Creating Habitats

Contributed by Jan Newton

A wildlife habitat provides four basic items: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. Remember, native and migrating wildlife depend on native plants for survival. Plant Native!

When designing a habitat:

  • Consider the types of wildlife that you wish to accommodate or attract and create your plan accordingly. For instance a butterfly habitat will need not only plants that provide nectar for the adult butterflies, but will also need host plants that provide food for the caterpillars, as well as shallow water sources, damp soil which provides minerals for adult butterflies, rocks or plant material for basking in the sun and shelter (which can be in the form of sturdy plants) to which the caterpillar can attach a chrysalis. A bird habitat would provide food in the forms of seeds, berries and fruit, also remember that birds feed their babies insects that feed on native plants; water for drinking and bathing; shelter and a place for nesting such as in trees, shrubs, bird houses and nesting boxes.
  • Consider whether you want a summer habitat or one that provides resources all year long. If you want an all-season habitat, keep in mind seasonal interest and seasonal needs of the particular types of wildlife that your habitat is for. For an all-season habitat, you would not only want to plant nectar and fruit producing flowers for the summer, but also provide nectar sources for the spring and fall and have some evergreen trees and shrubs that will offer shelter and beauty in the winter. Keep in mind that many plants produce seeds and berries that will provide food for wildlife in the fall and/or winter. Choosing a variety of native plants will help provide a habitat that will provide year-long shelter, food and nesting sites for a variety of wildlife species, increasing the biodiversity of the space.
  • Use regionally native plants as they provide proper nutrients and other benefits to local wildlife.
  • Consider the amount of sun and moisture that is available in the various areas of the site and choose plants that will work well in each situation. There are native plants that will suit just about all possible growing conditions. See our “List of Native Plants” and find plants that will satisfy your sun, moisture, height, bloom time and color requirements.
  • Consider the height and width of the plants at maturity when planning a habitat or garden.
  • Plant in groups of odd numbers. Keep in mind that using odd-numbers of plantings (i.e. 1, 3, or 5…) is more interesting and aesthetically pleasing than planting in even numbers. For instance plant three coreopsis plants, five butterfly weed plants, one New York ironweed and three sweet goldenrods.
  • Provide water with ponds, lakes, streams, birdbaths, water saucers, etc.
  • Provide shelter with trees, shrubs, hollow logs, a hedgerow, a meadow of wildflowers and grasses, birdhouses, bat houses, and nesting boxes.
  • Stepping stones invite folks into the habitat/garden as they are hard to resist!