The Hospitable Gardener: Welcoming Birds to Your Garden

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Birds are some of the most visible and charming visitors to our gardens. Are you interested in being a better host to them? This talk will provide practical cultural tips and plant suggestions to invite them in and help your feathered guests feel at home. Speaker Alyssa Ford Morel is an Extension Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, and the Audubon at Home Co-Coordinator for Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.

Zoom session, recorded June 18, 2021

Video of Presentation

Additional Information

Seven “Do’s and “Don’ts to be an  Excellent Bird Host

  1. Do offer a drink of water
  2. Do provide shelter and safety
  3. Do leave snags
  4. Do leave the leaves.
  5. Don’t kill their protein: eschew pesticides
  6. Do remove invasive plants.
  7. Do offer them the healthy food they need: native plants
    The question of cultivars . . .

Chapter Breaks

Seven Great Sustenance Plants to Consider

  1. Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia Virginiana)  
    Alternative: Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) 
  2. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) 
    Alternative: Red-twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
  3. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
    Alternative: Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) 
  4. Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) 
    Alternative: Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) 
  5. Native Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)
    Alternative: Black-eyed Susans, Brown-eyed Susans (Rubeckia spp.)
  6. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)  
    Alternative: Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix) 
  7. Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
    Alternative: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)


Audubon at home
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Addendum – Follow Up on Questions from Zoom Chat

Ladder-backed Woodpecker: I pointed out a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in the presentation and someone in the chat was concerned that it wasn’t a local bird. That person was correct. The bird was in Arizona, the photographer was a local birder who traveled to Arizona. I just thought his faucet-drinking behavior was too cute to exclude.

Desiree Narango Chickadee Study: I referred several times to a study of Chickadees by Dr. Desiree Narango. If you would like to see the actual study, it is available at

Bamboo: A question was asked about substituting bamboo for stalks of native plants for insects that lay their eggs in those stalks. I only understood after I answered that the question was due to the problem of HOA and neighborhood criticism of leaving dead stalks up. What I wish I had said is that if the stalks don’t look good enough through winter (they will be covered by new growth in the spring), they can be cut and bundled and left out in an out-of-the-way spot for the insects to find. This article gives several ideas:

Cedar Oil: I spent a fair amount of time looking at university documents about cedar oil used either as an insect repellant or as a pesticide. In a nutshell, I didn’t find a lot of scientific documentation of its success or failure in either of these areas, though it looks like it is still being studied. So I’m afraid I cannot either recommend or caution against using cedar oil. We Extension Master Gardeners always like to encourage people to do their own research by adding either site:edu or site:gov onto their search terms in order to access science-based information put out by universities or the government.

Replacement for Nepeta: A question was asked about native replacements for Nepeta, a.k.a. Catmint. I mentioned Monarda punctata (Spotted Beebalm), Liatris, and Zizia (Sweet Alexander). Upon further reflection, I can add Salvia lyrata (Lyre-leaf Sage), Penstemon digitalis (Beard-tongue), Sisyrinchium angustifolium (Narrow-leaved Blue-eyed-grass) and Silene caroliniana (Wild Pink). Which one of these is most appropriate depends on your situation and what you are trying to accomplish.

Native Plants for Shade: A question was asked about native plants for shade, and though my presentation included a number of them, there is no more definitive or comprehensive list than is available at this Plant NOVA Natives link: