How to Create a Wildlife Garden

how to create a wildlife gardenWhether your yard is several country acres, a subdivision plot, or a container garden on a balcony, it’s easy to make that space a welcoming refuge for wildlife. The basic requirements for creating a critter-friendly mini-ecosystem are food, water and shelter.

Building a backyard wildlife habitat is a great way to combine a passion for gardening with bird and animal watching. It also helps conserve biodiversity and keeps ecosystems healthy.

While metro and suburban areas may seem like unwelcoming environments for wildlife, according to the National Wildlife Federation, two-thirds of all North American species live in these areas.

Some of the critters typically attracted to backyard habitats include:

  • Bees
  • Birds
  • Butterflies
  • Earthworms
  • Frogs
  • Insects
  • Rabbits
  • Squirrels

wildlife garden with squirrel

bee garden

And, although not always welcome guests, backyard wildlife habitats sometimes also attract deer, raccoons, opossums and mice. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has some suggestions for resolving wildlife conflicts and don’t forget to consider making the backyard a hospitable place for the coexistence of pets and wildlife. Some pet-friendly gardening strategies include installing raised planting beds, arbors, an accessible perimeter, and sturdy shrubs.

Starting your wildlife garden

Here’s a quick list of home landscaping tasks that help provide wildlife with food, water, and shelter:

  • Make a compost heap
  • Plant native plants, trees and shrubs; sources of nectar, seeds and berries
  • Curb the use of pesticides, baits and invasive plant species
  • Install birdbaths, pools, feeders and misters
  • Plant a vegetable garden
  • Preserve some undergrowth

The more manicured the backyard environment, the more likely that it may be devoid of weed seeds, grubs and other wildlife food sources. Recycling animal friendly food scraps is an easy remedy. Some wildlife-safe snacks include: popcorn, potato chips, raisins, noodles, fruits, seeds, coconut and peanut butter. Note that dried beans and fruit pits are no-nos.

butterfly garden

Going native

When adding new plants to a wildlife habitat, it’s beneficial to select varieties that are considered “natives”. These are plants that naturally grow in a particular region and will thrive in local soil and weather conditions. They perform better than exotic plant varieties at supporting food “webs” and also require less water and fertilizer than lawns.

Bird watching for fun and education

Watching birds is a pleasant benefit of creating a backyard wildlife garden. In the Washington, DC metro area, avian standouts include the ruby-throated hummingbird and the Baltimore oriole, Maryland’s state bird.

baltimore oriole wildlife gardening

Hummingbirds appreciate the brightly-colored tubular-shaped flowers of the trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).

Baltimore orioles prefer insects, fruits and the leafy canopy of deciduous trees. They migrate to the area from Mexico and Central America, breeding and raising their young in the Southeast during the summer.

Contribute to scientific discovery or get certified

Become a community scientist and identify and count birds. The Audubon Society conducts a hummingbird “patch survey” to log hummingbird sightings. Learn more and get the free app at: Connect with nature and share your observations with another free app at: Finally, read more about creating a wildlife garden and be part of the National Wildlife Federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program.

Back to Blog List