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Designing Your Wildlife Garden

Reclaiming wildlife habitat yard by yard is a vital step anyone can take just outside their door.  Re-establishing native plant communities and protecting the local watershed with sustainable gardening practices is what gardening for wildlife is all about.

Here are some simple ways you can provide the essential habitat components of food, water, cover and places to raise young while designing a garden space that appeals to your aesthetics and enhances the natural landscape.

Backyard Habitat, Photo by John Magee

  • Decide on the type of habitat garden based on your region. There many options, such as bird, bee and butterfly friendly gardens, rain gardens and water gardens, meadow or prairie garden, etc. Existing trees and plantings in your yard may help dictate what native plants will do well.
    • Observe the amount of sun and shade your intended garden habitat receives during the day. For example, any area that gets six or more hours of sunlight will thrive with sun-loving plants. Areas that tend to collect water or stay moist will be suitable for more wetland plants. Learn more about Natural Landscape Considerations.
  • Prepare your site for planting. Clear new planting site of all turf grass and weeds, unless your soil is too compacted to plant in – natives do not need much soil amendment. In fact, soil that is too rich and loamy results in very tall plants that can flop over.
  • Decide on a focal point for each garden bed or section of your yard. These can be natural, like an anchoring shrub, tree, or hollow log. Human touches, like a bird bath, fountain, bench or sculpture can add interest and draw people into the landscape.
  • Balance the “natural look” with some definition. Well-designed borders, paths, hedges, plant islands and fencing frame the features of the garden and provide a neat appearance that your neighbors will appreciate. 
  • Select plants that provide year-round diversity. Wildlife need food, water, cover, places to raise young with flowers, shrubs, trees and grasses all year. To understand the benefits of these read about Plant for Diversity then explore the types of plants and wildlife native to your area by entering your zip code in the Native Plant Finder
  • Plant similar species of plants in groupings. You will get larger color and textural impact, and eye-catching patterns throughout the garden bed or landscape. This technique also draws the eye into the garden and the close plantings will prevent weed groups and minimize the need for excess mulching.
  • Provide a backdrop of texture and structure. Evergreens, native grasses, or taller plants will help frame smaller plants.
  • Sustain your wildlife garden and the ecosystem with Sustainable Practices.
  • Practice neighbor-friendly gardening. Explain to your neighbors the intent and design of your garden and yard that may not conform to common garden or neighborhood association expectations.
  • Celebrate by certifying and displaying a sign! Show why you have designed your yard intentionally to help wildlife and encourage them to do the same.

Does your garden have all the elements to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat®? Certify today!

CERTIFY YOUR GARDEN TODAY