Growing native plants as nature intended it

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Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture
Growing native plants as nature intended it

I've done a lot of thinking over the passed few years about why a lot of my native Australian plants keep dieing on me. Overwatering them seemed to be the biggest culprit and probably was the reason they kept dieing. However, I also am still concerned as to why my native plants are simply not growing like they should be and patience has nothing to do with it.

I have a self-seeded fruit? tree of some sort growing in the garden. It is over 7 feet tall now (and growing rapidly) and is only about 2 years old. Why is it growing so fast yet my other plants struggle to make any kind of decent growth each year? 

My conclusion is that it has something to do with the fruit? tree starting it's life out in a pile of freshly deposited bird droppings. It had no other source of water. It had direct heat from the sun as the bird droppings were on top of the ground, of course. Then a bit of rain came along and up it sprung as a tree.

Nature grows seeds of plants after the seeds/fruit has been eaten by birds or is scattered by the wind. This occurs in Summer up here in Tenterfield, NSW, but it is timed by the onset of heat during mid to late Spring. So when the heat prior to Summer starts is probably the best time to germinate seeds in this part of Australia, unless you are a gum tree seed.

To cut a long story short, if one places fresh seed in a pile of fresh bird droppings after a plant species has gone to seed or fruited, the seed should always germinate if the fruit/seed is viable. Don't water the seeds EVER and do this prior to rainfall. You have to really time it though. It entirely depends upon the time of year the plant species bears seed/fruit. In theory, it should also work with very fresh cow manure. Bird droppings tend to cake hard in a very short time in the hot sun which encases the seed in a bundle of nutrients that slowly is released when it gets rained on. You need to mimic that for the seed to successfully germinate and grow like crazy thereafter. 

(Footnote: For this to be even more successful you need an exposed patch of dirt or soil that doesn't exactly have organic matter laying on the surface. The soil has to be directly exposed to direct sunlight especially during late spring to mid summer. These are the areas in my garden where bird deposited seeds tend to germinate and do so successfully and quickly. The surface layer of the soil must be right. It does not seem to matter about the type of soil underneath the ground though. Seeds will not grow in your lawn no matter what you do or try.)

On the other hand, successfully growing shop bought seedlings of native and exotic plants I've now mastered. I now have a 100% success rate of them not dieing on me. I'm a bit brutal with them. I dig a hole (usually in late summer to mid autumn) remove them from the pot and put them in the ground, cover the soil back over, water them and just leave them. I don't put in organic matter at the bottom nor do I loosen up the soil around the roots for the roots to grow into the surrounding soil. I leave the surrounding soil all compacted. I NEVER WATER THEM AGAIN. Every single seedling I've treated like this has grown like mad and adapts to even black frosts. 

I do treat a few plant seedlings differently however. Some will get placed in more shaded areas than others. For example, I planted a parsley directly underneath a grevillea and it is now in seed. I done this for the main reason that it was originally attacked by caterpillars but it reshooted. It has not been attacked by caterpillars since. I treat it no differently (water wise) than the native plants. 

As brutal as it sounds I do not water my garden anymore. It entirely depends upon rainfall. Plants flower when the rainfall is good, when there is a week or two of rainfall. Then the flowering stops, seeds are produced if their flowering season is over and plant growth resumes. Just as nature intended it. NOR DO I PULL UP ANYTHING DEAD. I learnt that mistake last year as I probably killed some of my plants by damaging their main roots. Instead, should a plant actually die, I will simply cut it back to ground level or thereabouts and let the roots slowly rot down to become nutrients for the living plants nearby. If it regrows, great. If it doesn't, great. Its all good.

I am happy because my garden and it's occupants have adapted successfully to their environment and the climate. No plant deaths occur now, and even more seedlings of unknown plant species deposited by birds are beginning to show up in the garden. I'm excited about that because I know they will survive and flourish. I'm also excited because there is a cycle of life about my garden of which would not be happening without the birds visiting my garden in the first place.

There may be the same species of birds, and even the same individuals visiting my garden year after year. The point to all of this is growing plants that the birds eat from and you can't do that without having seed/fruit eating birds visiting your garden. As most of us simply don't know what birds eat from the best way to find out is to let those bird deposited seeds to germinate. How do you tell the difference? If you try pulling what doesn't look like a weed out of the garden and you really have to pull hard to rip it out (and it barely has 6 leaves on it) it's seed was deposited by a bird. It is a strong plant so leave it in the ground unless you know for a fact it will cause damage to nearby structures on your property. I tend to rip up any Silk Tree seedlings that emerge in the garden because their roots damage concrete and drainage systems.

Identifying bird deposited seeds that grow into seedlings is challenging by itself. My unidentified bush in the garden that was deposited in a neighbour's garden (I dug it up and took it home when it was just tiny) has still not flowered. It is a bush, grows like a bush and is the nicest looking plant in the garden. I think it now has a new mate growing near the parsley and grevilleas. The culprit, I believe, who placed the seed there was an Eastern Rosella. Whatever the plant is it is a slow grower growing less than 20cms per year. 

Home gardens that attract birds, in my honest opinion, should be full of the plants the local birds eat. If you create a basic garden with grevilleas it does attract fruit/seed eaters eventually. You need to attract birds to your garden initially by growing plants that will suffice for the time being. Adding plants of different species gives birds a variety of food. Variety is very important. Later on you can add plants that produce berries. But if you allow your garden to be filled in by bird deposited seeds it becomes even more exciting as you simply don't know where a new plant will spring up and down the track that same bird species will return to harvest food from that plant/s.

So, if you would like some free advice, remove some of your organic matter from your garden and create patches of bare soil and watch what seedlings emerge next Spring/Summer. Its the perfect way to get free plants and the perfect way to find out what the fruit/seed eaters are eating in the area!!!!!

Woko
Woko's picture

An important consideration is to avoid planting non indigenous species which are invasive of native bushland. Non indigenous species which produce berries (e.g., Cotoneaster) which are then eaten by birds tend to become destroyers of our bush.

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

I was going to react to your comment, Woko, but I am too tired for that. Can't a person share their knowledge of what works anymore and be enthusiastic about it? I thought women had rights to their opinion? Maybe this site is male orientated and I should just take my wisdom elsewhere. I'm tired of hearing your broken record of not planting introduced plant species. I agree with it but am tired of hearing it all the time. Don't you have anything else to say? Where's your passion or have you lost it?

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

Woko
Woko's picture

Hi Shirley. I have no quarrel at all with your enthusiasm. In fact, I admire your efforts to bring native birds into your garden.

But I would hate to think that my silence on the risks of planting invasive exotics might contribute to the deterioration in the quality of our natural bushland. Hence my passionate banging on about this issue. In particular, I'm mindful of the constant stream of newcomers to Birds in Backyards a number of whom, professing to be new to bird watching, might be unaware of the dangers presented to our bushland by the planting of invasive exotics whether they be Australian plants or plants from overseas.

If you should sense that any of my posts might cause you fatigue on the question of exotic plantings then I won't be at all offended if you choose to move on to other posts particularly now that I know that you agree with my stance on this important matter.

maxhr
maxhr's picture

My experience with bird deposited seeds is that most of them are weeds.

It depends on your local area, but here camphor laurel and lantana are two of the main offenders.

Woko
Woko's picture

Yes indeed maxhr. In many places any bird-deposited native seeds have a battle on their hands (if they had hands) against weeds many of which are transported by birds. 

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

Yes, weeds. The birds have to eat something but replacing the weeds with native seed bearing shrubs/trees is just as important, otherwise we'll have a whole bunch of weeds and nothing else. That is why variety of plant species is critical to the birds' diets. Berried fruits are always gobbled up here, even if it is from a weed. Weeds self-seed regardless of what the birds do anyway.

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

mossflower
mossflower's picture

Wow!  I loved reading your fully expressed thoughts and findings.  I was particularly surprised on your suggestion of bare soil planting - seed protected by bird droppings.  I'll be on the watch for that now.  Thanks a lot for that input.

Apart from that, today I watched a Yellow-faced Honey Eater stab a blue 'berry' from a Dianella (Blue Flax Lily) and appeared to suck it from the inside.  The blue fruit really does taste juicy and rather pleasant.

Woko
Woko's picture

Dianella species (there are several) provide good habitat as you attest, mossflower. I've seen spiders & Blue-banded Bees using Dianella revoluta which is local to my area. Keen bird & other wildlife gardeners would do well to plant the particular Dianellas local to their areas.

mossflower
mossflower's picture

I've been looking around at my bush garden and realise that the only fruit which frequently drops is from the Asparagus Fern, Micky Mouse Plant (Ochna) both from South Africa.  Unfortunately down here near Newcastle, NSW, we have little of the semi-rainforest trees which bear fruit nor many of the associated pigeons. So I will look into local species which bear edible fruits for birds.Living in the north has its benefits.

Woko
Woko's picture

Excellent idea, mossflower. I think Asparagus Fern seeds might be spread by birds eating the fruit so there may be a high risk of invasion of bushland by this South African species. So careful removal of Asparagus Fern making sure to both minimize soil disturbance & capture as many of the fruits as possible might be the go.

Have you thought about discussing with a Landcare group, council environmental officer or native garden nursery which local species might provide fruit for native pigeons & other bird species?

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

mossflower wrote:

Wow!  I loved reading your fully expressed thoughts and findings.  I was particularly surprised on your suggestion of bare soil planting - seed protected by bird droppings.  I'll be on the watch for that now.  Thanks a lot for that input.

Apart from that, today I watched a Yellow-faced Honey Eater stab a blue 'berry' from a Dianella (Blue Flax Lily) and appeared to suck it from the inside.  The blue fruit really does taste juicy and rather pleasant.

Thanks, mossflower. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it all. I've had a few years of practice trying to grow native and indigenious plants here in Tenterfield, NSW. This post is my final conclusion on what works best with a 100% success rate and no plant deaths. Where I live is a frost hollow and full on exposure to the elements year round. There is barely any plant life worth mentioning in the area. There are a lot of empty paddocks with sheep, cows or horses in them in the area too. 

Growing semi-tropical to tropical plants here is a challenge but now no longer impossible once I figured out how nature does it. Once seedlings take hold they won't look back. You just have to stop yourself from watering the plants and let the plants sync themselves with the rainfall. You have to allow plants to develope a deep root system right from the beginning. Once they do that they will flower to match the right season for flowering in your area. And that's what its all about.

My Small-leaved Tamarind that I thought the black frost had killed off, I noticed yesterday, has sprung back to life. This heat we're getting and the bit of rainfall, is really making the plants in my garden grow like crazy. They are holding back on flowering and putting on growth instead.

I have Blue Flax Lillies growing in my garden too. The black frost we had set them back a lot but they've kicked back to life. They haven't flowered yet since I planted them in the ground. They will eventually. I also have Blueberries in the garden and haven't lost a single one of them. They have berries on them too but I think the Eastern Rosellas and Yellow-faced Honeyeater might get to them before I do. Blueberry growers say to prevent the bushes from flowering during the first 2 years. They say a lot of things. I say, let the darned bushes do their own thing. Organic matter seems to help them along. Organic matter even helps grevilleas and seem to do better when organic matter is applied to the soil. Grevilleas also seem to do better with a light tip prune when they don't appear to be growing at all. All plants need time to adapt to nature and sometimes from human intervention as well. Some just take longer than others. Like my Palms I have growing in the garden. I have 2 small Cabbage Palms, and several Walking Stick Palms. I just threw them in the garden and, well, favoured the Walking Stick Palms with shade and not so much shade with the other 2 palms. I've only lost 1 Walking Stick Palm but that is questionable too. And the more the plants there are growing together, so it seems here, the better they all do. 

You really just have to sit back and watch what plants do throughout the year. Knowing their habits is a start. I thought I'd lose all my plants to the black frost but plants are more evolved than us humans and have developed ways to protect themselves from all kinds of natural elements. Strangely, the slowest growing and slowest adapting plant in my garden is a single wattle tree. Its not indigenious to the area, or probably even to this state but its all I've got. It is just refusing to grow. I figure it must be putting on a lot of root growth for no leaf growth to be happening. It's the only offspring that survived the last garden demolition about 2 - 3 years ago. 

I don't believe in staking anything in the garden, not even tomatoes. My tomatoes are going to grow inside and up existing bushes that I planted them next to. That's the plan anyway. I do need to extend the garden out further though to allow for more plant root growth, and to kill off more cooch grass in the process.

Enjoy my thoughts. I hope it helps you out. I can tell you one thing, I've cut back on a huge amount of water just by not watering the garden. Rainfall is my natural sprinkler. I conserve the water in the soil by adding organic matter. The plants get nutrients and the water still in the soil rarely evaporates and keeps the soil cooler. However, I've also learnt that using wood as garden edging won't last long. Wood keeps the soil cooler whereas rocks heat soil up. There is the dilemna. Plant roots will avoid going near rocks because of the heat the rocks trap in them. The plant roots will therefore grow downward to find cooler locations. Cooch grass tends to avoid entering rock edging garden beds here but gets into the wooden sleeper garden beds. With the cooch out the way in those rocky sections of the garden my plants can take over the area where there was once lawn. Yay, them!

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

Woko
Woko's picture

It's great to learn that things are working for you in your garden, Shirley. Well done! I particularly like your idea of allowing the plants to get their water from the sky. I've saved myself a lot of work & water by planting after the first good rain in autumn or early winter then allowing my indigenous plantings to make their own way. The survival rate has been about 95%. 

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

Thanks, Woko. As I see it plants are too expensive to buy, therefore, a way must be found (as I did) to ensure every plant I grow survives. I'm just stupid buying plants and trying to plant them in spring/summer as O know they'll probably die on me unless I give them special treatment until Autumn. I've yet to consider growing seed but it is on my mind currently, to get more grevilleas of a particular species growing in my garden. I'll be adding the seed to fresh bird droppings and grossing myself out at the same time. I'll let you know how it goes.

I actually cheated a bit when planting 10-30cm seedlings from the nursery. I cover the soil surrounding them with well aged bark chips to prevent moisture loss. And I tend to plant mine a bit deeper to help keep the roots away from the frosty soil surface in autumn and spring. I prick off the lower leaves though. This does work though, and honestly, the plants don't seem to mind being buried that little bit deeper. 

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

Woko
Woko's picture

All good strategies, Shirley. I'm not sure that using bark to conserve moisture is "cheating" because in the bush many seedlings have to fight their way to fresh air through bark & other litter. The gradual decomposition of the bark would also provide slow release nutrients which replicates a natural bushland environment.

Planting lower in the soil to avoid frost is an interesting one. I guess it makes sense if the ground temperature is significantly lower than the in-ground temperature in a Tenterfield winter.  

I'm interested to learn what it is about bird droppings that has increased your plant survival rate. I think bird droppings are rather acidic (uric acid) & that may assist seedlings, particularly if your soil is alkaline. They would also contain nutrients which might help the initial growth of seedlings.Have you spoken to any bird dung experts about this?

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

If there is such a thing as a bird dung expert then they need to get a life! I don't know of any such people, Woko, so can't ask them.

It is not bird droppings that has increased the survival rate of my plants, it is how I plant them and then not water them after the first time that makes them survive. The discussion about the bird droppings was only in reference to revegetating seedlings supplied by birds. Bird dispersed seeds in their poop. It just seems to me that seeds initially grow quicker when birds deposit the seeds in their dung than by wind dispersal. The seeds are encased in nutrients that also heat up when the sun is heating up the ground. I honestly don't know what the right conditions are for seeds to germinate but heat is one of the requirements. The dung acts as a fast release fertiliser once it erodes with rainwater. That combination, along with no rain for a while thereafter, makes the seeds germinate and grow like crazy during the first 12 months. 

I've also noticed that once bird deposited seeds germinate, depending upon the plant species growing, the seedlings may die after germinating depending upon the soil they are growing in. If the soil in which they are growing in is too loamy or too sandy they will struggle to survive and will die as the soil is not hard enough to produce a strong root system. I think it is when this happens its okay to transplant the seedlings either into pots with normal soil for a little while until they recover and get stronger but then plant them out in the garden where the soil is more tougher for roots to establish and has mostly clay in it. This is best done on a cool day and during rain to help the seedlings recover quicker. This needs to be done before their roots fill up the pot, so their roots go deep into the soil at a young age. I'm talking about a matter of just weeks here, if not sooner. And use cloud cover and rainfall to benefit and guarantee their survival! The seedlings will do the rest.

This is what works best in my garden where the subsoil is clay. 

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

timmo
timmo's picture

That's some really great observations you've made there, Shirley.

As a bit of a plant nut myself, I'm always interested in what works and different techniques people have to keep plants alive. 

What you're describing about planting things a bit deeper and trimming the lower leaves sounds very much like a technique known as "deep stem planting" - the idea being that plants will propagate more roots more quickly, from the stem nodes and hence enhance their survival. I've not actually tried it myself, but have worked on a bush care site where it was used. Unfortunately that site was smashed up by floods not long afterwards.

As far as propagating seeds in bird droppings goes, I don't think just the droppings are 100% of the story, as many seeds actually benefit from passing through the gut acid. 

Cheers
Tim
Brisbane

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

Thanks for your comment, Tim. I heard about long stem planting about 2 years ago and done some research on it but haven't actually tried it myself. Seems too complicated actually and a bit unnatural for the plants. Around that time I planted my unidentified wattle tree and philodendron (which were in the same pot) about 20cms deeper into the soil. I have no idea if they have developed more roots than they should've - my soil isn't transparent but I can tell you these two plants are late season plants and the philodendron takes ages to sense when spring and summer are here. A little bit of hit sunlight and it's leaves are burning like sunlight is oxygen to it. The wattle basically hasn't grown in height for 2 years straight. I may have stunted it's growth by putting it where I put it then throwing organic matter onto the soil or just simply planting them both too deep into the soil. The wattle and philodendron sense the onset of heat a whole month later than the other plants do but their growth rate is extremely slow and leaf growth output is very minimal. They also tend to be affected by frosts moreso than the other plants. I'm actually thinking of removing soil from where they have been planted actually until they are bigger and can cope with it all.

Knowing all of this I now know the fine line - 2cms deeper into the soil seems to be the perfect depth here and is actually better as the plants adapt to the environment quicker but at the same time can still sense the onset of the heat and cold when it happens. I'm guessing that not all plants will develope additional roots where the lower leaves are pruned off. I think it depends upon the species actually. That's just my opinion though.

In my honest opinion long stem planting of anything would probably end up killing the plant quicker as the plants cannot adapt properly to the weather when it happens. The roots cannot detect the slightest changes in the weather and therefore the plant gets hit by the weather before the roots can react to it and protect itself from it. I watch my plants a lot - I need a life!

I have noticed one very interesting adaptation of 2 different plant species going on right now in my garden. Both plants have wide, big leaves and are both bushy in shape. With the heatwave we've been having, despite the onset of rain, both plants are doing the exact same thing - dropping their biggest leaves. The biggest leaves turn yellow then eventually drop off. It is a drought/heat adaptation thing because both plants look perfectly fine to me. One is in flower and is developing darker, maroon coloured leaves, so I know this is a plant adaptation thing.

And you know what, I doubt, for the most part that plant tags are 100% accurate about what a plant does and how it grows. Its an estimate because if a plant actually adapts to it's new environment it will change in so many different ways it will boggle our puny little minds. Plants are amazing things but nature is even more amazing. Nature forces plants to react and defend themselves (or die). The union between plants and nature is just incredible to observe and acknowledge. Wind alone will force a plant to react to it and the plant has 2 choices: get stronger and develope a trunk or be weak and die. 

Having observed nature and plants reacting to each other lately I now feel it is unfair and unnatural for plants to be inside as house plants. Don't get me wrong - I love indoor potplants and do have them inside for as long as I can but it's wrong to have them inside. They can't react to nature nor defend themselves nor grow stronger because of what nature is doing outside. Mind you, I don't want my indoor palms to burn either. Burn they must if they are to adapt to nature outside. I'm slowly and daily introducing them to direct sunlight just to see how they react to it. Fortunately they have stopped burning and appear to be coping better with less but direct sunlight. I still don't know where to put them in the garden which is why they are still in a pot inside for the most part. There's simply not enough shady spots in the garden.

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

timmo wrote:

What you're describing about planting things a bit deeper and trimming the lower leaves sounds very much like a technique known as "deep stem planting" - the idea being that plants will propagate more roots more quickly, from the stem nodes and hence enhance their survival. I've not actually tried it myself, but have worked on a bush care site where it was used. Unfortunately that site was smashed up by floods not long afterwards.

Speaking of floods.....some years ago I bought seedlings and began to revegetate a small area along the Tenterfield creek on a neighbour's property. Well, nature was against me all the way. Not only did a flood come along and uproot a few of the plants, rabbits ate the darned seedlings until the plants died. Then 4 more floods came along killing off all but 2 of the plants which were gum trees. 5 floods - can you believe that? The 2 remaining gums were destroyed by the current offspring of the property and they were at least 7 feet tall by then and survived numerous more floods including a 60 year flood event of massive proprtions for this area. But no, the offspring of the property deciced she didn't want the trees there. F*** her! I hope a tree falls on her head.

Despite our good intentions to revegetate an area nature says "No. Don't do that." It broke my heart to lose all those plants and to see the remaining 2 destroyed by a single heartless human being. It was her fault the mature gum tree broke in 2 because she deliberately set fire to her paddock and the fire got out of control and burnt the mature gum tree on the other side of the creek which the White Faced Heron was nesting in. Eventually the White Faced Heron moved out, and a pair of Torresian Crows have moved out from that property. 2 years later the gum tree broke in half. The more she destroys the more nature reacts to her. 

Sometimes, when I'm looking at my garden I wonder what the heck I am even doing with it. I mean, why do I place all the plants so close together? Why am I not creating an actual proper garden? Why do I procrastinate so much about what to do next with the garden? I often feel nature is prompting me to do certain things in the garden and I don't know why I am doing it/them? I recently wrote up a flora species list and now have approximately 100 plants, 36 family groups and about 65 different subspecies in the garden not including bulbs, the pink flowering clovers, vegies and self-seeded Alyssum flowers. Most are Australian natives. It does seem that butterflies are attracted to my garden than birds without me even trying to attract them. The butterflies have to go somewhere I guess, and strangely the owl that has been back again on this property for 2 breeding seasons in a row. 

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

doublebar
doublebar's picture

Planting natives to attract native birds isn't enough, birds love water, they use it to drink and keep clean, so many people plant lots of trees ect but forget the most important element, water. I've seen so many schools who are recently trying to teach students the art of creating a habitat garden but unfortunately they forget that they need to install a water feature, even a small inexpensive one with a small solar pump that keeps the water circulating and clean will do, but there's nothing and they wonder why the birds aren't coming. In arid regions you will always find birds near sources of water so it makes sense to use water to attract birds. No water no birds.

For Australian birds, natives=life, exotics=death, so do them a favour and go plant some natives and save their lives.

timmo
timmo's picture

Good point, doublebar.

I've noticed a lot more birds hanging around my bath of late, with the hot weather.

Unfortunately, the crows keep fouling it up with food scraps and stuff, so it needs regular cleaning.

Cheers
Tim
Brisbane

Woko
Woko's picture

Many of the natural water holes have now been filled in, paved over, dug out or used as rubbish dumps. Humans can compensate for this serious loss by having bird baths of various depths installed in their gardens & on their balconies. 

Woko
Woko's picture

Shirley, you might be interested in today's Radio National broadcast of Off Track. I came in part way through the programme but I gather it was about an aboriginal-run nursery in north west NSW which is replicating the processes by which native plants, especially endangered species, germinate & produce seedlings. E.g., they collect Emu scats, extract Persoonia seeds & then plant the seeds. They don't wash the seeds but ensure there is some of the faeces remaining on the seeds. 

This approach has some relationship, I would have thought, with your idea of planting seeds in bird dung. 

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

doublebar wrote:

Planting natives to attract native birds isn't enough, birds love water, they use it to drink and keep clean, so many people plant lots of trees ect but forget the most important element, water. I've seen so many schools who are recently trying to teach students the art of creating a habitat garden but unfortunately they forget that they need to install a water feature, even a small inexpensive one with a small solar pump that keeps the water circulating and clean will do, but there's nothing and they wonder why the birds aren't coming. In arid regions you will always find birds near sources of water so it makes sense to use water to attract birds. No water no birds.

Yes, I'm well aware of the water aspect, doublebar, but our tap water tastes like crap. Even filtered the birds won't drink it. The tap water is undrinkable throughout most of Tenterfield. No rainwater tank either. I have to buy water from the shop, which I do share with the birds on really hot days, sparingly in a glass now as it hasn't been raining much this season. Only the Magpies drink out of it though, once they realised it contained water. The old Magpie male had to tap the side of the glass yesterday to confirm it was a glass and it had water in it. Its not his sight going on him as a young magpie done the same thing a few days prior. Its funny but for a week I kept hearing this clinking sound and couldn't figure out what it was until one day I saw a young magpie touching the side of the glass with it's beak prior to having a drink out of it.

When water was more abundant only a few species of birds would drink out of the water bowl. None of them were honeyeaters, rosellas, lorikeets, or cockatoos. Not even the Indian Mynahs would drink out of the water bowl. The starlings were also dubious about the water. I think the blackbirds did when they were here, but the sparrows and Magpie Larks (peewees) did. 

A lot of the birds just won't come over for a drink anymore. It doesn't help that their drinking puddle has been dry for some time now.

I've thought about putting in a bird bath or a water feature with flowing water but I doubt it would really attract birds to it. There's nowhere to put it and the plants are simply not big enough for birds to retreat to. And if I move house, or die, then what? 

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

Woko
Woko's picture

Shirley, I find small birds, at least, are attracted to water in the shallow terracotta dishes I put out. Could I suggest that as an experiment you try one of these & see what happens?

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

All the birds around here prefer to drink from the puddle after it has rained than to drink out of the water bowl, even if I fill the bowl with rain water. I can't compete with nature as her puddle is half the length of the Flats. Shade is a precious commodity at the Flats and every morning before the sun reaches directly overhead I have to move the water bowl into another shady spot. This also means if the water bowl gets too hot in summer ice will be added to it to cool the water down. The Magpies love that actually. Birds here don't like change all that much but give them more shade that's natural and they love it and are attracted to it. The birds would rather have food and shade over water as they get water elsewhere.

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

You may think I'm crazy but I tend to crowd my plants together. I may have 3-4 different species of trees growing within 6 feet of each other, and various sized shrubs growing less than 30cms from the next. Why am I doing this? The density of plants growing together will create denseness in foliage, a stronger root system as a whole, and it creates a "community of plants" that are not related to each other. I'm also too lazy to dig up all the grass to make bigger garden beds. Besides, in pockets of native plants growing in Tenterfield, density is how plants grow in the wild. I'm just mimicking the "density of plants" bit in the garden.

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

Woko
Woko's picture

I think it's a good idea to go to your nearest pocket of natural bushland & observe the density of plants in their natural state. Then replicate this in your garden if you can.

I didn't observe this principle when I began revegetating & I think those early plantings are just beginning to thin themselves in some places. I could have saved them the trouble!

Shirley Hardy
Shirley Hardy's picture

Recently my daughter, a neighbour and I went for a drive with a friend and his dog to a nearby patch of scrub to check out my friend's bees. Anywho, the locations were on the same patch of private land owned by the same person about 15kms east of town. 

I've always said to mimic nature as much as possible but after this trip and coming back with a horde of rocks for my garden, I had too much of nature for a whole year. It was overwhelming. Too much nature and, unfortunately, no understorey plants except for moss, lichen and revegetation and grass.

However, to replicate nature in the garden I'd have to use other tree species apart from gum trees. I was thinking of using banksias but they prefer shade and appear to be an understory tree than anything else out this way. So, in order to have banksias in the garden I have to create a canopy from other trees. Callistemons, wattles and any other tree species (small growing) will have to do for the canopy. 

Every 50 metres where I walked in the bush recently there was a different type of ecosystem and habitat growing. Nature is complicated, more complicated than I ever imagined. Near water there is more moss and lichen. The further away from water there's more fungi and less moss and lichen except in dark, damp patches. And there's ecosystems within ecosystems too. How on Earth do you replicate nature really? You start with the environmental weather conditions and rule out plants that would die in it. You work with what does survive in it. Of course, if a particular plant species does survive in your garden you can use that species to add to the biodiversity of plant species.

In my case, replicating nature is not as simple as it sounds. As far as I can tell there are no grevilleas growing out in the bush anywhere. So the grevilleas in my garden are exotics. Only banksias (the yellow flowering ones) are indigenious to the area. Well, that sucks!

And, going on the pictures I took of the nearby scrub nature is messier than I thought. The underdogs of nature are the fungi as they have to grow and flower through everything that falls on them, including branches.It reminds me of a rubbish dump full of organic matter, just all piled up on top of the next of debris that has fallen. Piled up endlessly toward the sky, day in and day out. A leaf here, a tree trunk there. And nothing is ever disturbed by man. Nothing. Not even a single leaf. Resisting to move something in the garden is hard for me. 

The hardest part about replicating nature is the falling debris part. If you can't use gum trees what do you use to replace that endless amount of organic matter? Wattles are my only answer. They are messy plants. Messy equals nature. But in all that mess you need other organic debris, like bark, flowers, fruit and seeds to endless drop too (or at least be seasonal). So I'm planting camelias and azalias and annual flowers too. It will take me 30-50 years to replicate nature but it won't be indigenious. Here's some pics I took of the nearby scrub with plant density, etc.

(Edited to add last photo. Upload error occurred.)

I'm at Tenterfield, NSW. (Formerly known as "Hyperbirds".)

maxhr
maxhr's picture

Looking at your water bowl, its the wrong type. -it needs be wide and shallow.

and raised off the ground, in a shady spot to stop overheating.
   the best i've found is glazed terracotta bases for pots that collect the water overflow, about 1" or 25mm deep

Banksias still like sun even tho they grow in the understory. one below was taken in Tenterfield

Woko
Woko's picture

HI Shirley. I sense that your sense of replicating nature is rather different from mine. E.g., if you're planting exotics to replicate leaf fall then the only replication is the leaf fall, certainly not the plant species. And even the exotic leaf fall isn't replicating what occurs in your local natural ecosystem as, for example, the exotic leaves will decompose at different rates & provide different nutrients to the soil from the natural leaf fall. This will, in turn, almost certainly, mean different populations of soil microbes which might mean a different range of creatures predating the soil microbes & so on up the food chain. As you say, it's really complex.

NateWinston
NateWinston's picture

Most of bird deposited seeds  are weeds, as per my friends view.

Woko
Woko's picture

With so many weeds in Australia I guess this is so, Nate. However, in areas of high quality bushland bird-deposited seeds are likely to indigenous species. I would have thought. 

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