Ozark Trials: Design Challenge

Photo © J. Michael Raby

Design Challenge takes photos of tricky spots in people’s yards and puts them out there for advice from the professionals at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and from our broad audience of participants, some of whom have some serious wildlife gardening credentials (just check out our Featured Sites for proof).

The Details

Location: Bella Vista, Arkansas
Eco-Region:Eastern Broadleaf Forest (Continental) Province Guide
Planting Zone: 6b
Learn more about this place by reading it’s Local Resources Page.

This Bella Vista backyard, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, is on a steep slope with dry, rocky soil. The owners hang feeders off the deck high above the ground and have left a couple dead trees and some vines for the birds to use to access the feeders. They have only lived here for about a year but have already had birds use the birdhouses they provided after moving in.

The shade from the house and the shade from the trees makes selecting plants a challenge. This picture was taken about 9 am. The little sunny strip near the woods gets about three hours of sun. The center of the yard gets mid-day sun for about 4-5 hours at the most. The trees are on the west, so the yard gets the afternoon shade.

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Photo ©

Moving here from Alabama, the owners brought some of their favorite plants but the deer and groundhogs have eaten the columbine and even the fenced-in Black-eyed Susans, and their Oak-leaf hydrangea didn’t make it either. The Beautyberry is the only thing still thriving.

Cornell Says:
This story is a good example of the trial and error that many gardeners face when presented with a new space to fill. Without knowing which kinds of pressures the habitat may face it can be difficult to determine which types of plants will fare better than others. After the first year of trying several species it is good to hear that the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is surviving. It is an excellent native choice for birds and pollinators in the southern states and I would recommend adding in several more to the area where it does well to expand the planting. Try to plant one or two in other areas as well to experiment with its success.
This yard would also benefit by adding in a diversity of structure. Currently there is flat lawn and tall trees. Some small trees like Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) or Common serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) alternating with native shrubs like Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) or Common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) along the tree line would start to add in a variety of structural sizes and shapes.
To prevent herbivory of wildflowers and a total loss it is important to have a variety of native species in abundance. Try to fill in around the base of the trees and shrubs with shade tolerant wildflowers then gradually mix in more sun loving species closer to the yard. You might also put in raised beds around the deck stairs and support posts and fill with grasses and colorful perennials.

To our readers: What are your favorite native wildflower suggestions you would want to add into this mix? Under the trees? In raised beds by the deck? Let us know what you would plant if this was your space.

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