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House with native plants and animalsGoing Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife with Native Plants
Home > How to Go Native > Step Three - Design a Native Plant Landscape > Design to Meet Wildlife Needs

Design to Meet Wildlife Needs

Whether you want to attract songbirds, hummingbirds, or butterflies to your yard, here are several general principles that will help your design be successful.

Cardinal Flower
Cardinal flower blooms attract hummingbirds in the late summer.

Promote Plant Diversity – Most importantly, a native plant landscape attractive to wildlife contains a diversity of native plants. Include late-blooming and early-blooming plants, early-fruiting and late-fruiting plants, evergreen and deciduous plants, and tall and short plants in the landscape.

Plant diversity provides for habitat needs in all seasons – Because different species of plants produce flowers, fruits, or seeds during different seasons of the year, the presence of a variety of plants ensures that food is available to wildlife year round.

Cluster of Plants
Flame azalea provides nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Plant diversity provides food and cover alternatives within a season – The presence of many plant species in a landscape ensures that alternative food and cover sources will be available within a single season.  If one plant species fails to provide fruit in the fall of a given year, for example, it is important to have additional fruiting species present so that wildlife have alternative food sources (or buffer foods) during that season.

Tiered Plantings
Clusters of orange and purple coneflower allow butterflies easy access to nectar.

Cluster or Mass Plantings – Clustered plantings of the same species or plantings with similar blooming or fruiting periods will allow wildlife easy access to seasonally abundant food sources without excessive movement and increased exposure to predators.  Massing similar species and placing shorter herbs and shrubs in front of taller vegetation improves the visual attractiveness of your habitat.

Flame Azalea
Tiers of shorter wildflowers in front of shrubs improves a landscape’s appearance.

Mimic Nature – Create tiers and layers in your landscape that mimic the way that plants grow together in natural areas.

Love Your Weeds – Leave a portion of your yard or garden un-mowed or un-manicured to promote fruit and seed production, especially during late summer, fall, and winter.  Locate these areas in small corners of your yard where neighbors will be less likely to see the “weedy” growth.

Minimize Lawn – Install wildflower beds and other plantings in place of manicured lawn.  Lawn grasses require frequent use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides that can be harmful to the environment.  Manicured lawns are monocultures that offer very little in terms of wildlife habitat.

Viewing BenchPlan wildflower beds and feeders within sight of benches and viewing areas.

Maintain Viewing Areas – Plan viewing areas by mapping wildflower beds, fruit-producing plants, and bird feeders in sight of windows and paths .  To help prevent window strikes by birds, feeders should be placed < 3 feet from windows or at least 30 feet from windows.

Meeting the Need of Your Target Species
Attracting specific types of wildlife can require the use of additional features and very careful attention to plant selection and placement.  To learn more about how to attract songbirds, hummingbirds, and butterflies, click on these links.

Sample Base Map with Wildlife Needs
Sample Base Map with Wildlife Needs. Larger version.

Using a copy of your base map, decide which areas are best suited for providing the habitat needs of your target species and mark those areas with bubbles or circles.  Remember to provide areas for food, cover, nesting, and water.  You may wish to designate relative heights of plants to ensure that a diversity of vertical structure is included in the habitat.  These areas will eventually be combined with your family needs analysis into the overall design. Try out different layouts by generating a series of bubble diagrams that explore a variety of options.

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