscus discolor Oregon Phacelia - Phacelia nemoralis
Sidalcea campestris 
Eriophyllum lanatum
Holodiscus discolor
Phacelia nemoralis 

Spring-Early Summer
Sidalcea campestris - Meadow Checker-Mallow
Gilia capitata - Bluehead gilia (Naturalizing annual)
Phacelia nemoralis - Oregon Phacelia (Naturalizing annual/biennial)
Eriophyllum lanatum - Oregon Sunshine
Philadephus lewisii - Mock Orange

Mid Summer-Fall
Symphyotrichum subspicatum - Douglas Aster (74 species!)
Solidago lepida var. salebrosa - Western Canada Goldenrod
Holodiscus discolor - Oceanspray 

**Remember, unlike ornamentals which are sometimes sterile hybrids, natives often have viable seeds and many will spread in the garden if left unchecked which is true of many of the plants listed above. An unused side yard or back corner are often good places to allow these plants to spread naturally. We will discuss some natives that spread less later in this series for spaces where less spread is desired.**

Non-Native plants for pollinators

While the focus is often on native plants, it is beneficial to extend our pollinator considerations to any non-native plants you choose for your garden. When adding non-native plants to your habitat it is important to avoid invasives; these plants can destroy habitats inside and outside the garden. While the focus of this blog is on natives to support rare species, some non-natives do support robust numbers of common pollinators for wildlife to eat. Just keep in mind that they can vary a lot in value for this purpose and not all flowers are great for native pollinators. If a plant primarily attracts honeybees which are not native, it may have less ecological value for local wildlife, though it may still hold human value.

Native Bee Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Bicolored Sweat Bee
Bee in Garden || Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly ||Bicolored Sweat Bee

When planning and designing habitats we seek out a space where we can group a section of natives together to create a community of plants that support a range of local wildlife species. This process reduces the energy pollinators need to expend to reach the plants they depend on. You can further support more species by layering in 3 canopy levels of natives. These steps help create a biodiverse habitat that helps support imperiled specialist species which are more dependent on natives. By supporting as many species as possible we create an ecosystem more resilient to other pressures such as climate change. Larger habitats will support more species but there is also a balance of human needs in the garden. No matter what you plant, things that are adapted to your local garden conditions (ie. can withstand drought) and support native pollinators are the most sustainable choice.

Green Seed Gardens Design - Native plants highlighted in green  PNW Native Meadowscaping - Columbine and Romer's Fescue Acer Circinatum - Vine Maple

Dead Wood and Leaf Matter:

To further enhance the habitat for wildlife in your garden, embrace the natural beauty of dead wood and find places where you can leave the leaves. These elements provide essential shelter for beetles and other insects, as well as their larvae, forming a vital link in the food chain for foraging birds. 

Black Mondo Grass - Leaves left for habitat Virginian Tiger Moth Leafs left for habitat


Stay tuned for the next installment in our blog series, where we'll explore the equally essential elements of water, cover, and nesting sites. Together, these components form a holistic approach to native habitat planning in the garden, ensuring your garden becomes a sanctuary for biodiversity. So, let's embark on this journey of cultivating life in your garden, making it a haven for its wildlife and human users to thrive.