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Choosing Native Plants
When choosing native plants, you need to match them to the conditions in your garden. If you are planting for birds, you should particularly consider their needs. Check out our Requirements for Different Bird Species first.
Choosing for Your Site
Choose for conditions
Consider plants that will:
- grow well in your garden. Consider the plant's needs and what your garden can provide e.g. type of soil, position of your site, what aspect it has. Is the plant actually suitable for your garden?
- grow locally. Often locally native plants (plants that occur naturally in your area) will be more successful as they are adapted to similar conditions, and they are especially important if your garden forms part of a wildlife corridor to local bushland, as they will not become environmental weeds. We have plant lists for some council areas here, otherwise, consult your local council website for a plant list.
- fit into your garden space and into your garden design: find out their size at maturity, both height and width.
Choose for birds
Ask yourself what each plant might provide for birds: food, shelter, nesting material or a nesting site? Things to think about include:
- how densely does it grow? Most small birds, the ones who are struggling in the urban environment, need dense shrubs.
- is it prickly and/or can provide shelter for small birds?
- does it attract insects or provide some kind of food such as berries or nectar from flowers? Select a range of plants that flower/fruit at different times of the year so there is always something available in your garden
- What size does it become when mature? Know the approximate height and width
- How many of each kind should you plant to form a dense thicket for small birds? Plant clumps of 5 to 7 of the same or similar species to provide enough of the resource for birds to use. Space permitting, use a variety of different species throughout the planting rather than a single, or select few plants.
Choose for variety and complexity
No single plant will fit all the requirements of birds, which is why you need to:
- Choose a variety of plants, but don't buy only one of each. Birds need variety but they also need enough of each type to make it worth their while visiting or, even better, moving in permanently. So it is better to plant many plants of a few species (five or more plants) than a few plants of lots of different species.
- Choose a mix of plants that provide a complex vertical structure from the ground up; trees, large, medium and small shrubs and groundcovers such as grasses or ferns.
- Use local native plants rather than hybrids such as the popular hybrid grevilleas. These large flowering plants may encourage large and aggressive honeyeaters such as Noisy Miners and Red Wattlebirds that can chase away smaller birds. Select plants with smaller flowers, ones that small honeyeaters can fit their beaks into but large ones cannot.
- Look at when the plants you are selecting flower and/or fruit. You want a garden with different things happening at different times of the year rather than one where everything flowers at the same time. This way there is always a reason for different birds to visit your garden.
Some Bird-Attracting Plants
Birds use a range of plants for different reasons, such as shelter, nesting material and food. Find out which plants provide these resources. If you live in Sydney, you will find our plant lists by local government area particularly useful (we will be adding more plant lists for other regions soon).
Prickly plants: shelter
A garden with dense plantings (thickets), particularly of plants with dense, prickly foliage, will be more likely to attract and provide habitat for small birds. One of the best groups of plants for this role is the hakeas, but other prickly species are also available.
The hakeas are particularly suitable. Some great species include:
- Silky hakea Hakea sericea
- Hakea propinqua
- Hakea teretifolia
- Hakea gibbosa
Other prickly plants that work well in the garden include:
- Kangaroo Thorn, Acacia paradoxa
- Bursaria spinosa
- Banksia ericifolia
- Mountain Devil, Lambertia formosa
Grevilleas: nectar, insects and shelter
Grevilleas are a large, diverse group and many different cultivars and hybrids have been developed. Many of the hybrid grevilleas have large, showy flowers that hang outside the plant and are rich in nectar. These are promoted as being excellent for attracting honeyeaters to the garden. This is true, but they do not provide shelter for smaller birds, but rather encourage the larger, more aggressive honeyeaters such as Noisy Miners. If you wish to attract a range of species including some of the smaller honeyeaters then it is better to plant species that produce less nectar and which also provide cover. This does not mean avoiding the showy species altogether; just use fewer of them and mix them with other dense plantings which provide shelter.
Grevilleas that are suitable include the native, non-hybridised varieties particularly those that have flowers inside the plant where they afford protection. Grevilleas with yellow or greenish flowers are among the best for attracting the smaller species of honeyeaters. These include:
- G. mucronulata
- G. shiressii
- G. arenaria
Other grevilleas include:
- G. buxifolia
- G. linearifolia
- G. sericia
G. rosmariniflora is also excellent because many of its flowers are held inside the shrub.
Banksias: nectar and shelter
Banksias produce lots of nectar and they also have many inflorescences (flowers) inside the shrub, helping to shelter birds while they feed. In addition, if you observe banksias in the bush you will notice that they are usually part of a thicket of other plant species that afford protection to the birds. The flowers also attract insects.
Acacias: seeds, insects and shelter
Acacias are commonly known as wattles. Many of the wattles provide excellent cover for birds as well as providing food in the form of seeds or insects. Some wattles grow quickly into small to medium sized trees, but there are several others that grow between 3 m - 5 m and others that grow to only a small size.
- Acacia myrtifolia
- Acacia linifolia
Baeckeas: shelter, insects, nesting materials and nesting sites
Baeckeas are sometimes known as 'heath myrtles'. Suitable species include:
- Baeckea linifolia
Callistemons: shelter, insects, nesting materials
Callistemons are commonly known as bottlebrushes. Suitable species include:
- Callistemon citrinus
Correas typically have bell-shaped flowers and attract honeyeaters and other nectar-feeders. Suitable species include:
- Correa reflexa
- Correa alba
Leptospermums: shelter, insects, nesting materials
Leptospermums are commonly known as tea trees. Suitable species include:
- Leptospermum squarrosum
- Leptospermum polygalifolium
Melaleucas: shelter, insects,nesting sites, nesting materials.
Melaleucas are commonly known as 'honey myrtles'. Suitable species include:
- Melaleuca linariifolia
Grasses, reeds & sedges: seeds, nesting material
Suitable species include:
- Tussock Grass, Poa labillardieri
- Kangaroo Grass, Themeda australis
- Tall Spear Grass, Stipa pubescens
- What can your garden provide?
- Featured bird groups: Honeyeaters
- Featured bird groups: Small insect-eating birds
- Resources: Plant and garden resources: Gardening information
To find out information about specific plant species, contact your local council for locally native plant lists to go to the Australian Native Plant Society
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