Native species of plants, shrubs and trees lure wildlife in your area. Butterflies, such as tiger swallowtails (above), and hummingbirds sip nectar. Bees dine on pollen. And birds eat seeds and berries. In addition to planting varieties that produce food for wildlife, you also can supplement bird feeding by adding seed, fruit and suet feeders. (Use suet in the winter to feed insect-eating birds.)
Every living thing needs water to drink, and birds, bees and butterflies are no exceptions. If you have a natural water source on your property (such as a pond, stream or marsh), you already know that it’s a lively place, offering nurseries for toads and frogs, as well as habitat for water fowl, lizards and reptiles. Birds also like water sources to bathe in—so a birdbath is a good addition to a wildlife-friendly garden. The Audubon Society recommends that birdbaths have sides that incline gently and that the baths are no more than 2 to 3 inches deep. They also should offer slightly rough surfaces for adequate footing. Add fresh water every couple of days. Make sure the bottom of the bath is free from algae. Give it a good scrubbing every few weeks. Birds flock to the sound of trickling water, so adding a fountain will lure more species. Position a birdbath about 15 feet from trees and shrubs so predators, such as hawks and cats, can’t sneak up on bathing birds. To attract butterflies with water, set out a shallow dish filled with wet sand.
For nesting and safety plant a variety of species—from small to tall. All wildlife needs protective cover in which to safely hide from predators and get out of bad weather. Shrubs, hedges and piles of brush (including dead trees) offer respites for birds, rabbits and other species. The more cover and housing opportunities you offer, the more species will call your yard home.
Choose native shrubs and trees to provide natural nesting areas and materials. For example, different bird species have nesting styles that range from a hole in a tree to a nest that sits in the crotch of a tree branch. Add a mix of deciduous trees (that lose their leaves in autumn) and coniferous trees (evergreens) to create the most diverse habitat.
You can increase the number of bird species in your area by erecting manmade nesting boxes or houses. Purple martins, bluebirds, wrens and titmice will nest in these structures. Other ready-made wildlife structures include bat houses and mason bee boxes.
If you want to attract wildlife, take care when using chemicals in your yard. Herbicides and pesticides can create a dangerous environment for many wildlife species.
Make Your Garden a Wildlife Refuge
Create a backyard habitat for wildlife by adding food, cover, water and nesting materials to your landscape. Once you do this you can certify your yard as a wildlife-friendly zone by applying to be part of the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program. To learn more about wildlife-enabled gardening, go to the National Wildlife Federation’s website at nwf.org.
Best Wildlife-Attracting Plants
Add a wide variety of food-producing plants, shrubs and trees to your landscape and you’ll enjoy the most wildlife species in your yard.
- Nuts: Oak, hickory, buckeye, chestnut, walnut
- Seeds: Pine, spruce, fir, maple, sunflower, coneflower, aster, goldenrod, grass, thistle
- Berries: Holly, dogwood, serviceberry, cherry, elderberry, mulberry, bayberry, raspberry, blueberry, high-bush cranberry (in photo), pokeberry, Virginia creeper, grape
- Nectar: Columbine, lobelia, penstemon, azalea, fuchsia, trumpet vine, monarda, honeysuckle, joe-pye weed