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"Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, waterbugs, tadpoles, frogs & turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, hickory nuts, trees to climb, animals to pet, hayfields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets – and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education." -Luther Burbank 1849 - 1926
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Habitat on Your Balcony and Garden Patio

Small spaces -- even a few stories off the ground -- can be flourishing habitat for both wildlife and people. We want our outdoor living space to be relaxing and refreshing to our spirits...and the fauna of the air thinks that's just great! They will move in right along side us!

Karen Hegre, one of our BNN members, has sent a wonderful list of suggestions for balcony habitats. These tips will fit in any small space, such as the corner of a patio, a porch, or a courtyard in a nursing home or school.

One idea Karen suggests is to have a section of the balcony made into the 'mini-habitat' and the remainder a sanctuary of outdoor furniture for the "wild-one" in people clothes :-) You can watch the comings and goings in the 'habitat', yet not interfere with your visitors. The 'habitat' could be arranged to look very beautiful -- floor hugging short containers, saucy arching grasses and shrubs... and a tall tree -- or several, if you have room.

After you have set up the balcony-habitat, patience is the next step in habitat enjoyment, as it may take a while for the wildlife to discover it. But, if you are consistent season after season, you will indeed have plenty of wildlife as you provid food, shelter, water, nest boxes, and protection from predators and the weather.


Karen lives in zone 4 -- South Dakota, so her winterizing tips apply to zones 1,2,3,4,5, possibly 6! Check your zone at:

In the spring, summer and fall: Of course you would want to put out a birdbath, and a water-garden if you have room...but definitely a birdbath! Even if you have a water garden, the birds will not want to drink from the it if it is more than a couple inches deep. Even shallow streams benefit from strategically places logs and rocks to accomodate birds of various sizes.

Then....add some birdhouses. These should probably be hung on the outside of the balcony. Some people loving birds will love nesting near you. Wrens, robins (nesting platform), and swallows are known for their love of nesting in, on or near our buildings.

Bats, too, love to live in or near buildings. There are wonderful new designs of bat houses that fit well in urban, suburban or rural areas.

You can rent an echo-location tool to help you test whether bats are in your area...and then you can put up a bat house for your friendly, helpful pollinators.

Bat Conservation International: has more information if you would like to learn about these helpful, minsunderstood mammals of the air.

And if you live in a cold region, it's helpful to leave your birdhouse, or a roosting box up during the winter months, as some birds will use them for winter protection. Remember to have birdhouses with different sized entrance holes for the different species of birds! You can check out birdhouse dimensions at:

Water Sources

Water gardens can be created in a wide variety of containers...from half whisky barrels, to commercial pots and tubs.

A heated birdbath (or two) is very important in the during the icy winter (or you must be sure the birds have thawed water daily)...even the squirrels drink from heated baths. Heaters are available at most hardware stores, birding specialty stores as well as many gardening catalogs.

Plants for Balconies and Patios Trees:
Hackberry -- Juniper -- Spruce -- Dogwood -- Oak...or fruit trees such as Cherry

You could try growing a dwarf cherry tree in a half-barrel also....the robins just love these cherries. Another suggestion is to grow a grape vine and/ or the trumpet vine in theground below the balcony and let it vine its way up and around the balcony!

Karen has had a Hackberry Tree growing in a half barrel on her patio and it has survived for three winters left a tree such as the Hackberry (which several species of birds eat the berries) or a Juniper, which provide food and shelter, or a Spruce, which will provide year-round nesting and shelter could be grown in a half-barrel on a balcony. Evergreens can also be purchased as living Christmas be moved outdoors to serve as a special treat for your wildlife year round!

Vines and Shrubs:
Honeysuckle -- Blueberry -- Grapes -- Boxwood -- Elderberry -- Spicebush

If you grow perennials in containers, and want to save them, they would have to be stored in a cool room (which is what Karen does with all her container herbs, whether they are annuals or perennials. Even though they are perennials...they could not survive in containers outside.

Coreopsis -- Sunflower -- Cosmos -- Zinnia

Annuals are easy to grow from seed...start them on your window sill and move them to larger pots for amazing color and beauty. Choosing the bird-friendly varieties adds the extended value of seeds that birds will enjoy throughout the fall and winter. You just need to remember to leave them on the plants -- instead of trimming them off as they begin to look a bit old and ragged. (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...and the mouth!)

Finches, chickadees and other small seed eating song birds will eat the seeds of the Zinnia, Sunflowers and Cone flowers in the fall when the plants go to seed.

Aster -- Goldenrod -- Coneflower -- many grasses such as Little Bluestem

Ask a knowledgable person at a local garden center, or your state agricultural agency about plants appropriate for your Zone...and those that are native to your area. Some plants will be more suited to container gardening than others, as well. One trick to remember is that when you put several plants together in a container, they need to have similar needs for moisture, sun and drainage. Ask your nursery advisor for suggestions.

Planning for cold weather:

Life in a cold zone requires that you take in the water garden or at least store the plants indoors and empty the tub before the first hard freeze. I've found that plants acclimate better (and lose less leaves) if you take them in as the days begin to cool and the contrast between outside and inside is modest.

If you grow perennials in containers, and want to save them, they would have to be stored in a cool room (which is what Karen does with all her container herbs, whether they are annuals or perennials. Even though they are perennials...they could not survive in containers outside.

Bird Feeders

Feeders with Blackoil Sunflower seeds (which appeals to the broadest variety of seed-eating birds) and finch feeders with nyjer seeds(the finch feeders have smaller holes) are the most popular and versatile.

If squirrels are aggressive or abundant, Karen suggests adding a squirrel feeder full of Blackoil Sunflower seeds and corn (most squirrel feeders you buy have a place where you can put a corn cob). Seeds treated with red pepper can be a way to train squirrels to stay away from your bird feeders -- but as any avid birder will tell you, there is no sure-fired solution to the intelligent, determined squirrel!

And, in those cold winter regions, Karen adds suet feeders to bring in the woodpeckers and even small species, like chickadees. They love the suet as do the nuthatches. Peanut butter mixed with raisins and cornmeal or oatmeal in the winter for the Robins that winter here or if we have a spring snow storm....Karen just puts it in a tray. Flickers and some smaller species will also eat the peanutbutter mix!

The magical Hummingbird

Hummingbird feeders are important...These miniature bird require an enormous amount of nectar and insects to provide for their high metabolic rate. They also migrate thousands of miles and must store extra food during their migration seasons. You can make your own nectar -- in fact, many birders find that Hummers prefer the home made nectar over the commercial products. It is simple to make it...just make sure the proportion of sugar to water is accurate. High concentrations of sugar are harmful to hummingbirds.

Boil 4 parts of water and add one part sugar. Do NOT add coloring and don't make the solution any stronger because higher concentrations of sugar may cause kidney or liver damage. The feeders should be red to attract Hummingbirds. If you have problems with bees, some birders find that removing the yellow parts to the feeders will prevent their finding the feeders. (But remove them BEFORE the bees find the nectar-- they have good memories!)

It is critical that you clean nectar feeders every three days.

Some plants to grow in containers for hummingbirds are cardinal flower, red salvia, four-o-clock, Crimson columbines, wild columbines, and if there is room for a vine to be grown in a large container I would try trumpet vine!

Hummers love morning glories in a mix of red, blue, purple, and pink flowering vines. Vines can get over 12 feet tall. Great to grow on poles and fences. Cover a trellis in no time with some of these beautiful hummingbird attracting vines. Flowering from July to frost.

Heirloom sweet peas are also loved by hummingbirds. Short vining plants with pink and white flowers, they smell lovely, and get up to 3 feet tall. Flowering from late June to September.

Butterflies and Caterpillars

Container plants for caterpillars include...Parsley, New England Asters, Dill, and Queen Anne's Lace. You could combine these in a large container.

For the butterflies; Common Heliotrope, Lantana, Zinnia, Goldenrod, Yarrow, Sunflowers, Cornflowers,Mexican Sunflowers and Daisies.

Garden Patios

This would all apply to the Garden Patio as well, but the patio gardener may have room for more trees surrounding the patio, and you may want to put up trellises for the vines. Display posts of vines work well in small spaces, too -- and they create dense foliage that provides shelter from sun, rain and predators.

And... more room also gives you more room for more container plants.

A lot of people in the colder zones don't try to save any of their container plants and just start with new plants in the spring!

For more information about the pollinators' favorite plants, and more fascinating information about drought tolerant plants preferred by pollinators such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, visit:

For more articles about WILDLIFE GARDENING

Garden Decor: Aquascaping for Beauty and Purpose
Butterfly & Caterpillar Gardening and the Environment
Water Gardening is the New Frontier
Rocky Sloped for Habitat
Mailorder Gardening for Wildlife Friendly seeds and plants
Butterflies are Flowers of the Air

For more articles about URBAN NATURE

Urban Agriculture for Outdoor Adventure
Earth's Most Successful Life Form
Kudzu Grows a Foot per Day
Meow How? Should I keep my cat indoors?
Habitat on Your Balcony and Garden Patio
Keeping ants in nature where they belong