Planting a border for birds can be a real life-line especially during the unpredictable weather that we can have in the UK. Lots of people think that bird borders are messy areas of their garden, but they don’t need to be. In actual fact a carefully curated border is perfect for our garden birds and can really help them to thrive.
There are a few absolute rights and wrongs about planting a bird border, but growing a wide variety of plants that can help both with food and shelter is fantastic for your garden crowd. I read recently the idea of thinking of a bird border like a “roadside cafe where birds can stop, rest, eat and then move on” — what a brilliant idea!
A good bird border should be situated in a great space, have enough variety that it provides a range of food throughout the seasons and offers birds shelter — especially those birds that are a little more jittery than others!
Some birds switch their eating habits throughout the year, so having different varieties of plants in bird borders can help. Song thrushes for example are carnivorous birds in the summer but they switch to berries and seeds during the winter months. Birds are great at adapting to what is around them and they are far more in touch with the seasons than we are!
Choose the right space
It is crucial when creating a bird border that you choose the right site for it. This will make all the difference to your garden birds both gathering food and sheltering.
Some species of birds are far more sensitive to being disturbed than others, this is heightened even more during the nesting season. Taking this in to account it is usually best to find a quieter space in the garden for your bird border. Do you have fruiting bushes or hedging? This can be a great background for the border. If you decide to put your border against a fence then adding some climbing plants, or shurbs will help to make it a much more attractive living backdrop and will make the birds feel more comfortable. This living backdrop may also provide space for nesting birds as well!
Your backdrop could be made of plants such as Holly, Hawthorn, Yew or Hornbean. These are all really effective in offering a natural living boundary to your border. If you choose Holly go with a female plant as this will produce berries for the birds to eat.
Don’t worry about it having to be huge, it doesn’t! You can provide bird borders that are beneficial to your garden birds on any scale. If you have a big space and can add in more species then that is doubly fantastic! The bigger your bird border the more garden birds will benefit from having it.
Choose the right plants
Native plants are always a good choice, creating a wild garden that fits in to the area you live is the best option. Including native plants in your border will support the diversity in your area, you should try to include as many different kinds of plants as possible.
As well as having a living backdrop, keep a more infomal hedging area to one side of your bird border can be a great source of food. Keep pruning to every other year and you will really be providing your garden birds with shelter, food and nesting sites.
Adding trees is also really effective to your bird border, something like a crab apple tree or mountain ash would work well in most town gardens. Obviously if you have the space something like an oak would be wonderful. Trees provide your birds with places to perch, observe the world and take cover when necessary. Fruit trees will also provide a good source of natural food supplies, leave fruits to fall on the ground to give birds that extra boost towards winter. You could also think about adding nest boxes to your trees when they become big enough.
Shrubs are a great source of cover and food, having native plants is great but don’t limit the space to just those. Other shrubs are a perfect source of bird food and shelter for the birds. They will provide cover from predators and bad weather. Consider choosing evergreens as they will provide shelter all year around and provide hiding spaces in Winter when other areas are bare.
When choosing your shrubs also consider predators not just from the air but cats, having bushes that are thorny or a little harder for cats to reach is an excellent source of hiding for your garden birds. Shrubs like barberry are great for this, they are semi-evergreen but have small thorns to keep cat away. Firethorn is great for bigger birds and both these shrubs offer berries and fruits which will help the birds even more in the winter.
Elder and blackcurrant are also good choices for the bird border, they both provide fruits and berries in the summer and will attract insects which is equally important for your carnivorous birds.
Insects are super important, so consider this when planting out the bird border. As well as trees, hedges and shrubs think about annuals and herbaceous plants that will help to attract them. You could go for a few ornamental showier plants that will really attract the insects in the spring and summer and will provide seeds in the autumn.
Plants like lavender are fantastic for attracting insects, sunflowers are perfect for height and providing seeds for finches, you could also consider plants like mugwort, evening primrose and even common yarrow. These all work brilliantly in the a bird border!
As well as all the wonderful plants you can add, think about adding in a bird bath and nest boxes where the would work. You can also add feeders to these borders, that will really help birds when the natural materials are low.
Some plants to consider
- Common Bistort — low level plants which are good towards the front and edges
- Mugwort — great for insects and adding a little height and cover
- Sunflowers — beautiful additions and fantastic for insects and their seeds, great if you want to attract finches!
- Evening primrose — great for attracting insects
- Teasels — fabulous seed offerings and loved by finches
- Wild Strawberries
- Lemon Balm
- Crab Apples
- Wild Angelica