Follow these simple steps to create a habitat for creatures both great and small.
By Linda Lehmusvirta
Animals naturally head for the most comfortable place to live. Put out the welcome mat with food, water, shelter, and safety to raise their young.
- Provide diverse food (and water) all year long. Animals eat different things. For a wildlife balance that naturally controls pests, include flowers, berries, fruits, seeds, and larval plants for butterflies and moths. Keep the crowds around with plants that multitask: flowering in one season for fruits, berries, or seeds in another. Add water!
- Cluster plants to attract more attention. A few plants work fine if that’s what the space allows. When possible, mass several similar ones, making a “food court” for wildlife, for the biggest draw.
- Provide a mix of niches. Animals inhabit different spots. Attract the most diversity with a stair-step design, from tall trees down to understory trees and large shrubs. Pile up rocks for cozy ground-level hideouts. Avoid blowing out all the leaf litter, since it harbors ground creatures and improves the soil.
- Don’t be too tidy. Leave the control-freak tendencies at the back door. After flowers feed the pollinators, let the seedheads go to the birds. In winter, avoid cleaning up too fast, since browned-up plants still offer shelter and seeds for resident birds.
- Accept some chomping. Adopt a “hole” new perspective. Those springtime caterpillars feed baby birds. Plants recover after butterfly and moth caterpillars chew their way into pupating adults. There’s no reason to buy lady beetles and green lacewings if a few aphids invite them to dinner.
Go a Little Wild
Connecting plants and animals in your landscape is easy to do with these resources.
- The Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs
Use this group to help identify master naturalists in your area by community.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database
Customize a native plant list by location and garden preferences. How-to articles and step-by-step guides cover the basics, from transplanting and pruning to building water features.
- National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat Program
Get tips for creating a habitat, even in containers or on a balcony. Fact sheets include plant lists, techniques, and guides for feeding birds and building bat houses.
- National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward Program
Information on how to become a habitat steward.