hummingbird feeding at salvia flower

By Mary Philips, director, Garden for Wildlife

Now is the time to make your yard or garden wildlife-friendly. Whether you’re a gardening novice with a small balcony or a gardening pro with a few acres, you can provide for local wildlife by planting with purpose. Wildlife gardens not only help butterflies, bees, and birds, but they are also a source of solace for you and a healthy solution for the planet!

Native plants are the core of any habitat garden because local wildlife relies on native plants for survival.

What Are Native Plants?

A plant is native if it has grown naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. Such plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife over thousands of years, and therefore offer the most sustainable habitat for the planet.

Native plants help the environment the most when planted in places that match their growing requirements. They will thrive in the soils, moisture, and weather of your region. That means less supplemental watering, which can be wasteful, and pest problems that require toxic chemicals. Native plants also assist in managing rainwater runoff and maintain healthy soil as their root systems are deep and keep soil from being compacted. Natives also help the planet by removing excess carbon from the air and storing it in their leaves and root systems.

Planting With Purpose Makes a Difference

Native plant gardens that incorporate blooming plants in all seasons are proven to increase pollinator abundance and diversity. Many also support songbird species. Each of these garden plots provides a “pit stop” habitat in areas broken up by our human presence.

When we create wildlife habitat gardens in each of our backyards it works. Research shows that wildlife habitat gardens can support 50% more wildlife than surrounding conventional landscapes. Wildlife can appear within days or even moments after food, water, cover, and places to raise their young are introduced to the space. For many species, native plants can provide a food source, cover, and places to raise young.

The good news is that this trend to plant intentionally for wildlife and the planet is catching on, with one in four people purchasing plants to benefit wildlife in 2020. You can help speed up this powerful way to create change right where you live.

Garden for Wildlife infographic
Image courtesy of National Wildlife Federation

How To Create a Wildlife Habitat Garden

  1. Start by choosing a location for your wildlife garden. Look at your landscape. Is the spot for your new garden full sun? Shade? Evaluate these elements first. Sun-loving natives need at least six hours of sun. Otherwise, look at more shade-loving native varieties.
  2. Choose plants that will thrive in your region. Pick a combination of plants that include keystone plants. Keystone plants support 90% of butterflies, moths, and up to 60% of native bees in a specific ecoregion. Plants such as Orange Butterfly Weed, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Smooth Blue Aster, and Stiff Leaf Goldenrod are good choices.

You can ask at your local plant store or find plants that are native to your region online. Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s new Garden for Wildlife™ Native Plant Collections. These home-delivered native plant kits are backed by science, including keystone plants that help the highest numbers of butterflies, bees, and birds.

Garden for Wildlife Native Plant Collection
Image courtesy of National Wildlife Federation
  1. Design for a succession of bloom. Pollinators, specifically, rely on plants for food in four seasons, and your garden will be more interesting that way.
  2. Place taller plants in the back, next medium-sized, and finally smaller plants in front.
  3. Remove weeds from the bed before planting and keep up with them during the season.
  4. Keep newly planted plants well-watered. After your first season, perennial natives will be adapted to the site and need less maintenance.
  5. Enjoy!

Make an impact right where you live, work, play, and worship. Everyone can invite butterflies, birds, and bees to their yards by replacing lawn with native plants or creating smaller habitat oases in containers and raised beds.

For more information and to shop native plant collections, visit www.gardenforwildlife.org.

About the Author

Mary Phillips has led the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife™ program since 2014, helping people create habitat where they live, work, play, learn and worship. Mary co-founded the National Pollinator Garden Network and co-launched the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge with over 50 national conservation, garden trade, and federal and voluntary civics organizations. Learn more about gardening for wildlife on her blog at the National Wildlife Federation.

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