Creating Gardens That Double as Habitat

May 5, 2019

Habitat gardens provide food and shelter for wildlife in the midst of human neighborhoods.
Credit Photo by David Mizejewski / National Wildlife Federation

Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to the diversity of plants and animals on Earth. Parks and wild lands are essential for conserving ecosystems. But it turns out our back yards and even urban balconies can also play an important role. 

“There are literally thousands of different ways that you could create this wildlife habitat garden, depending on how much space you have, what your budget is, what your aesthetic is, what kinds of wildlife you want to attract,” said naturalist David Mizejewski of the National Wildlife Federation.

In a newly updated version of Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Other Backyard Wildlife, Mizejewski provides practical tips and project ideas that create gardens that are not only beautiful, but also provide functional habitat for wildlife.

“Here in America, one third of species are at increased risk of extinction in the coming decades, including things like many songbirds, the monarch butterfly, […] bees,” Mizejewski said. “There's a real opportunity here to give a little bit back to the wildlife that used to live where we live.”

Mizejewski says that a yard that has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation through the Garden for Wildlife program can support a greater diversity of species and 50 percent more wildlife than a conventional suburban yard.

That doesn’t mean you’ll have moose or wolves roaming your yard. Insects, birds, and small mammals are the target for habitat gardening.

Whether it's an acre or a few containers, Mizejewski says there are just a few simple principles at the heart of habitat gardening, including:

  • Think about gardens as sources of food, water, shelter, and nesting places for small animals – as well as decorative spaces.
  • Only plant native species; remove and replace any introduced, invasive species.

Of course, with more wildlife around, Mizejewski also recommends critter-proofing your home by maintaining window screens and doing an annual check of the roofline and foundation to make sure there are no gaps.

“We love wildlife,” Mizejewski said. “We want to make sure it has a home and a habitat. We just don't want it living in our home.”