How to Attract Helpful Wildlife to Your Backyard Garden
Butterflies should be a welcome addition to any garden. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but these gorgeous, brightly colored winged friends are invaluable for pollinating equally beautiful flowers.
Native Plants and Butterflies Depend on Each Other to Survive
Butterflies and native plants have evolved to need each other to survive. Plants provide the butterflies with nectar and a place to live and produce young. In return, butterflies spread pollen which helps the plants themselves to reproduce. To attract butterflies, make sure you're planting species of plants that are native to your area. (At the end of this article there is a link to a list of native plants by state. Check it out to be sure you're planting the right plants for your area!) Native species of flowers will likely be hardier and require less (or better yet, no) pesticides.
On the subject of pesticides, it's best not to use any pesticides or herbicides in your wildlife garden. Many pesticides are lethal to butterflies (and other wildlife as well!). Even some pesticides marketed as benign can be lethal to caterpillars. And no caterpillars = no butterflies.
Speaking of caterpillars...
To Attract Butterflies, Make Your Garden Caterpillar Friendly
The best way to draw in butterflies to your wildlife garden is to provide "host" plants for caterpillars. Female caterpillars lay their eggs on plants that their offspring eat. Though the caterpillars feed on the host plants, they don't tend to cause any kind of irreparable damage to them. Find out what kinds of butterflies are native to your area and plant the kind of plants those caterpillars like to eat. You're more likely to see butterflies in your garden if you provide support for them throughout their whole life-cycle.
Butterflies Need a Place in the Sun
Butterflies sun themselves in order to raise their body temperatures. Butterflies need a body temperature of over 86 degrees Fahrenheit in order to fly. In order to help your winged friends, choose plants that need to receive full sun for most of the day. That way, they can sun themselves while simultaneously feeding on nectar. Also consider providing some large flat rocks around your garden (in the sun of course) so your butterflies can bask in the warmth while they prepare for flight.
Butterflies like to Play in the Mud
Butterflies also love to rest in muddy areas. They drink the water and absorb amino acids, salt, and other mineral nutrients from the mud. It couldn't hurt to provide a constant source of mud for your butterfly garden. Fill a bird bath, or a shallow pan with course sand and dirt - and keep it moist.
- Plant brightly colored flowers that are native to your area.
- Try to plant a variety of plants that bloom at different times so that when one food source is withering, another is becoming available.
- In addition to nectar producing flowers, also plant food for caterpillars to munch on.
- Eschew pesticides and herbicides.
- Provide basking spots and plenty of moist muddy areas for resting butterflies to drink.
Bees are some of the hardest working little pollinators ever. Did you know that over 150 different types of agricultural crops that are grown in the US absolutely depend upon bees for fertilization? That's everything from peaches to almonds. It's been estimated that bees are responsible for pollinating about one third of everything we eat! Here's how to make space for bees in your garden.
Once Again, Go Native
Like butterflies and other pollinators, your local bees have evolved to drink from your local flowers. Plant a large variety of flowers and other crops that are native to your area. Once again, avoid using pesticides. Scientist believe certain pesticides to be at least partially responsible for the dwindling number of honey bee colonies - this is referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder.
Different Bees Nest In Different Places
About 40 percent of bees native to the US nest in dead trees and brush - these are Wood Nesters. The other 70 or so percent prefer to dwell in tunnels underground - these are called ground nesters. If you want bees to make their homes in your garden, consider keeping things a little disheveled. By leaving some dead wood and brush piles lying around, you have a better chance of bees choosing to nest in your yard. Try to locate your pile near a food source, as females prefer to settle down close to a food source after mating.
If you're feeling exceptionally crafty, you could try building a bee house. Often wood nesting bees like Mason Bees (also known as Orchard Bees), will readily take up residence in bee houses.
Bees Can Be Picky Eaters (Sometimes)
Choose single-flower plants for your bee garden. Single flower plants have only one ring of petals, making the nectar more easily accessible to your bee friends. Bees love wild-flowers and tend to be more attracted to purple, blue, and yellow - so try to plant a variety of those colors.
Some flowers bees especially like:
They are also attracted to flowers of vegetables, herb, and fruit plants, such as:
...so your gardening options are nearly limitless. Just be sure to check and see what plants grow best in your area.
- Plant native.
- Plant a large variety of flowers - or even fruits and vegetables.
- Don't use pesticides.
- Consider leaving a bit of a mess in your yard - such as brush or an old rotted log- for bees to make nests in.
- Think about building or buying a bee house.
They may not be pollinators, but toads can be more useful than you'd think to have around the garden. Some of a toad's favorite meals are common pesky garden pests such as earwigs and slugs. They often devour human-annoying pests - like mosquitos, as well. Scientist estimate that a solitary adult toad can eat over 10,000 insects over the course of the average summer. Here's some ways to coax them to into your wildlife garden.
Make Your Garden a Friendly Place For Toads
Frogs and Toads, like all amphibians, have permeable skin. This makes it particularly easy for toxins to sink it. That means pesticides are deadly to toads. Just don't use them. Your toad friends will happily consume your common garden pests, so chances are, you probably wont need any pesticides any way.
Build Your Toad a Lovely Abode
Toads differ from frogs in that they typically spend less time in water. Nevertheless, your toad friends will need a shallow water source to soak in. Fill a small plastic dish, or birdbath, or saucer of some kind or what-have-you, with water - and place it in a cool moist area surrounded by soil. You can improvise a little toad house with a terracotta pot turned on it's side filled with dirt. Alternatively, you could prop the pot upside down on some smooth flat rocks, leaving plenty of room for the toad to be able to crawl inside. Toads like to dig around, so this option is particularly nice for them.
Doing these things can make your garden more attractive to toads. However, it is not recommended to take toads or frogs from other areas and move them to your yard. More than likely they wont stay, and will try to go back to their original home. It's also a bad idea to buy toads, frogs, or tadpoles to raise in your garden - especially if you're not sure if the species is native to your area. There are some species of frogs and toads that are invasive, and will wreak havoc on an ecosystem they don't belong in.
...Or You Can Buy A Fancy Ornamental Toad Home for Your Garden.
Some Key Points
- Just say no to pesticides.
- Provide a moist earthy and private place for your toad.
- Keep it native - don't bring in outside species.
Bats have a completely unearned reputation for being creepy bloodsucking creatures of the night. In actuality, bats are creatures you'd want to have around in your wildlife garden. Out of over 1200 species of bats, only three of them consume blood, and (fear not), none of those bats live in the US. The vast majority of bats eat insects or fruit. A single bat can eat up to half it's body weight in insects per night - double that if it's pregnant or nursing young! Having bats around is like having 100% natural pesticide.
Attract Bats by Building or Buying a Bat House
To help attract bats to your garden, consider buying or building your own bat house. (Instructions to build your own bat house linked below.) When putting up a bat house:
- Remember that bats prefer them to be a bit warm. So make sure your bat house is indirect sunlight during the day.
- Make sure your bat house is reasonably close to a water source. Bats won't want to live somewhere too far from a cool drink.
- Remember that 'Bigger Is Better', a bigger house means more room for a mama bat and her pups.
- Try to mount your bat house away from potential predators, like snakes and cats.
- Expect bat poo (called guano) to build up inside the house. When bats are away, just scoop it out. Guano makes excellent fertilizer - you can add it to your garden if you wish.
...Or Purchase A Bat House Instead.
- NO PESTICIDES.
- Plant a variety of flowers and crops that are native to your area.
- Provide shelter for wildlife. (whether that be brush, dead wood, toad houses, or bat homes.)
- Provide water sources for wildlife. (mud puddles, tiny ponds, moist ground.)
- Provide food for wildlife. (Native plants for butterflies and bees. Bats and toads with eat pests that want to eat your plants.)
Once you have implemented all of these things, you can have your garden certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat! Once certified, you can acquire yourself a nifty sign to post in your garden, and be the envy of all of your neighbors.
© 2015 Erika Ford