5 Ways Your Garden Can Support The Local Wildlife

How your gardening habits can help make a happy, healthy home for (the right kinds!) of birds and bugs.

February 15, 2017
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Although the garden may be the place you go to escape the chatter of normal life, you’re not the only one enjoying it. Earthworms wriggle below, wrens flit above, squirrels scamper in the trees, and butterflies waft from bloom to bloom. Every choice you make—to plant something native, or not, to use chemical fertilizers, or not—gets registered by the area’s local wildlife. Constantly on the lookout for food, shelter, and appropriate nesting habitat, they’re always watching and experiencing the repercussions of your actions.

Here are five things you can do to support local wildlife through your gardening habits. 

(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how; get your copy today!)

compost pile
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Compost isn’t just good for your tomatoes: the crumbly black stuff benefits all stripes, shades, and sizes of wildlife, from the microscopic to the mammalian. Using compost in your beds will encourage the flourishing of a whole host of beneficial fungi, which have been shown to boost plant growth (and in turn make the soil’s community of insect decomposers ultra happy, and more productive). More activity in the soil equals more furred and feathered activity above ground, too. Homemade compost is far superior to chemical fertilizers, many of which are petroleum-derived, as well.

Related: 7 Things You Need To Know To (Finally!) Start Composting


neat lawn
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Don't Be A Neat Freak

Your mother may have found your persnickety habits desirable at home, but the wildlife thinks otherwise. Throw away the leaf blower, stop trimming spent flower heads, and quit mowing the lawn so much! Wildlife—of all shapes and sizes—live in this detritus. It’s here they find food, and often, a place to hibernate: Praying mantids use old stalks on which to lay their foamy egg capsules, salamanders burrow beneath leaf litter, and birds clean up the insects that take cover beneath a scraggly lawn. (Here are 6 things you should never feed backyard birds.) Especially in the non-growing season, give your inner neat freak a rest and indulge in a little fruitful chaos. 

bird eating suet
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Feed The Birds

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states that up to 60 percent of migratory birds return to the same area they last over-wintered—if they survive their first year, that is. Birds have an incredibly detailed map in their heads that helps guide them to territories where food and water have been available in the past. During the winter, place a dish of water in your yard (because, although there’s snow, the birds can’t drink it) and several sources of fat like peanut butter or suet along with an offering of different sized seeds (for different sized beaks). The birds will take note, and remember.

Related: How To Make Migratory Birds Fall In Love With Your Backyard

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Embrace Diversity

Ecologist Doug Tallamy estimates that exotic garden ornamentals support 29 times less biodiversity than native plants do. A single oak tree alone provides food for over 500 different species of insects, which in turn are eaten by a colorful plethora of birds. Add flowering dogwood, and gain another 117 different species of insects. The take home message? Keep your gardens diverse, and native —at least in part—and the wildlife will thank you.

bee box
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Give Them Shelter

If you haven’t already, hang up some habitat boxes for pollinators and other wildlife. Many pollinators, like the monarch butterfly and European honeybee, are in decline around the globe and need a little extra help to survive. Bee boxes provide crevices for native bees, like the squash bee or miner bee (and both are more effective pollinators for your garden than the European import), while bat boxes create a warm and dry space for— you guessed it— bats to hang out. Bats provide important mosquito control, consuming thousands and thousands of the blood-sucking insects each summer, but are threatened by a fungus called white nose disease, which often kills them. Give a little back to these friends of the garden and offer safety and shelter this year. (And try these 5 ways to attract bats to your backyard.) 

Related: 5 Cool Ways To Make A Beehive