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Let wildlife call your landscape home

By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia

It seems a little strange writing a landscaping article about attracting wildlife. I’ve spent much of my career telling folks how to keep critters out of their landscape.

As a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist, I get lots of questions about how to stop deer from eating flowers and how to deter squirrels from digging up bulbs.

Lately, however, I’ve seen a noticeable shift in landscape- and wildlife-related calls. People actually want to encourage wildlife into their landscape and enjoy bragging to neighbors and family about furry creatures visiting their landscape and feeders. As a wildlife enthusiast, I think this is a great trend.

You can have an attractive landscape and still make it eco-friendly for wildlife. You just have to realize that some plants are like salad bars to deer.

All animals look for three critical elements: food, water and shelter. Many landscape plants add beauty to your landscape while providing one or more of the basic elements.

Water is critical. Incorporate a water element by adding a small pond and a few bird baths. Deer, raccoons, birds and opossums are just a few of the critters that may visit your landscape watering hole.

Ponds don’t have to be large or fancy. Water tubs from farm supply stores or even metal wash tubs placed into holes dug in the ground make a miniature oasis for many animals.

To help fight evaporation and keep the water cool, put bird baths in the shade.

Food is the next major element to attract wildlife. Depending on what wildlife you like and what lives nearby, many different plants can draw them into your landscape.

Birds love to feast on berry-producing plants. Consider shrubs that fruit, such as Japanese hollies, inkberry, phyracantha and wax myrtle. There are many others to choose from.

Squirrels and deer appreciate nut-bearing trees such as oak, hickory and Chinese chestnut. It’s also good to include some fruit producers like crabapple, plum and persimmon trees or muscadine vines.

If you have room, plant a small food plot of wheat, clover, rye or oats to attract deer or turkey. Planting these near escape cover encourages daylight feeding. A one-eighth to one-fourth acre food plot provides a good food source year ‘round.

I set a digital trail camera close to my food plots to capture images of what visits when I’m not around. These cameras, available at sporting goods stores, are fun and easy to use.

Humming birds are also fun to watch and are easy to attract. Humming birds love plants that flower for a long time. They prefer trumpet-shaped blooms. Vines such as trumpet creeper, honeysuckle, crepe myrtle, or Carolina jasmine bring them in. You can add hummingbird feeders visible from your window.

Set up feeders for birds, squirrels and whatever else shows up. There are many great feeder designs out there to compliment any landscape design. I like natural looking wooden feeders.

Cover or shelter is the final element that wildlife needs. They need a place to escape from enemies, find refuge from weather and feel secure while they rest.

Different animals need different types of cover. Woodpeckers and flying squirrels like dead trees. Rabbits make nests in tall grass and weedy areas. Deer like to spend their afternoons in a secure shrubby area.

Include trees, bushes, brush piles and rock piles to attract more wildlife. Place different sizes of bird houses around the landscape, too, to bring in feathered friends.

Provide water, food and shelter, and your landscape can quickly become a wildlife sanctuary.

(Bob Westerfield is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.)

(Bob Westerfield is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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