Planting a selection of flowering plants, grasses, trees and shrubs provide wildlife benefits throughout the seasons and will ensure year round habitat biodiversity. Multi-layered plantings will also add visual interest and beauty to your property throughout the year. In addition, once established, balanced native plant communities can better resist non-natives threatening to overtake wild habitat.
When possible, plant species grown straight from local seed sources. These native originals are the best choice, as they co-evolved with specific wildlife, which supports migration, breeding and other seasonal interdependency. Certain cultivars of native plants will offer some benefits to wildlife, like pollen and nectar, while others, cultivated for a unique color or larger bloom, may have eliminated elements originally beneficial to wildlife. Increasingly, the garden trade is bringing more species of natives into the market place and new research is being done on cultivars that preserve wildlife benefits. Never collect native plants from the wild as it will deplete natural ecosystems.
Most native flowers are also known as herbaceous (or a non-woody stems) plants. Many are perennials (that come back each year) or biennials which self-seed (to reappear every other year). This cost savings for gardeners is also a source of dependable food and cover for wildlife. Many flowering plants provide, seeds, nectar, and pollen and at times are also host plants for specific types of butterflies, moths, and insects. Many insects can only feed on the native plants with which they have co-evolved. Monarch caterpillars, for example, can only feed on milkweed. If insects cannot survive, than all the wildlife that feed on them will perish. This includes song birds, amphibians, and small mammals.
Many native flowers are also very fragrant, as their sweet scent is intended to attract pollinators to their nectar source. Adding them to your landscape is a benefit to wildlife and to the senses. Examples from various regions include Beebalm/Wild Bergamot (Mondarda fitulosa), Fragrant Phlox (Phlox pilosa) and Anise Hyssop, (Agastache foeniculum)
These plants assist in preventing ground erosion, providing cover and places for wildlife to raise their young. They are often drought tolerant, require minimal maintenance, and are usually pest and disease free.
Grasses are excellent garden bed background plants and can provide screening for privacy. In winter months they offer structure and form on an otherwise barren landscape. Grasses add texture, motion and even sound in the breeze. Options in size and shape gives dimension to habitat gardens and a spectrum of color including soft greens, blues, reds and purples. Some examples include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), wild sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and tall grass prairie switch grass (Panicum virgatum). Some seed heads provide food for wildlife.
Groundcovers suppress weeds, retain moisture and also prevent erosion. Different types are suited to either shade or sun. They are ideal cover for small mammals, insects and other wildlife that survive close to the ground.
They serve wildlife year round. Many contribute pollen and nectar sources in the spring, then berry and go to seed in fall and winter. Not only an important food source, but they also provide nesting and resting places for birds and other wildlife. Common bird species that do not migrate, such as northern cardinals, woodpeckers and mockingbirds, depend on berrying shrubs in winter. Shrubs planted densely attract many more birds to a property like cardinals and thrushes seeking cover and nesting places.
Selected native trees and shrubs can visually anchor garden beds and serve as a focal point with color, form and function. Planting a selection of deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen trees creates a color palette bridging each season.
Trees benefit wildlife with acorns, other nuts, and berries. Pines provide roosting areas for larger birds, like wild turkeys and hardwood trees provide nesting holes for screech owls, flying squirrels, and wood ducks.
Bonus: These woody plants also absorb carbon and help reduce energy costs as they provide wind breaks in winter and shade in the summer. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a carefully positioned tree can save up to 25 percent of a household's energy consumption for heating and cooling.