By Leah Rambadt, American Forests

Interested in helping local wildlife reclaim habitat space? Then create your own wildlife habitat garden!

Wildlife habitat gardens are accessible to wildlife all year round. Here are some considerations and preparations you should go through when planning and maintaining your garden.

A backyard converted into a National Wildlife Federation-certified wildlife habitat garden. Credit: Marie T. Reamer

Consider the Basics

A wildlife garden begins with your plants, since you’re trying to replicate pre-development land conditions. When you plant native plant species wildlife depend on, you create a habitat that starts restoring your local environment.


While this may seem obvious, it’s important to be aware of your location and the amount of space available in your yard. Design your wildlife garden to target specific wildlife based on the space available. For example, if you live in the city, you can target invertebrates, small animals and birds.

Create wildlife corridors by planting in open areas of your lawn. This will encourage invertebrates and other small animals to move around more. Instead of fences, you can also plant hedges as borders to act as corridors and cover for various wildlife. Flowering hedges, which grow berries in the fall and winter, can act as a food source for birds.

Be aware that overcrowding your garden can be just as harmful for wildlife movement as providing minimal plant-life for coverage.


Native plants provide nectar, seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, foliage, pollen and insects for wildlife.

A bee pollinates a hawthorn blossom. Credit: Crataegus Monogyna

When you decide to plant native plants, it may seem harmless to grow plant species not native to your local area. However, doing so can negatively affect the local wildlife. You should only plant local, native species in your garden, since they are the ones local pollinators have evolved to rely on.

To find out the types of plant-life native to your area, search the National Wildlife Federation‘s (NWF) plant-finder database or search the web.

While choosing what to plant, consider the types of wildlife you want to attract, and learn their habits. This will allow you to accurately select the best plants to include in your garden. You should plant a variety of vegetation for all seasons, so wildlife will have food all year round.

Feeders can supplement natural food sources. By regularly providing a diversity of food, your garden can attract a range of birds. Make sure to provide a cover to keep squirrels from raiding the feeders.


Provide a water source. Birds may also use a water source as a birdbath, while various insects may use it for a breeding ground. The container should have sloped sides to allow easy access.

The trick to providing good cover for wildlife is resisting the urge to completely clean your yard. Some of the “mess” you leave behind makes a good shelter for wildlife.

  • Soil: Unless you’re planting, don’t dig your garden soil, and lay down compost on top to increase the invertebrate (earthworm and beetle larvae) population. This also provides a foraging site for birds like robins.
  • Vertical Space: If you have space, you can encourage winged and crawling wildlife into an urban garden on a wall (i.e.: insect hotel, climbing vines).
Insect hotels hanging on walls saves yard space while still providing a habitat. Credit: RBC Blue Water Roof Garden
  • Garden Glade: Plant woodland flowers in succession under trees to provide shelter for invertebrates and frogs.
  • Piles: Put logs and piles of sticks under bushes and around garden edges to provide shelter for a variety of animals. Grow ivy or place sods of earth on top for humidity. Compost, trimmings, and decomposing and discarded garden off-cut piles work as well.
  • Lawn: Keep the center of your lawn short for foragers, and leave the edges long for the invertebrates.

Most of the habitats listed above are good locations for wildlife to raise their young. You can also provide birdhouses or nesting boxes for birds. Keep in mind that some species of wildlife need a completely different habitat during their juvenile phase than they do as adults.

An eastern bluebird uses a nest box to shelter its young. Credit: Hazel Erikson/Audubon Photography Awards

Sustainable Practices – How to Manage Your Garden

  • Native plants should be of genuine native stock, not of continental origin. The wildflowers should also have been cultivated from legally collected seed, not dug up from the wild.
  • Avoid using peat.
  • Find alternative forms of compost.
  • Collect rainwater to refill your water sources.
  • Recycle: Use reclaimed, old materials when building raised borders and other garden structures.
  • Avoid using pesticides and use non-toxic, non-chemical alternatives.


What You Can Do Now – Spring Preparation

Late fall through early spring is the best time to sow seeds of various native wildflowers that support wildlife, such as birds and bees. Planting these seeds increases local genetic diversity, since most garden centers only sell plants selected and cloned for certain characteristics (e.g., color).

You can get seeds from your backyard, native plant societies, garden clubs, nature centers, and NWF community habitat groups. Plant these seeds outside (times vary by species) to let them germinate.

Good luck with your garden this year!