About Native Shrubs in the Wildlife Garden

Release the Super Power

Shrubs are famous for creating year-round interest in the garden, with abundant flowers, unique fruit, brilliant fall color, and sculptural forms in winter. But native shrubs have a super power. Native shrubs are superior when it comes to creating habitat for wildlife. In both urban and rural settings, these shrubs can supply the food, cover, and nesting sites required for an array of wildlife. You can start to amplify biodiversity in your yard and release the super power of native shrubs by following a few clues found in nature.

Variety & the Seasons

Pollinators, birds, insects and mammals all derive sustanance from the flowers, fruit, nuts, leaves and wood of native shrubs. A variety of species will work better to address the needs of wildlife during different seasons of the year. The abundance of blooms on native shrubs make for easy and ample foraging for pollinators. Spring and early summer are the most common flowering times. The fruit and nuts that develop later in the season are important to migrating birds in the fall. Some shrubs retain their fruit through the winter and provide a critical food source during times of great scarcity. These fruits, possibly not as tasty, are ignored in the fall when other more desirable fruits and seeds are abundant. For example Highbush Cranberry fruits are passed over in the fall, but are important in the middle of winter. Black Chokeberries often remain on the bush until spring when they are consumed by the early spring migrants. To better support wildlife and pollinators throughout the year, plant a few different shrub species, whenever room permits.

Combine & Layer

Nesting sites, foraging cover, and shelter – native shrubs are essential to all three of these wildlife needs. Shrubs offer desirable nesting sites for numerous birds. Birds such as wrens, thrushes, juncos, and finches all nest in bushes and shrubs. You can maximize their foraging opportunities by planting native grasses and flowering perennials adjacent to the shrubs. When shrubs are surrounded by lawn the foraging opportunies are greatly diminished. Instead, let nature be your guide and plant your shrubs in groups, rather than individually. You can create more effective shelter, nesting and foraging opportunities with a grouped planting. A dense hedgerow is multi-functional. It creates a private setting, offers a windbreak and provides desirable cover for wildlife.

A variety of heights is also significant because different birds, and different wildlife in general, will forage for food and seek cover at different heights. Connecting a group of shrubs with an existing taller tree, is both efficient and effective for creating a wide range of heights in a planting. Whenever possible, combine a your shrub grouping with a tree and other perennials to create a richly layered environment.

Life Cycles & Underplanting

Trees and shrubs are host plants for numerous butterflies and moths. During their larval phase the caterpillars feed on the leaves. (Don’t worry about chewed leaves – they are simply signs of life.) After feeding on the foliage, many moth and butterfly caterpillars spend the next stage of their life cycle (pupae) in the leaf litter, or in the soil beneath the tree. It is critical that the environment beneath trees and shrubs supports the completion of these life cycles. When trees and shrubs are surrounded by lawn it create a precarious environment for the life cycle completion of numerous butterflies, moths and beetles. Since a significant number of caterpillars and other insects are required for each brood of nesting birds, underplantings are vital to lifecycle support.

Leave the Leaves

The importance of fallen leaves and other spent plant material, cannot be overstated. It is a passive storage phase for energy that is being transformed in the environment. The material is a mulch that enriches the soil and feeds growing plants. Leaf litter is home & shelter to numerous insects and they are critical members of the wildlife community. Nesting birds rely on insects, and insects are an important food source for many small mammals, as well. Fallen leaves harbor not only pupae & cocoons, but salamnders and toads too. “Leaving the Leaves” is an essential part of creating a beneficial wildlife environment.

Dead or fallen trees, branches and trimmed plant material also play a role in the wildlife garden. When room permits, create a brush pile with the dead branches and other plant material to offer shelter and nesting sites for small mammals.

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