Gardening for Wildlife

Updated on April 21, 2020
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Catherine is a proponent for responsible stewardship of our natural resources and covers topics of plant life and sustainable living.

Plant a Garden for All Seasons

A gulf fritillary butterfly is attracted to the bright orange and pollen-rich tithonia in my summer garden.
A gulf fritillary butterfly is attracted to the bright orange and pollen-rich tithonia in my summer garden. | Source

What Defines a Garden?

A garden may be a small sensible plot or a grand display of majestic trees, sweeping lawns, and flower displays like a city's arboretum. Despite design and scale, they all have one thing in common: these spaces are teeming with life both visible and unseen.

We use these spaces to give our homes curb appeal, to grow our victory gardens, or to provide places of beauty and fragrance for relaxation and outdoor entertainment. Birds, insects, reptiles, and small mammals use them for food, shelter, and reproduction. Whether we notice or not, our gardens are sustaining a host of living things. Even our soil is alive with both beneficial microbes and fungi that help our plants grow vigorously. Under the soil and beneath the ground are teams of decomposers at work breaking down organic matter to create nutrients for the plants we enjoy..The whole garden is an active ecosystem! It is more satisfying to work with nature than against it.

What a pleasure it is to wake to the cheerful sound of the songbirds! There is so much energy to be experienced in watching squirrels, lizards and birds foraging in the backyard, bickering, and chasing each other! Yet there are so many more benefits to their presence.

A canopy of trees and a birdbath attract many visitors, but it is the selection of plants with their pollen, seeds, berries, and insects that will keep them returning day after day and season to season.

Consider the Wildlife

Next time you visit your nursery, think of the wildlife that depends on your choices.

  • If you like hummingbirds, consider which plants attract them. These are often red and orange with fluted or bell-shaped flowers.
  • Choose some berry-producing shrubs and seed-producing flowers for your songbirds. These will keep them around through the seasons.
  • Attract helpful butterflies and bees. Butterflies often like blues and purples. Bees like yellows but will visit most pollen-rich flowers. Good choices would include buddleia, hollyhock, lantana, verbena, gallardia, salvia, scabiosa, yarrow, hyssop, and alyssum.
  • Night-active moths prefer fragrant plants such as night-blooming jasmine, honeysuckle, nicotiana, brugmansia, and cereus. Herbs, including thyme, rosemary, borage, and lavender, are excellent additions too.

Berries, rosehips, and spent seed heads are delightful winter feasts for foraging birds:
Berries, rosehips, and spent seed heads are delightful winter feasts for foraging birds:

Encourage Nature's Food Chain

  • Add a birdbath. Attracting birds will help to keep your areas naturally pest-free, and squirrels will enjoy a drink too.
  • Consider natural habitat. Toads and frogs like to re-hydrate in shallow water and then retreat under logs, rocks, and low leafy plants.Place a saucer of water or a toad house in a shady spot.
  • Lizards and skinks prefer warm surfaces for lounging such as rocks, concrete, and terra cotta. They hibernate under leaf-litter and find shelter in overhanging vines, and ground cover.
  • Bees and butterflies need water also but prefer the shallow saucer of water and gravel or pretty marbles as a muddling area.


Lizards Are The Best Defense Against Grasshoppers

A Southern Alligator Lizard prefers rocks or walls for warmth and leaf litter for shelter. They are a great benefit for the pest control of grasshoppers.
A Southern Alligator Lizard prefers rocks or walls for warmth and leaf litter for shelter. They are a great benefit for the pest control of grasshoppers. | Source

Don't Be Too Tidy

Gardens are not meant to be flawless. They are places to witness the cycles of life. Be willing to sacrifice a bit of your personal Eden. Take off your glasses and step back. Do you really need to be concerned about perfect tidiness and stressed over chewed leaves and earwigs in your roses?

The insects will bring hungry birds who will linger in search of tasty tidbits like tomato horn worms and other caterpillars. Finches love the tiny seeds in spent flower heads, and those they disperse will sprout next season. Fallen leaves create a natural mulch that attracts earthworms, conserves moisture and dissuades weeds. They also provide shelter for lizards and salamanders, which eat garden pests.

Practice Integrated Pest Management

Our gardens are resilient without human interference, and you will find that nature's food chain is quite efficient.

  • Before reaching for a pesticide, consider the balance of things and the natural food chain. Even organic insecticides like neem oil, pyrethrin, and spinosad, which target specific bugs, can cause a proliferation of others and should only be applied when bees are not active.
  • Always start with the least harmful deterrent. Blast aphids with water. Pick caterpillars and snails by hand. Use diatomaceous earth for ants and pheromone traps for flying insects.
  • Use Bio-controls whenever possible.They are effective at targeting beetle grubs and lawn pests.. Praying mantis, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and beneficial nematodes are all available for home delivery through tiptopbio.com.
  • Build healthy soil with compost and worm castings. Reduce tillage. Use natural mulches to encourage earthworms and beneficial soil microbes. Great soil translates into vigorous plant growth.

Choose Plants Wisely

  • Take note of mature plant size, water needs, and preferred sun exposure.
  • Consider pest resistance. if you are plagued with deer and rabbits, look for plants that deter them.
  • Plan ahead with wire barriers if root-chewing animals like moles, voles, and gophers are a problem..
  • Select native varieties when possible. They will attract and support native fauna and are most likely to thrive with little help. However, they can get quite large. Do your research. This means good value and more free time to enjoy relaxing in the garden.
  • Don't "try to make it work" in less than optimum conditions. This will only lead to weak, pest-attracting specimens that will cost you wasted time, effort, and money. Choosing plants wisely translates into good value and more free time to enjoy relaxing in your garden.

Get The Family Involved

Encourage your kids to create a cute and functional habitat for ladybugs, bees, and other beneficial insects:
Encourage your kids to create a cute and functional habitat for ladybugs, bees, and other beneficial insects: | Source

Kids Learn by Observing

  • Grab a local nature guide book and learn to identify the new visitors you've attracted to your backyard.
  • Learn how raccoons, skunks, and possums visit the garden at night to forage for grubs and eat damaging snails and slugs.
  • Involve your family in backyard projects like making feeders, birdhouses, and shelters.
  • Think about the purpose of squirrels and mice. What value do they have to the urban garden? Besides providing food for snakes, hawks, and owls, they clean tree canopies of unpicked nuts and fruit, and their caches of seeds often help with propagation of trees and other plants.
  • Kids enjoy and benefit from watching wildlife. They often develop a life-long appreciation of nature from early observation.

If you provide a haven, wildlife will come. In these times of disappearing bee colonies and butterfly populations, it is more important than ever that each us do our part in attracting these pollinators to our gardens. Share time outdoors with your family, make some peanut butter/birdseed pine cones to hang, and learn some new facts. It's nice to relax in the knowledge that your efforts make the world a better place and that your beautiful garden is sustaining a lot more than just you!

© 2011 Catherine Tally

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    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Gray water usage makes SO much sense! It is challenging to keep a garden going in drought esp. since lawns and lush flower beds are ever popular. I am a big believer in reseeding perennials, native plants, bulbs and tubers, container gardens, deep less frequent watering, and lots of mulch!

      Thank you for the kind comments.

      Cat:)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      5 years ago from California

      Always amazed at the beauty here. We are in drought in CA right now, so am using a gray water system to keep my plants happy!

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello Mary, Isn't it fun to watch the Monarchs colorfully flit around the garden and to have them lay eggs for the next generation on your milkweed? We are awaiting the next pupae stage as the latest caterpillars grow fatter and are amazed that the milkweed can recover so quickly after being stripped bare! Thank you for the nice comments and for sharing my hub. I wish you happy days in your garden!

      All the best,

      Cat :)

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Phyllis,

      Container gardens on a patio make so much sense because it's easier to control watering, and they can be planted up in so many creative ways to attract wildlife. It's great to heat that yours draw the birds, bees, & butterflies! Thanks for the thoughtful comments:)

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello thumbi7, Thank you! I appreciate your stopping by to read and hope that you are also enjoying some time in your garden :)

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello Audrey,

      Isn't it wonderful to see the bees on our flowers? I just get so excited!

      Many thanks to you for the thoughtful comments and your ongoing kindness in sharing my hubs. I appreciate you so much! Bless you,

      Cat:)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      My eye was immediately drawn to your photo of the Monarch butterfly on a Milkweed plant. One of my hobbies is planting milkweed, and then watching the Monarchs lay their eggs then hatch out!

      I would much rather have a beautiful yard like this than a lawn! I don't have a large yard now that I downsized, but I do grow plants in pots.

      Beautiful Hub. Voted up, etc and Pinned to my gardening board.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 

      6 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Catherine, this is a beautiful and very informative hub. I do not have a yard, but my small patio allows me to grow flowers and herbs that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. I love gardening.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Enjoyed reading the hub. You have some beautiful photos as well.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      I thought I would revisit this one--I see bees by the lavender every time I am out there watering or hanging around--it is a wonderful thing

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello Nancy,

      I know what you mean about those bird seed sprouts! It does take a bit more effort but is well worth it for the company of birds in the garden and their cheerful songs and chatter. Spending time in the garden and seeing nature at work gives me a healthier perspective overall. Thanks for stopping by!

      Cat:)

    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 

      6 years ago from USA

      Hello, Cat! I love the beautiful photos here. I left my sunflowers out all winter last year for the birds to feed on and now I have them coming up everywhere! Pulling them out as I go along. Always so much to do in the garden, but I look at it as my exercise routine, my serenity time, and my grocery bill reducer. P.S... I like Burt's Bees, too!

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Nancy,

      Thank you! I appreciate the kind comments.

      I hope you are enjoying a beautiful Spring.

      Cat:)

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Thelma,

      There are few things as satisfying as a summer evening in the garden watching the bird activity and feeling the cool breeze from the trees. How nice that you can spend time each year in the wild garden of your country home! Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      Take care,

      Cat:)

    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 

      6 years ago from USA

      What a beautiful photo. I love watching the birds and squirrels.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      6 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      I love wild garden and I have one in my home country where I enjoy a few months of being there. Thanks for the tips and for the video you have posted. Have a nice day!

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello Anna,

      Thank you for the positive response! I'm so happy that you loved the content. I appreciate your stopping by to read and comment.

      All the best,

      Cat:)

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Audrey,

      Glad you enjoyed this! Thank you for the thoughtful comments.

      My best,

      Cat :)

    • AnnaCia profile image

      AnnaCia 

      6 years ago

      Love it, love it!!!!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      I love beautiful wild gardens--your pictures are wonderful and give me a sense of your love of flowers!

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Rebecca,

      Thank you! I'm so glad you've been inspired by this and are looking forward to your Spring garden. I appreciate your stopping by.

      All the best,

      Cat:)

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      You have me so eager for spring and making a garden and little ecosystem. This is a good guide to use with helpful hints. I love lots of birds too, I think I will add sunflowers. Thanks!

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Dave,

      I'm delighted to hear of a program that encourages the preservation of local habitats and the creatures within. I will continue to edit this hub as new thoughts and experiences apply. Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful comments.

      My best,

      Cat :)

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 

      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Catherine,

      sorry to have only just found this great hub and all your advise to gardeners is spot on. two years after you have written this hub, the RSPB here in England have just started " Give nature a Home" project which incorporates most of your suggestions. Your a head of your time. lol.

    • cat on a soapbox profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Tally 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you, followers, for the encouragement!

    • gajanis786 profile image

      gajanis 

      9 years ago from Pakistan

      Good informative hub.....keep it up and welcome to the hubpages community.Thanks.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      As someone who loves to garden, thank you for this informative hub!

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