Tips for gardening native plants while sheltering in place

native-plant gardening

It is vitally important that as many of us as possible shelter in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, but we birdwatchers cannot simply turn off the desire to observe birds, butterflies and other wildlife. I am doing my birding from home at the moment and hope you are too. And while the cardinals, goldfinches, and other birds in my feeders are nice, I’d like to do more for the birds in my neighborhood and attract more species to my urban yard.

So I turned to naturalist and native plant expert David Mizejewski of the National Wildlife Federation. He is a media personality, blogger and the author of Attract birds, butterflies and other backyard wildlife. (Read an excerpt from the book.) Here is our conversation:

Can I order native plants online during the pandemic? Can you suggest some nurseries that sell native plants? If I order online, do I have to worry about whether the virus could live on the containers the plants come in? Or on the plants themselves? Any tips for disinfecting deliveries without damaging the plants?

Yes, some online seed and plant retailers ship, and your local nurseries or garden centers can deliver or arrange curbside pickup (call to find out). Although the risk is likely low, wiping down plant containers can minimize the chances of contracting the virus this way. Practicing social/physical distancing and washing your hands regularly with soapy water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to avoid contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus. We have a lot more information about all of this on our blog.

Do I need to take any other precautions when working outdoors during this time?

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Working outside in your own yard or garden is a great way to relax while practicing social distancing – as long as you don’t invite other people to garden with you.

For people new to native gardening, what are the first steps?

The first step to start gardening with native plants to support wildlife is really the first step to creating any type of garden: Evaluate your site so you can choose plants that will thrive there. How much sun or shade does your garden get? What is already growing there? How is the ground? What kinds of wildlife would you like to attract? I walk readers through the process of assessing, planning, and creating a wildlife habitat garden in my book. Attract birds, butterflies and other backyard wildlife which is a great place to start (all sales support the work of the National Wildlife Federation). We also have lots of information on our Garden for Wildlife website, including our native plant finder, which will generate a list of the best plants to support the butterflies and birds native to your postcode.

What do you offer people who live in apartments or who don’t have a lot of land?

Container gardening is a great option if you don’t have your own garden. You can grow native perennials and even shrubs or small trees in pots on a patio, balcony, or rooftop. Joining a local community garden is a great option if you don’t have an outdoor space of your own.

Approximately how much will a quality native garden cost – a garden that impacts local birds and butterflies?

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The beauty of creating a wildlife habitat garden is that anyone can do it, no matter the size of your garden or your budget. The more area you can dedicate to natural gardening, the more wildlife will benefit, but any effort to restore habitat by planting natives, even in small gardens, helps.

My advice is to figure out your budget and then get as many native plants as you can afford. You don’t have to create the wildlife habitat garden all at once. It can be a process, adding plants and other habitat features as your budget allows. Growing plants from seed is an economical way to get lots of plant material. Joining a native plant society or garden club can offer discounts, and members often donate or trade plants.