Start Growing Your Own Urban Wildlife Habitat Garden


Start Growing Your Own Urban Wildlife Habitat Garden

When a garden matures it naturally becomes a home and haven to creatures both wanted and unwanted.

A Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching on a Bronze Fennel flower in a downtown Silver Spring, MD, garden. Credit Kathy Jentz


Posted 10 August 2011, by Kathy Jentz, SilverSpringPatch (Patch Network),


Eileen Schramm lives on Boundary Avenue and is elated when the resident catbirds return every year and the robins follow her around her garden as she digs, looking for newly turned up grubs. But that joy can be a little overshadowed by the starlings who steal all her figs and the squirrels that gnaw on her green tomatoes.

When a garden matures it naturally becomes a home and haven to creatures both wanted and unwanted. From tiny aphids to grazing deer, not all wildlife is welcome in our garden. Too bad we can’t have a muscled bouncer with a clipboard and velvet rope at the entrance to our Eden, checking his list for only the approved wildlife visitors. What we can do is make our gardens more welcoming to certain species of wildlife and less to others.

Here are a few tips to make your home garden more hospitable to wildlife:

  • Do not use chemicals. Pesticides, herbicides, inorganic fertilizers, etc. should be banned from your garden.
  • Reduce your turfgrass lawn. Create dense shrub and perennial borders for birds and other creatures to make a home in.
  • Add running water. Until I added a pond and fountain to my garden I had hardly any visiting creatures outside of the usual city-bred kind. Once that pond went in, it was like a magnet for all kinds of wildlife from dragonflies to songbirds.
  • Feed their babies. Install not only those plant species that feed grown wildlife such as nectar flowers for butterflies, but also those plants that are hosts to their young such as milkweed, mallows, clover, and thistles.
  • Tolerate some imperfection. This means when the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars hatch and start chewing away on your willow, poplar, or alder, you must resist the urge to remove them if you want the grown butterflies to live in your garden and come back to lay their eggs later in the season.
  • Feed the birds year-round. Maybe cut-back or vary the diet you feed in spring or fall, but do put something out so they make a habit of stopping by.
  • Keep your domestic pets indoors. Creating a wildlife habitat is not fair if it is a trap for a hunting dog or cat.
  • Leave the seed heads on and perennial plants up throughout winter. A tidy garden is not a hospitable garden. Resist the urge to pick up every leaf, twig, and fallen seed immediately. They are needed for shelter, food sources, egg laying, and burrowing under.

For more information on wildlife gardening and to get your garden officially certified as a wildlife habitat, visit the National Wildlife Federation.
Kathy has a certified wildlife habitat garden and enjoys visit by many butterfly species. She is the editor of Washington Gardener magazine and a long-time D.C. area gardening enthusiast. Kathy can be reached at and welcomes your gardening questions.



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