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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. 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.
- suit all sorts of spaces. Use pots or even hanging baskets to provide habitat in small gardens – or even as a great addition to larger ones.
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:
- To 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.
- Account for all appetites! Do you have plants that provide nectar, fruit or seeds, as well as those important ones that bring insects in?
- Where is a great place for 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. You can create a hedge or even wedge in the corner of the garden but intersperse the yard with clumps as well if you have the space.
- What sort of pruning do the plants need? Most native plants love a light prune to help create density and avoid that straggly look that natives can get.
- Is there any nesting materials or suitable nest sites in my garden? Plant native grasses and try not to ‘tidy’ too much – allow birds to take bits of spider web, small branches and leaves for their nests. Create a bushy corner patch of the garden to give a nice quiet spot for birds to build nests in.
- Do you have any hollows in your trees? These are a precious and limited resource and, where safe to do so, should be kept. Think about nest boxes if there is no natural hollow available.
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. It is better to plant many plants of a few species than a few plants of lots of different species, that way, there is enough of that particular resource (e.g. seed heads on native grasses) for the birds to come and visit. So for example rather than 30 different species, plant 5 individuals of 6 different species.
- Choose a mix of plants that provide a complex vertical structure from the ground up; groundcovers such as grasses or ferns, small shrubs, tall shrubs and a couple of trees (if you have the space). Simple gardens of tall trees and lawn just attract those really common and often aggressive birds. Lots of layers means lots of different places for different birds to use.
- Think about vines to create links between trees and the lower shrubs.
- Break up the lawn space using garden beds – it is much easier for small birds to fly short distances between these beds safely than one long flight across to vegetation on either side of a yard.
- Look at when the plants you are selecting flower and/or fruit. You don’t want a flush of flowering and then nothing for the rest of the year – but instead you want to have different plants flowering/fruiting/seeding throughout the year so there is always something happening. Just having a mix of different plants that provide these different resources will ensure that doesn’t happen.
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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