Attracting Wildlife to Your Yard
Did you know that the monarch butterfly population has decreased from 1 billion to 33 million? This is a result of habitat loss, which is affecting many types of wildlife throughout Texas. As urban centers continue to expand into wildlife habitats and native plant species are replaced with non-natives, the resources that wildlife need for survival decrease. But, you can help restore habitat by creating a wildscape in your own backyard!
What is a Wildscape?
Wildscaping does not mean simply letting an area go wild. It means intentionally altering and maintaining habitat. An effective wildscape will provide all the three basic needs for wildlife—food, shelter, and water—in a way that they can readily use and easily access.
A Firewise Wildscape
Protect your home and community from fire, especially if your home backs up against large stretches of undeveloped land. If you live in one of these areas, you’ll need to maintain a buffer around your home, but you can still wildscape this area. In this buffer zone, use plants that retain their moisture, hardscape materials to create shelter, and supplemental feeders and water features. Close to your home, avoid plants that are highly resinous or dry quickly, such as juniper, yaupon, possum haw, rosemary, and grasses.
The following tips will help you get started with creating your very own wildscape. As you develop your design, ensure your plans will comply with any city, county, and neighborhood regulations. In addition to helping wildlife, remember, you are creating a wildscape for your enjoyment and that of your neighbors.
Native plants are the best choice for wildlife and they also offer many benefits to homeowners. Non-native species often require large amounts of water, fertilizer, and herbicides. Alternatively, native landscapes encourage the presence of native insects and microorganisms, which keep plants healthy without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They also generally require less water once they are established.
Choose species based on the soil, light, and water conditions of your site and for the size, shape, texture, and color you desire. For a more natural, successful, and easily maintained landscape, select species that grow together naturally. You may consider reducing turf areas in your yard and replacing non-native grass with native grasses, such as Buffalo. Find native plants for your area. Check out this plant list to get ideas for your wildscape.
Make Food Available
Use the following tips to help you select plants:
- Native plants that produce seeds, nuts, berries, and nectar are best for wildlife.
- Choose a selection of plants that bloom or fruit at various times of the year so there is always food for wildlife.
- Supplement natural food sources with feeding stations. Maintaining a feeder will not disrupt a bird’s migratory pattern. A well maintained, reliable feeder makes those that stay more comfortable. Missing a few days will not harm the birds.
It is important to provide a clean, reliable water source year-round. You can provide this in the form of a birdbath, shallow wildlife pool, pond, trough, or simple pan. Standing water will provide an unwanted breeding ground for mosquitoes. In order to prevent this, regularly change the water in any wildlife features. You can also use the nontoxic Bacillus thuringiensis, which you can find at most garden-supply stores. This larvicide is commonly called Mosquito Dunk®, but there are many products that contain Bacillus thuringiensis. It will not harm people, pets, plants, non-target insects, mammals, birds, or fish.
Use the following tips to create shelter for wildlife:
- Select plants of varying size and season to provide the most types of shelter.
- Include evergreen plants in your design. Since they keep their leaves all year, they will provide continuous cover for wildlife.
- Offer tall, medium, and short plants grouped together in a tiered arrangement.
- Snags, which are dead or dying trees, provide nesting sites. They can be left standing if they are in a safe location. If natural tree cavities are lacking, supplement with nest boxes.
- Layers of shelter and artificial nest sites such as rock walls, logs, brick piles, and stacked wood make excellent cover and homes for insects, reptiles, and small mammals. It is best to keep such cover several yards from the house.
Gardening for Specific Types of Wildlife
Some people want to attract specific types of wildlife to their yard. Below are some resources to help you select plants and develop a landscape for butterflies, bees, and birds.
- Explore gardening to attract Texas hummingbirds.
- Check out these resources from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to learn about butterfly gardening.
- Learn about five fall flowers that provide food for monarch butterflies as they migrate south for the winter.