Family Gardening: Attracting Wildlife to the Garden

Attracting wildlife to the home garden is an enjoyable and creative way to teach children about nature, evoke their respect for the environment and provide meaningful family together time. Many things that are good for wildlife are equally good for a wholesome, thoughtful garden – win-win!

 Covering the Basics

 All wildlife – butterflies, birds, squirrels, snakes, deer, etc. – requires three things for survival: food, water and cover. When you meet these basic needs in the garden, you can expect a variety of visitors.

  • Food
    Native trees, shrubs, vines and wildflowers provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts that wildlife requires to survive and thrive. As an added advantage, natives are well adapted to their particular geographic area and therefore are more disease and pest-resistant and generally require little extra fertilization, supplemental watering or other maintenance.There will be times when natural food sources are not readily available, especially in late winter when many stores of food are exhausted or early spring before natural supplies are replenished. This is when it is most important to provide supplemental sources of food using bird, squirrel and butterfly feeders to add to the native food sources for resident and migrating wildlife.
  • Water
    All wildlife requires a source of clean water for drinking and bathing. Many of us do not have a natural water source on our properties but this situation is easily remedied by adding a garden bird bath or water dish. With larger landscapes, adding a pond, fountain or pondless waterfall is an ambitious and rewarding project that will greatly enhance your efforts to increase the wildlife population. If space and your budget permits, you might even consider a tiered stream or other extensive feature.
  • Cover
    Wildlife requires a place to hide from predators, shelter in inclement weather and a secluded place to birth their young. Trees, both dead and alive, are perfect for hiding, nesting and perching. Leafy and thorny shrubs also provide wildlife protection and a suitable hiding place. Tiers of plants are most desirable, and thicker, denser plantings such as thickets or groves will be very attractive. Even if you have plenty of vegetation already, the addition of bird and bat houses will increase areas of wildlife safety in your landscape.

Native Plants to Benefit Wildlife

All types of plants, from trees to vines to shrubs to flowers, can provide food, water and cover to wildlife, but some plants are more useful than others. These handy lists can help you choose the best options for your landscape and the type of help you want to give backyard birds, butterflies, squirrels, deer and other visitors.

Note: “Seed” denotes abundant seeds that are attractive and nourishing for wildlife; “Nectar” denotes blooms butterflies and hummingbirds will sip from; “Fruit” denotes berries or other small fruits to feed wildlife; “Host” denotes a nourishing host plant for butterfly larvae.