Best Plants For a Wildlife Garden

Creating a wildlife garden can be a wonderful way to help support local wildlife and enjoy the beauty of nature in your own backyard. One key aspect of a successful wildlife garden is selecting the right plants.

Some plants are better than others at attracting and supporting a variety of wildlife, such as butterflies, bees, birds, and other small animals.

Let’s explore some of the best plants for a wildlife garden, along with tips for planting and maintaining them. Whether you’re an experienced gardener or just starting out, these plants can help you create a thriving, vibrant home for local wildlife.

Sunny wildlife garden with thristles in spring.

What is a wildlife garden?

A wildlife garden is a special kind of garden designed to provide food and shelter to local wildlife. It may include native plants, trees, water features, rocks and logs, bird feeders, bee houses, and other structures that help support animals’ natural habitats. Wildlife gardens can be small or large and benefit both people and animals alike.

What plants are best for a wild garden?

Many plants can be used to create a successful wildlife garden. Some of the best options include:

Native wildflowers

Wildflowers are easy to care for, come in various colors, and attract bees and butterflies. Wildflowers such as black-eyed Susans and coneflowers are excellent choices for a wildlife garden.


Grasses provide nesting material, shelter, and food to many types of birds and small mammals. Some common grasses ideal for a wildlife garden include switchgrass, little bluestem, and Indian grass.

Trees and shrubs

Trees and shrubs provide food and shelter for many species of birds and animals. Native trees such as oaks, maples, pines, willows, hickories, or sycamores are good wildlife garden choices. Shrubs like viburnum or highbush cranberry also make great additions.


Herbs are great for cooking and attract bees and butterflies and provide food to birds and other animals. Common herbs such as lavender, mint, thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary can all be used in a wildlife garden.

Ground covers

Ground covers provide ground cover and habitat to small animals, including birds. Some of the best ground covers for a wildlife garden include ivy, wild strawberry, vinca minor, and periwinkle.

Below is a table with 20 plant, shrub, herb, and tree names, heights, and their wildlife value:

Plant/Shrub/Herb/Tree NameHeight (ft)Wildlife Value
Blueberry3-6Attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Berries are eaten by birds and mammals.
Coneflower2-4Attracts butterflies, bees, and birds. Seeds are eaten by birds.
Coral Honeysuckle6-10Attracts hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. Berries are eaten by birds.
Spicebush6-12Host plant for spicebush swallowtail butterfly. Berries are eaten by birds and mammals.
American Hazelnut8-15Provides food and cover for birds and small mammals.
Butterfly Weed1-3Attracts butterflies and bees.
Wild Bergamot3-4Host plant and nectar source for many butterfly species. Attracts bees and hummingbirds.
Black-eyed Susan2-3Attracts bees and butterflies. Seeds eaten by birds.
Milkweed2-5Attracts butterflies, moths, bees, and hummingbirds. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves.
New England Aster3-6Attracts butterflies, bees, and birds.
Eastern Redbud15-30Nectar source for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals.
Wild Blue Indigo3-4Host plant for several species of butterflies. Attracts bees and birds.
Goldenrod2-5Late-season nectar source for bees and butterflies.
Southern Magnolia80-120Provides nesting sites for birds and cover for small mammals. Fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies.
Eastern White Pine50-80Provides nesting sites for birds and cover for small mammals. Seeds are eaten by many bird species.
Wild Ginger6-8Provides food and cover for small mammals.
Virginia Bluebells1-2Attracts bees and butterflies.
Black Cherry50-80Berries are eaten by birds and mammals. Supports insects that provide food for birds. Neighboring trees benefit from nitrogen-fixing ability.
Serviceberry15-25Attracts bees, butterflies, and birds. Berries are eaten by birds and mammals.
Mountain Laurel5-15Provides cover and nesting sites for birds. Fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies.

The heights provided are approximate and may vary depending on the growing conditions. When creating a wildlife garden, choosing various plants, shrubs, herbs, and trees that provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for wildlife throughout the year is important.

Tips for planting and maintaining a wildlife garden

Once you have chosen your plants, some steps should be taken to ensure your wildlife garden is successful:

  • Plant in drifts or masses instead of rows to create natural-looking groupings.
  • Mulch around plants to help maintain moisture levels and control weeds.
  • Leave dead logs or brush piles as nest areas for wildlife.
  • Provide water sources such as bird baths or shallow water dishes for birds and other animals.
  • Avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as these can be toxic to wildlife.

With a little bit of planning and care, you can create a beautiful wildlife garden that will be enjoyed by both you and the local wildlife. Some patience and dedication are all it takes to enjoy the beauty of your garden for years to come!

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What is the best garden for wildlife?

The best garden for wildlife is one that is filled with native plants that provide food and shelter for animals. Plants that produce nectar and pollen, such as goldenrod and aster, attract bees and butterflies. Native perennials like lupine and geraniums also support many species of pollinators and other insects.

It’s important to choose plants that are best suited for the local climate and soil conditions. Planting various plants that bloom at different times of the year will provide food for wildlife year-round.

A wildlife-friendly garden also includes features like bird feeders and water sources. By choosing the right plants and providing a welcoming environment, a garden can become a thriving habitat for diverse wildlife.

What is the best tree to plant for wildlife?

When it comes to planting trees for wildlife, choosing native species is always the best option. These trees have co-evolved with native animals and insects, providing important shelter and food sources. The best trees for wildlife are those that offer year-round protection and shelter, as well as fruits, nuts, and seeds for nutrition.

Some top choices include red cedars, oaks, willows, beech, and native cherry or plum trees. Conifers like ponderosa pines and longleaf pines also make excellent choices, while cottonwoods are great for riparian habitats. Ultimately, the best wildlife trees will depend on the local ecosystem, so be sure to choose species that thrive in your area.

How can I make my yard good for wildlife?

Creating a wildlife-friendly yard is a great way to support the local wildlife. You can start by providing easy access to your yard, habitats for various insects and mammals, a source of food and water, and safe places for shelter and breeding. Telling up your whole yard to create a wildlife garden is unnecessary.

Even small yards or apartment balconies can attract wildlife by adding a bird feeder and nesting boxes, planting grasses, shrubs, and trees for shelter, and providing a clean water source. Choosing the right plants that support wildlife species can also make a big difference.

Importance of Wildlife-Friendly Plants in Gardens

Wildlife-friendly plants in gardens are essential for a healthy and diverse ecosystem. By choosing to grow these plants, one can help attract a range of insects, birds, and mammals. Proper management of green spaces can significantly impact the natural world.

Planting nectar-rich flowers can help attract pollinators to the garden while also providing essential compounds such as caffeine and reducing gut parasite load in bees.

Shrubs, climbers, perennials, pond plants, and even lawns can all be made more attractive to wildlife with the right selection of plants.

Native species of trees and flowers are especially beneficial as they provide caterpillar food plants and seeds for birds.

Top 10 Woody Plants for an Ecosystem Garden

Choosing the right plants for an ecosystem garden can be a daunting task. The number one question people often ask is, “What should I plant?” To answer this, one must consider several factors, such as soil type, moisture, amount of sunlight, and temperature.

Native plants for ecosystem gardening are often the best choice since they support many wildlife species. The top ten woody plants for an ecosystem garden, as determined by Doug Tallamy and Kimberley Shropshire, include Oaks, Prunus, Salix, Betula, Populus, Malus, Acer, Vaccinium, Alnus, and Carya. These plants provide food and habitat for various animals throughout the year.

Best Herbaceous Species for Wildlife Gardens

The best herbaceous species for wildlife gardens have been chosen based on a study by experts in the field. Goldenrod, Aster, and Sunflower are the top three plants that support the most Lepidopteran species, which are highly studied and, therefore, a reliable indicator of plant use by other insects and wildlife.

Other top species include Joe Pye, Morning Glory, Sedges, Honeysuckle, Lupine, Violets, and Geraniums. It is important to choose the native species of each of these plants to match your area and conditions. Planting these species in your garden provides essential elements for wildlife and creates a haven for nature.

Importance of Choosing Native Species

Choosing native species is of utmost importance when creating a wildlife-friendly garden. Native plants not only provide an ecological basis for life to thrive, but they also support the local wildlife. Birds, for instance, cannot survive without native plants and the insects that co-evolved with them.

In fact, research has shown that one native oak tree supports over 500 species of caterpillars, while commonly planted ginkgos host only five. Exotic plants, conversely, sever the food web and become invasive pests, out-competing native species and degrading habitats.

So, by selecting native plants in your landscaping decisions, you can help birds and other wildlife thrive.

Best Plants for Butterflies, Bees, and Other Pollinators

One of the best ways to attract pollinators to your yard is by planting nectar and pollen-rich flowers. A mix of annuals, perennials, and shrubs will provide a consistent food source throughout the growing season. Some great options for attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators include wildflowers, old-fashioned varieties of flowers, dill, fennel, and milkweed that butterfly larvae feed on.

Going organic when cultivating your garden is important since many pesticides, even organic ones, are toxic to bees and other beneficial organisms. Consider providing shelter, food, water, and even backyard beekeeping. You can create an inviting habitat for important pollinators with some effort and the right plants.

Benefits of Nectar to Pollinators

Pollinators are crucial in our ecosystem and pollinate most of the world’s crops. Nectar is an important energy source for these hardworking insects, including bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and wasps. Plants that produce nectar provide food for these pollinators and attract them to your garden.

Nectar is rich in sugars and other nutrients, which help to keep these insects healthy and strong. By planting nectar-rich flowers in your garden, you can help support these important creatures and ensure they continue to thrive.

A close up of a monarch butterfly perched on a purple flower.

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