Landscaping to attract Wildlife

Looking around to all the construction this summer, the loss of trees, shrubs, wetlands and grasses are having an impact on our environment and on our feathered friends.  All too often our local wildlife is finding themselves losing their habitat that they rely on for food, water and shelter.  Many gardeners include birdfeeders as part of their garden.  It doesn’t take a lot of work to take a corner of our garden and create a habitat or home for birds and butterflies.

Of course, the use of native plant material is often recommended.  Once established and growing in its appropriate place, native plants don’t necessarily need a lot of water, except under extreme drought conditions.  Native plants will benefit from natural compost and mulch applications and generally do not need chemicals.  The flowers, foliage and seeds are beautiful and beneficial as food and habitat for native wildlife.

Habitat Plan

The goal of landscaping to attract wildlife is to create a section of habitat that supports animal life.  A little bit of planning can go a long way.  A plan will save you time and money and the final product will be from one overall design.  Take a look at your garden and make a note as to what is there now, and then what should be in the ideal wildlife garden.  Your plan is what takes you from your existing garden to your overall vision.  Keep your project simple.  Don’t try to accomplish too much at once and don’t expect results overnight.  It will take time before trees mature and bear fruit.  In order to make the project manageable, break it up into several smaller tasks.

Basic Requirements

A successful wildlife garden provides three things:  food, water and shelter.  It is very important that these ingredients be available throughout the year.  Food and shelter can be supplied by the proper selection of plants.  A bird bath or small pool can be a water supply.

All wildlife species have somewhat different lifestyles and many change their needs with the seasons.  In order to provide a home for a greater variety of wildlife, ensure that there is a diversity of food and cover in the backyard habitat.

Individual shrubs and trees widely spaced over the property are of much lesser value as cover for wildlife than patches of plants.  Better shelter is provided by planting shrubs and trees in natural-looking clumps, hedgerows and thickets.  Leave open areas of grasses and flowers between these clumps.

Food and cover should be provided at a variety of levels.  The habitat should include a selection of grass, flowers, shrubs, small trees and large trees.  This will be attractive to more wildlife species.

The closer you live to a piece of native habitat, like a woodlot or field, the more wildlife you can expect to visit your property.  Flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds will require a sunny spot in your garden and butterflies especially will prefer a site also sheltered from the wind.

Plant Selection

Trees, especially evergreens are central to any wildlife landscape.  Evergreens provide year-round cover and produce cones as a food source for small mammals and songbirds.  Deciduous trees as a group provide a wider variety of food types but are best suited as summer cover and nest sites.  Many of the small fruit trees are good for both songbirds and small mammals.  Winter food sources are always important.

In some ways shrubs are more important that trees.  They can provide denser cover, reach maturity in a shorter time, are better for wildlife species that live near the ground and still provide a wide variety of food types.  Many of the berry-producing shrubs are important food sources for spring and fall migrant birds as well as local summer nesters.

Hummingbirds prefer red flowers but can also be attracted to orange and yellow varieties.  Masses of flowers will attract hummingbirds more successfully than single plants or small clumps.  Butterflies are more attracted to purple, blue, yellow and pink flowers.  Tubular flowers are preferred by butterflies.  Keep in mind that butterflies also need shelter, in the form of an open sunny area protected from the wind.

Benefits for the Gardener

The prospect of providing food and shelter to a variety of wildlife is exciting.  Take a photo every year from the same location in your garden, to record how your wildlife garden develops.  Keep records of the wildlife attracted to your landscape and see how this changes over the years.  Not only will you have benefited our environment and wildlife, you will have provided for you own enjoyment for years to come.

Landscaping for Wildlife by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Landscape Ontario

Trees and Shrubs that attract Wildlife


  • White Spruce (Picea glauca)
  • Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)
  • White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
  • Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis)


  • Maples (Acer)
  • Serviceberries (Amelanchier), fruit
  • White Birch (Betula)
  • Crabapples (Malus)
  • Oaks (Quercus)
  • Staghorn Sumac (Rhus), fruit and seeds
  • Mountain Ash (Sorbus), fruit
  • Nannyberry (Viburnum), fruit


  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
  • Dogwoods (Cornus)
  • Roses (Rosa species)
  • American Elder (Sambucus), fruit


  • Trumpet Vine (Campsis)
  • Bittersweet (Celastrus)
  • Virginia Creeper (Partenocissus)

Native plants to Ontario, Canada available at the Dufferin Garden Centre