| Story by Meghan McMahon |
Looking out your kitchen or bedroom window and seeing and hearing birds chirping, insects fluttering and small creatures scurrying is just the sort of idyllic scene many people envision, but the reality is most yards aren’t exactly designed to attract a variety of wildlife.
If you want your yard to be an inviting destination for everything from insects to mammals, you have to plan — and plant — accordingly. The idea of turning your yard into an inviting habitat for all sorts of animals is called wildlife gardening. A wildlife garden needs to include all the elements animals need for survival: food, water and shelter, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The shelter in a wildlife garden has to provide both places for wildlife to take cover and also engage in courtship, mating and raising offspring.
The old saying that “variety is the spice of life” is certainly true if you want to attract all sorts of animals to your yard. Having many different kinds of plants — of all sizes, types, colors and even blooming seasons — creates a varied habitat and offers the food and shelter animals big and small need for survival.
When planting anything in your yard, remember native plants are best. These are the plants that grow naturally in a region and are well adapted to the soil and climate. Native plants are meant to grow here, and historically they have been part of the natural landscape. The National Audubon Society maintains a comprehensive Native Plants Database that is searchable by ZIP code and can be filtered based on the types of plants you are interested in planting. The National Wildlife Federation also maintains a Native Plant Finder that is searchable by ZIP code.
The best choices for plantings in your yard are native plants that are free of pesticides and other chemicals. Consider buying your plants from a local nursery where you can ask questions about whether plants are native, if chemicals have been used to treat them and the best options and practices for transplanting them to your yard. Native plants naturally require less fertilizers and insecticides, and purchasing plants that have not been chemically treated creates a healthier wildlife habitat in your own yard, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Here’s a few more things to keep in mind, courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation, if you are planning your yard and landscape design with attracting wildlife in mind.
- Observe the sun and shade in your yard at different times of the day and year and plan accordingly. More than six hours of sun is suitable for full sun plants.
- Think about the texture and structure different types of plants will provide. Use bigger, taller plants to frame smaller or more delicate plants, for example.
- Plant similar species of plants together in groupings. This will provide good color and texture, but also lessen the need for mulching while helping to prevent weeds.
- Create definition to prevent your yard from looking wild or untamed. You can do this with paths, borders, hedges and other landscape features.
Here’s a look at the different kinds of plants to consider adding to your landscape to make it an all-seasons wonderland for wildlife.