How to Create a Wildlife Garden

Have you passed by a home with a Certified Wildlife Habitat in their yard full of flowers and other plants? Anyone can create a wildlife garden on their property to help local fauna and even get it certified.

Want to attract wild life to your garden? Want it to be a certified wildlife garden? See what it takes to make a wildlife garden.
Want to attract wild life to your garden? Want it to be a certified wildlife garden? See what it takes to make a wildlife garden.


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Importance of Wildlife Gardens

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “wildlife”? Maybe deer or raccoons? This may deter you from considering planting a wildlife garden but the point of a wildlife garden is not to attract deer or raccoons but butterflies and other smaller creatures.

Most urban homes have nice, trimmed grass lawns in both the front and backyard. Some people may have some flower beds and a tree here and there but it’s mostly grass. As soon a spring begins people rush out to buy Roundup® to kill those “pesky” dandelions in their yard. Not only are the pesticides being used not great for the environment but what is a lawn full of grass doing for the environment? Nothing. Grass doesn’t provide any value to the local fauna and you’re not grazing cows in your suburban yard.

Wildlife gardens are designed to mimic nature and provide food, water, shelter, and a safe place to reproduce. Can your grass lawns do this? These garden are very beautiful and a great way to attract birds and butterflies to your home. Due to urbanization many habitats are broken up and fragmented which affects migrations of animals and insects as well as their populations. Gardens designed to mimic a habitat for local species can help the survivability rate of these animals who are migrating. Wildlife gardens can really make a difference and there are only 5 things you have to provide to create a certified wildlife garden.


1. Food

Animals and insects alike need food to flourish. The most important aspect of adding a food source to your garden is planting native plants. You are wanting to support native fauna and native animals and insects need native plants to eat. Bird feeders can be included as your food source but believe it or not, birds actually prefer their native food source over bird feeders. Bird feeders are just supplements to the bird’s diet and birds to perfectly fine in winter without bird feeders especially if you plant their native food source. Keep in mind bird feeders can make birds sitting ducks for hawks and can attract squirrels and raccoons.

2. Water

If you have a lake, river, stream, creek, pond, or other natural bodies of water on your property you’ve got water covered. Believe it or not, you can even count an area in your yard that regularly floods or even a regular mud pit! You can add sources of water to your yard utilizing bird baths or insect watering holes. Another option is to turn your wildlife garden into a rain garden as well. If you use a bird bath make sure you regularly clean it to prevent the spread of diseases.

3. Cover

Both predators and prey need cover to stay safe and hunt. Don’t worry, you don’t need to provide shelter for hawks or foxes. Backyard birds are predators as much as they are prey. When you are planting your garden it isn’t necessarily what you plant but how your plant that determines whether or not you have cover. Some plants like bushes may provide cover in a single plant but if you plant your garden densely it will also provide cover. Avoid having a spread out garden so that you can provide food and cover in the same area. Other things you can add that will also provide cover includes brush piles, log piles, rock walls, roosting boxes, frog domes, and insect houses.

4. Place to Raise Young

If you do it right you can cover placed to raise young with what you provide for food and cover. Some insects need their host plant to raise young such as monarch butterflies and milkweed. Some trees and shrubs provide nesting locations for birds but you can always add a nesting box as well for birds. Make sure there are no perches on nesting boxes as it makes it easier for predators to get to the nests. Mature trees, dead trees, mud, ponds, burrows are all examples of natural nesting and mating locations for various animals that you may already have available. If you want to provide a location for bats you can always get a bat house. Bats are awesome to have near your home because they can help with mosquito populations.

5. Utilize Sustainable Practices

Using sustainable practices isn’t as hard as you might think. It is also really important because how you treat your lawn will affect the environment downstream. Stay away from pesticides and chemical fertilizers. They get washed away by the rain and have a negative impact on the environment. Plant native plants and use compost in your wildlife garden. Other sustainable practices include using mulch, reducing your lawn area, reduce erosion, and removing invasives.

Print off a checklist of everything you need for your wildlife garden here and check out The National Wildlife Federation’s website for more information on how to certify your wildlife garden.


Insects Bring Wildlife

Every insect has a role to play in our ecosystem and unfortunately, some have been introduced from other countries and might cause problems. If you are a gardener, especially a vegetable gardener, the thought of insect in your garden may make you uncomfortable. However, if you support an insect population you will bring more wildlife. Butterflies are certainly beautiful but if you want to attract birds and other wildlife you have to first attract insects. Insects make up a large portion of many animals diets especially birds raising young. A healthy ecosystem includes insects and as you look at the list of plants below you may see that they attract some insects such as aphids. Aphids aren’t great for a vegetable garden but if you create a natural ecosystem in your yard other insects and animals will actually eat the aphids and other insects you don’t like. If you can’t handle insects in your yard, creating a wildlife garden probably isn’t for you.

Plants to Consider

When designing your garden make sure you are looking at natives for your region. I’m going to be talking more about native plants from the Midwest and the eastern United States. If you are worried about pollen and allergies pick showy flowers as they tend to have larger pollen and don’t get picked up by the wind easily. Here are some plants you can consider planting to attract various animals and insects.

Milkweed– attracts monarchs, eastern tiger swallowtails, skipper butterflies, sleepy orange butterfly, mining bees, eastern comma butterflies, bumblebees, carpenter bees, hummingbird moths, milkweed tiger moths, milkweed bugs, milkweed beetles, and aphids

Milkweed also provides a great food source for birds as most of their diet is made up of insects especially when they are raising young. The plant also provides some bird species nesting material.

Where to get seeds

Spicebush– attracts spicebush swallowtail, eastern tiger swallowtail, Promethea silkmoth, and various birds

Also provides protection for small animals.

Sunflowers– attracts honeybees, ladybugs, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, painted lady butterfly, American sunflower moth, woolybear caterpillars, and various birds

Where to get seeds

Gray Dogwood– attracts bumblebees, honeybees, carpenter bees, aphids, over 10 species of moth caterpillars, various species of beetles, butterflies, wasps, flies, and birds, raccoons, foxes, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and deer

Provides cover for small mammals and birds as well as a nesting site for birds.

Bee Balm– attracts various species of bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies

Where to get seeds

Black-Eyed Susan– attracts bordered patch butterfly, Gorgone checkerspot butterfly, other nectar bases butterflies and insects including bees, and various species of seed-eating birds

Where to get seeds


Seed Mixes

There are so many different plants that you can plant in your yard to attract insects and birds as well as providing food and shelter. If you aren’t interested in specifically landscaping your yard and want a mix of flowers you can always go with pollinator mixes. I always get my seeds from Botanical Interests who provide heirloom and organic seeds for vegetable gardens and flower gardens. It’s important to get mixes that contain flowers that are native and grow well in your area. They have three pollinator seed options for the Eastern United States, the Midwest, and Western United States.

Are you ready to turn your yard into a wildlife area this spring?

Milkweed – It’s Not Just for Monarchs
Sunflower Pests
Gray Dogwood
Black-eyed Susan