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Landscaping for Wildlife

By Amelia Graham

The idea of landscaping for wildlife can be daunting. How do you choose the plants? Won’t it require a lot of extra work? Isn’t it expensive?

The truth is, with a little research, landscaping your yard for local wildlife species is straightforward and could even save you money on mowing and treating your lawn.

The first thing to consider when it comes to preparing for wildlife are the four basics: Food, water, space, and shelter. Any species you are hoping to attract to your yard will be looking for those things.

Water is the easiest. If you have a natural water feature, great! If not, a birdbath or drip faucet can also provide water for wildlife.

Eastern bluebird. Photo by John Berry

Space is next. Wildlife often require more than the average yard for their home range, but that doesn’t mean they won’t visit or nest in your yard. Many species establish a territory, though, so if you want to put up nesting boxes you should research the birds you’re hoping to attract. For example, you can limit competition between eastern bluebirds and tree swallows by placing two nesting boxes 15-20 feet apart. Tree swallows won’t take over both boxes because they are too close together. You should, however, place pairs of bluebird boxes 300 feet apart to allow for enough territory. Meanwhile birds like purple martins actually prefer to nest in groups, so a set of boxes should offer at least four cavities.

Shelter takes a little bit of planning. It’s important to provide layers of cover because species feed and nest at varying heights. It’s easiest to put the tallest layers at the edge of your property and work your way inward with smaller trees, then shrubs and other low plants. Evergreen trees and shrubs, especially those with branches close to the ground, provide year-round protection and insulation from wind and winter weather.

The last of the essentials is food. It’s important to consider where your wildlife will find food throughout the year. For example, raspberry bushes are great in the summer, whereas dogwoods, mountain ash, and spicebush provide fruit during the fall migration season. Crabapples and holly berries are less desirable, so they are usually still available in the winter when other food is scarce. If you’re hoping to attract pollinators, think about the type of flowers you have. Butterflies prefer flatter, open flowers. Hummingbirds will look for longer, bell-shaped flowers in reds and purples.

When in doubt, look for native plant species. Not only will they do well in your yard because they are well-suited to your soil and climate, but they provide the best food and cover for your wildlife because both have evolved to our area.

The most important thing to remember about landscaping for wildlife is that it’s an ongoing process! Don’t be afraid to try something you aren’t sure of, or to start small. It should be a fun process that you learn from, not one you dread. There are plenty of resources available online, or even at the local library. Here are some to get you started:

Bluebird Boxes

Purple Martin Colonies

Ed Robinson’s article on making your yard wildlife-friendly

Books on gardening for wildlife

May 2022