How to plant a garden for birds, butterflies

  • Wed May 5th, 2010 4:27pm
  • Life

By Marta Stewart

Q Is it possible to create a garden that will attract both butterflies and birds?

A: A carefully selected variety of trees and plants should beckon both of these winged visitors to your garden.

Butterflies are drawn to nectar-producing flowers that bloom throughout the summer and thus provide a constant source of food. Some of their favorites include red valerian, butterfly weed and butterfly bush.

Some trees — including aspen, ash and cottonwood — will attract caterpillars, which will, in time, become butterflies. Books, such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s “Butterfly Gardens,” can tell you which plants are suitable for certain areas and species.

Birds are generally more finicky than butterflies and are most often attracted to native plants. Go on walks in your neighborhood and note which plants attract them, and consult relevant books, such as Sally Roth’s “Bird-by-Bird Gardening: The Ultimate Guide to Bringing in Your Favorite Birds — Year after Year.”

You will discover that the same plant at different stages of its development can be a food source for both birds and butterflies. Purple coneflower, for example, produces nectar for butterflies when it flowers in summer and early fall, and then seeds for birds from late summer to midfall.

To increase your garden’s appeal, plant evergreen shrubs around the edge of your yard to provide perches for birds and block wind for butterflies. You can also create layers of small trees and shrubs which mimic the forest and bring in the birds.

Q: What is the best kind of wooden furniture for outdoor use? How do you treat it?

A: Most experts regard teak wood as the most durable for outdoor use. Teak, a tropical hardwood grown in Southeast Asia and used extensively in shipbuilding, is a medium-weight, yellowish-brown wood with an almost polished appearance.

It has a high oil content that accounts for its sheen and its immunity to decay; the oil acts like a sealant, making the wood water-resistant. As an added benefit, this oil is said to help repel insects.

Whether treated or untreated, teak will last for generations — even if kept outdoors all year — with little maintenance. When left outside in its unfinished state, teak fades and takes on an attractive, silver-gray patina.

The effects of weather may create a buildup of dirt, mildew, moss and lichens, but this can easily be remedied: Simply scrub wood with a sponge and warm soapy water, and rinse with clean water.

Though the life of the wood is not affected either way, some people prefer to maintain teak’s original amber color. Apply a teak sealer or teak oil (both found at hardware and marine-supply stores) once or twice a year, before the color begins to fade.

Clean the teak first, and dry it thoroughly, then use a clean cloth or paintbrush to apply one light, even coat of oil. Store the furniture indoors or cover with a tarpaulin during the off season to prevent fading.

When shopping for any wooden furniture, look for certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, which ensures that the wood came from legally farmed forests or plantations. For all of its virtues, teak wood can be quite costly; fortunately, you’ll be rewarded for your investment with a lifetime of use.

Q: How can I clean my rusty wrought-iron outdoor furniture?

A: Metal furniture (with the exception of aluminum) inevitably rusts. Light rust can be removed with steel wool dampened with a little paint thinner, a wire brush or fine-grit sandpaper. The coarser the abrasive used, the more scratched the metal becomes.

If you don’t like this effect, use a finer steel wool or sandpaper.

If your furniture has heavy rust, you’ll appreciate the help of a product like Naval Jelly, which dissolves rust (follow package directions), though you will still need to finish the job with steel wool, a wire brush or sandpaper.

A coat of paint is the most effective protection against rust, but there’s no way to prevent it entirely.

For the most long-lasting results, use rust-inhibiting spray paint, or coat furniture with a metal primer, and then top it with an oil-based outdoor paint. When the furniture is not in use, cover it with plastic and store in a dry place.

Ask Martha, 601 W. 26th St., ninth floor, New York, NY 10001.

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