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Monday, May 27, 2024

Gardening for a Wildlife Habitat

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Gardening Article

By: Kathie Hopkins

Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener in Larimer County

Gardening for a Wildlife Habitat

I heard him first; a high-pitched chirping sound that I didn’t recognize. When I looked up from weeding, I was stunned by the zooming creature that was enjoying the nectar from the Sunset Hyssop. He was a tiny, fast flyer, and had an iridescent green color on his back, so was probably a broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). My flower garden is in a low area of the foothills and doesn’t seem to attract hummingbirds and I’ve planted numerous flowers with red colors, or long shapes and nectar to bring these tiny birds to my home and finally achieved success.

Gardeners who are interested in attracting hummingbirds or other wildlife may consider the requirements outlined by the National Wildlife Federation ( To become certified as a Wildlife Habitat, the gardener must be able to show they have provided food, water, cover, shelter for the wildlife to breed and raise their young, and use sustainable gardening practices.

The National Wildlife Federation requires the gardener to have three different food sources from plants of feeders to be certified as a Wildlife Habitat and this food can be provided by native plants which provide berries, leaves, pollen, seeds, nuts, or nectar. A list of Colorado native plants is available at from the CSU Extension website Native Plants (Fact Sheet #7.242; includes suggestions such as the Mirabilis multiflora (desert four o’clock), with its bright purple flowers and Gaillardia arisata (blanketflower) with an abundance of yellow and orange blooms. A list of native grasses for Colorado gardens is available at and has information about the grasses that complement the garden and offer food and shelter for the wildlife. Many of our native shrubs have attractive qualities for wildlife and can be viewed at Some examples of native shrubs include Sambucus racemosa (red-berried elder) or Prunus virginiana melanocarpa (western chokecherry)—both of these shrubs offer berries that are used as a food source by wildlife.

Butterflies and moths require different foods at the larval stage then the adult stage. The swallowtail larvae enjoy milkweed, celery, carrot, dill, and parsley, while the adult butterflies will be attracted to nectar-rich flowers and even over-ripe fruit. Some examples of plants that offer nectar for the adult butterflies include salvia, cleome and zinnia or the well known Monarda and Buddleia which offer double duty as an attractant for butterflies or hummingbirds!

The certified Wildlife Habitat must also include at least one water source for wildlife. The type of water source is variable and even a log or rock with a shallow depression which holds water will be attractive to butterflies and birds. Other water sources include dripping or misting water or a bird bath, fountain, or pond. If using a bird bath, the water must be changed frequently so mosquito eggs don’t hatch and in our Colorado environment; a heater will keep the water from freezing in the winter. A rough surface gives better footing and the bird bath should be located away from cover areas to help the birds avoid lurking predators.

Another component of a Wildlife Habitat is to provide two types of cover for wildlife. The cover may include brush piles, shrubs, trees, a bat house, bird houses, or toad homes. The gardener may consider replacing turfgrass areas with trees or other cover plants and can make a decision to mix evergreen and deciduous trees for a wide variety of food and cover. A list of native trees for the Colorado gardener is available at Shelter for birds and mammals is also provided from dead or decaying trees and these can make attractive additions to the landscape.

The National Wildlife Federation requires two types of shelter that is specific for wildlife to raise their young. This shelter may be provided by trees or shrubs or by the addition of nesting boxes. When choosing a nesting box, consider the size of the entrance hole which helps prevent predators from entering the nest and eating the eggs or young chicks. You can also offer materials for nesting such as string, twigs, or lint spread around the garden or in a mesh bag hung from a tree.

Gardeners with a certified Wildlife Habitat is also required to show two types of sustainable gardening practices. These gardening practices include items such as mulching or using drip irrigation. And the gardener can also demonstrate the use of organic practices with compost and eliminating pesticides or herbicides to meet the requirement for sustainable gardening. There are numerous options to entice wildlife into your garden and I’ve planted more of the Sunset Hyssop and eagerly await my next hummingbird visitor.


Gardening Q&A

By: Phyllis Jachowski

Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener in Larimer County


Bulbs: Are they coming or going?

Bulbs, corms, roots….how we love them! From spring to fall, these garden staples provide six months of beauty from alliums to tuberous begonias.

Q: What fall chores should be on my work list?

A: All that’s left are planting and “winterizing” chores. If you are growing bulbs, it’s important to know how to care for them in fall. Some bulbs tolerate cold, are planted in fall and bloom in spring. Others aren’t frost tolerant, are “winterized” and planted in spring with blooms in summer. There are garden chores for both!

Q: What about summer bulbs that aren’t frost tolerant?

A: Summer blooming bulbs are done when the foliage dries or frost kills it. Dig the bulbs up carefully and store these in a cool space to replant in spring.

Guide for summer varieties:

Gladiolus: As soon as the foliage dies, dig these and store in sawdust in a cool, frost-free, moderately humid place.

Allium and frost tolerant lilies: Leave these in the ground, trim tops and mulch on top of the plants 3-4” deep.

Cannas and tuberous begonia: After frost kills foliage, dig bulbs and store in sawdust in a cool, dry place.

Dahlias: After frost kills foliage, trim stalks back to 6” and leave in the ground to harden for two weeks. After a couple weeks, dig and like cannas.

Tender lilies (not frost tolerant): dig and store like cannas.

Q: What about cold hardy bulb care?

A: Fall planting for these bulbs includes a plan—think color, size, uniqueness, height and bloom period. Bulb beds need adequate sun and good drainage. Spring-blooming bulbs kick off seasonal rotation of color and texture. Examples of spring-blooming bulbs include tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, snowdrops and alliums.

Q: How do I choose bulbs to plant in the fall?

A: Some considerations include price, convenience and choice. Pre-packaged bulbs limit bulb mix-ups, provide specific instructions and convenience. Open-bin allows mix-and-match choice and picking best quality.

Q: What are bulb bed requirements?

A: The first year, dig bed to bulb’s planting depth, amend soil with 1/3rd compost or peat moss & aerate soil to increase permeability. Apply super phosphate fertilizer (0-46-0) at bulb planting depth. Bulbs have enough food inside them to bloom the first year. Fertilizer encourages size for following year. After planting, water deeply to settle soil and mulch 3” deep.

Q: What is the optimal spacing?

A: Depth varies from 4-12” below ground level.   Small bulbs like crocus are planted about 4” deep, tulips 7-9”, lilies 8-10”. In general, the larger the bulb, the deeper it needs to be planted. A good rule of thumb is to plant the bulb three times the length of the bulb. For example, if the bulb is 1” long, plant it 3” deep. Spacing varies by bulb size and garden design. “Naturalizing” randomly scatters bulbs, simulating wild growth. Systematic planting follows specific guidelines, such as tulips at 6-8” intervals, crocus at 4”. Plant all bulbs with the pointed, growing tip up!

Q: What if my bulbs are crowded or aren’t producing?

A: Fall is the perfect time to dig old bulbs, dry them in shade for a couple days, divide and replant them. Optimally, replant them in a new area along with fertilizer. If bulbs aren’t producing well, consider replacement. Bulb life varies and will need replacement every few years. You’ll have a lot of fun with your garden bulb care this fall—just imagine the beauty they will create in a few months!

For details on these fall topics, refer to the following CSU Extension Fact Sheets (all found at “Mulches for Home Grounds” “Choosing a Soil Amendment” “Fall Planted Bulbs & Corms” “Spring Planted Bulbs, Corms & Roots”


The authors have received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and are Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.

Larimer County is a county-based outreach of Colorado State University Extension providing information you can trust to deal with current issues in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition and food safety, 4-H, small acreage, money management and parenting. For more information about CSU Extension in Larimer County, call (970) 498-6000 or visit

Looking for additional gardening information? Check out the CSU Extension Horticulture Agent blog at for timely updates about gardening around the state.

Visit PlantTalk Colorado ™ for fast answers to your gardening questions! PlantTalk is a cooperation between Colorado State University Extension, GreenCo and Denver Botanic Gardens.


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