OTTUMWA — This spring hasn’t been friendly to people who were looking forward to getting out and spending warm spring days in their gardens. Between rain and chilly temperatures, lots of folks are behind in their planned yard work.

There’s still time, though.

Chanel Kent said she has seen a shift in her customers’ focus at Earl May over the past few years. And it’s not as late in the gardening season as it may seem.

“The rule of thumb is always Mother’s Day,” she said. That’s this Sunday.

Kent said customers are looking more at ways to attract birds and butterflies to their yards, and less at things like shrubs that are planted and mostly left alone. There are good options in Iowa for using native plants to accomplish several of those goals.

Black Eyed Susans are native to Iowa, and will bring in visitors with both their blooms and the seeds that remain after the flowers have faded. They don’t require much in the way of intensive gardening, either.

Kent suggested people take into account what they can do as well as what they want. Some people want to be out in the garden every weekend and are physically able to do so. Others want the visitors to their gardens, but either lack the time or mobility to be able to work in the garden intensively.

Careful selection of the plants can help on both counts. Some are simply more forgiving of a lack of attention than others, so planning a garden around the time and ability you have to spend with it can pay off.

“It depends on whether you can get up and down, whether you’re at home and have the time,” Kent said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said people will also want to consider some issues they might overlook. A garden at a home with young children might need plants that are more resistant to being inadvertently trampled. And taking the time to make sure the plants are non-toxic may pay off given how much winds up in children’s mouths.

There are animal factors to take into account as well. Many birds are already on their nests, so people who are out working may want to be aware of whether they have tenants already in place. The IDNR said most of those birds will tolerate a certain amount of activity in the area, but disturbing the nest or peering into it can cause problems.

If gardening isn’t your thing, this is a good time of year to get out and enjoy nature. Animal rescuers get more calls in the spring as people come across baby animals they think have been abandoned. Most of the time that’s not the case. You may not be able to see the parents, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you.

For those hoping to lure butterflies and birds, now is the time to get started. It was a good winter for Monarch butterflies, so there are hopes more will show up this summer. By getting plants and feeders out early, residents have a chance to attract the early arrivals. Since the later visitors often take their cues from members of their species who are already around, that can pay off.

“If [feeders] are not out, they’re going to pass you,” Kent said. “The scouts have already been by.”


Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.