- Author: Carol Nickbarg
- Contributor: Native Plant Subject Group
- Editor: Kamille Hammerstrom
Planning a Wildlife-Friendly Garden
- Observe your garden throughout the year. What types of desirable wildlife are already in your garden? Where in the garden do they appear: plant species/physical feature, shade/sun, feeding/nesting? Do they appear seasonally or year-round? Not all plants (even of the same species) or physical features are alike. For a plant species that thrives in either sun or part shade, one may be more favored than the other depending on the insect, bird or mammal using it. Likewise, birds may not perch on a snag fully exposed to strong winds, but may use the less exposed snag found only a few feet away.
- Research your area. What kinds of plants and wildlife are native to local areas similar to your property (climate, exposure, soil type, topography). Parks (state, county) and local wildlife organizations are wonderful resources, with downloadable lists and profiles of flora and fauna, often sorted by the different habitats found in local wildlands.
- Which wildlife species in your area would you like to see in your garden? Which need support and could benefit from your garden? Which plants and physical features would encourage their presence? Physical features need not be large or require major construction. Numerous small and simple features such as a pile of stones, a bee nest structure, a birdhouse can create benefits greater than the “sum of their parts.” What seems minor to us, e.g., a downed branch, may already be host to beneficial decomposers we can't see and used by other wildlife we can.
- Observe your garden again for undesirable plants, wildlife or features. Choose control methods that will not conflict with your wildlife-friendly goals, e.g., avoid herbicides for weed control, which may also harm desirable plants.
- Select suitable native plants or physical features. As your garden's overall diversity becomes richer, so will its range of potential habitats and wildlife. Make changes gradually, regardless of whether your garden is young, mature or somewhere in-between: introduce two or three native plant species at a time (vary understory height, flower size and shape, bloom time), two or three types of physical features at a time. For young gardens or gardens with low wildlife presence, start by encouraging insects, then move up in phases to birds, reptiles, small mammals as desired.
Research potential risks to family or pets associated with plants or wildlife you are considering for your garden. We provide the following links for you to research your questions about people, pets, and wildlife, but always check with your physician or veterinarian for the final word on potential risks.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- Bay Area Lyme Foundation
- Univeristy of California Division of Agriculture and National Resources (UCANR)
Check for unique behaviors when researching wildlife. For example, a seasonal pond may attract the Pacific treefrog (Pseudacris regilla), a favorite of this writer's but admittedly very vocal and very loud: one frog's “serenade” to another may become an unwelcome disruption of peace and quiet.
Always consult with relevant HOA, city, county and/or other agencies during your planning phase.
- Physical features
- Some features or changes (e.g., terracing, drainage) to your garden may require a permit.
- Some features, especially certain water features, may alter the ecology of your property: as plants and wildlife come to depend on the feature, governing agencies or other entities may not allow the feature to be removed later, even if the feature is man-made.
- Plant installation or removal: local urban forestry departments or other agencies may have preferred species or “avoid” lists for certain plants in your area; tree or other vegetation removal may require a permit.
Maintaining a Wildlife-Friendly Garden
- Regularly inspect any netting or structures to be sure birds, reptiles, small mammals have not become trapped.
- Regularly maintain birdbaths or other water features.
- Manually remove weeds and invasive plants.
- Practice integrated pest management.
- California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC)
- The Gardener's Guide to Common-Sense Pest Control: Completely Revised and Updated. 2013. William Olkowski, Sheila Daar, Helga Olkowski. Taunton Press.
- University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM)
References and Additional Resources
- Skippers, Encyclopedia of Life
- Pacific treefrogs, National Parks Traveler
This is the second of a two-part post. To read the first part or check out the rest of the references and resources for this post, visit Part I on our website.
For local inspiration, be sure to attend our 2017 UC Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay Garden Tour on September 9th, 2017. More information about the Garden Tour can be found here.
If you'd like to purchase any of the reference books mentioned, use our AmazonSmile account! It won't cost you anything but we'll get a small donation with each purchase made through our link. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog so that you receive an email notification when a new post goes up. If you have questions, contact us online, by phone or in person to get answers to your gardening quandaries!/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Carol Nickbarg
- Editor: Kamille Hammerstrom
- Contributor: Native Plant Subject Group
Extend Your Garden's Hospitality -- Go Wildlife-Friendly!
This is the first part of a two-part post. Look for Part II next week here on the blog.
What Makes a Garden Wildlife-Friendly
Habitat, habitat, and more habitat. For the garden, our notion of “wildlife” shifts from larger animals, such as foxes, bobcats, deer, to the other end of the size spectrum: tiny but exponentially more numerous creatures like soil bacteria, insects and spiders, plus reptiles, amphibians, birds and small mammals. A complete garden make-over is not at all necessary to be wildlife-friendly. Wise selection and placement of native plants and physical features (e.g., shelters, perches) can create habitat, and work together with your existing garden to add depth and breadth to your garden's ecosystem.
The Unique Relationship Between Native Plants and Wildlife
Insects and plants co-evolved over long periods of time, adapting in tandem to each other and to their shared environment. About ninety percent of insect species are specialists, drawn only to specific plant(s) for food or other needs. These insect-plant associations are critical, especially for insects that undergo metamorphosis and use different plants at different life stages, e.g., larval vs. adult. For the 10% of insect species that are generalists, those insects have evolved special adaptations that allow them to use a wide variety of plants.
Across plant species, not all leaves are created equal. Each species' leaves contain a unique set of chemical compounds which can attract one insect species but not another. The specific set of leaf compounds present determines 1) if native insects can find and recognize the plant, and 2) if the insect can use the plant for food or reproduction. For some wildlife species, a closely-related plant, whether native or non-native, may be a suitable alternative if the host plant is not available.
Our gardens are ecosystems. A healthy, sustainable ecosystem contains a diversity of plants and wildlife to meet the needs of its many inhabitants. For example, adult birds often favor berry-producing plants until reproduction, when they shift their diet to insects to obtain the protein they need for themselves and their young. However, many berry plants often do not host insect life when birds make this dietary shift. A single plant species, even if native, cannot necessarily support all life stages or habitat needs of the wildlife that use it.
Benefits to Your Garden and Community
Programs from the organizations listed below provide guidance and how-to's for integrating wildlife habitat into gardens. These programs can also spread the word in your community by certifying, and honoring with a public sign, gardens that meet criteria for being wildlife-friendly. Although these certification programs differ somewhat in their criteria, they all offer best practices that can help you, and inspire your community, whether your garden is an apartment balcony, or a generous front or back yard.
For local inspiration, be sure to attend our 2017 UC Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay Garden Tour on September 9th, 2017. More information about the Garden Tour is here.
References and Additional Resources
A Garden Guide To Beneficial Insects. Richard Merrill.
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded. 2009. Douglas W. Tallamy, Rick Darke (Foreword). Timber Press.
1. Wildlife-Friendly Gardens
Ecology for Gardeners. 2004. Steven B. Carroll and Steven D. Salt,Erroll D. Hooper Jr. (Drawings). Timber Press.
The California Wildlife Habitat Garden: How to Attract Bees, Butterflies, Birds, and Other Animals. 2012. Nancy Bauer. University of California Press.
2. Wildlife-Friendly Gardens – Organizations
Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District (plant and wildlife lists available only at park visitor centers)
4. Arboretums, Botanical Gardens and Museums
5. Medical and Veterinary
6. Maintaining a Wildlife-Friendly Garden
California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC)
The Gardener's Guide to Common-Sense Pest Control: Completely Revised and Updated. 2013. William Olkowski, Sheila Daar, Helga Olkowski. Taunton Press.
If you'd like to purchase any of the reference books mentioned, use our AmazonSmile account! It won't cost you anything but we'll get a small donation with each purchase made through our link. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog so that you receive an email notification when a new post goes up. If you have questions, contact us online, by phone or in person to get answers to your gardening quandaries!/h5>/h5>/h5>/h5>/h5>/h5>/h3>/span>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h2>
- Author: Kamille Hammerstrom
The California Wildlife Habitat Garden: How to Attract Bees, Butterflies, Birds, and Other Animals by Nancy Bauer. University of California Press, published in 2012, 232 pp.
This book is laid out in 5 chapters. First is a discussion of what constitutes a wildlife garden, with a garden profile of a Walnut Creek garden that illustrates the main principles (providing food, shelter, and water). The following 4 chapters each focus on different types of habitat gardens, including bird habitats, pollinator gardens, wildlife ponds, and front yard habitats, each with garden profiles and discussions of challenges and solutions the homeowners developed for their particular properties. Appendices include guidelines for wildlife gardens, native plant communities, uses of hedgerows, common California butterflies and host plants, and invasive pest plants, among other topics.
The book has several features that I really valued. First, there are lots of photographs. While I like the photographs as eye candy, I also like to see how different plants are layered to create a more complex habitat. That's probably my own biggest challenge as a new habitat gardener - figuring out how to create layers of different heights of plants to give visual depth and provide lots of places for birds and small animals to shelter. Second, I like that the properties featured are different sizes, from several acres to less than 1/4 acre. Not all habitat gardens have to be vast expanses of expensive property. There is real value in creating small but rich habitats that create connectivity across larger landscapes. Third, I like that each chapter focuses on a different type of habitat garden. Whether a reader's particular interest is butterflies or birds or even dragonflies, there's a discussion that will be helpful in creating or enhancing habitat. Finally, many of the featured gardens have been created over time. I'm as much a victim of instant gardening gratification as the next person, but it's comforting to see that a wonderful habitat can develop even one plant at a time, since sometimes one plant is all I can afford.
One subject did give me pause, probably because I tend to be a habitat purist. This book talks about the use of non-invasive non-native plants in the habitat garden. But being a purist is not always realistic or helpful. Blooming ornamentals can be a supplement to native plants to provide nectar and pollen for honeybees, other pollinators and beneficial insects. Seeds of composites such as sunflowers, zinnias, and coreopsis can provide food in the fall for juncos, finches, and other seed-eating birds. Flowers of many medicinal and culinary herbs are excellent nectar sources for all types of pollinators. And the more I thought about the use of non-native plants to supplement and extend the value of a native habitat garden, the more I could feel myself softening. I still believe that a garden composed of mostly native plants will provide the most beneficial habitat for wildlife, but this book convinced me that there can be value in carefully chosen ornamental plants as well. And that, dear readers, was a very valuable lesson about keeping an open mind, one that I hope I'll remember in the future.