My Top Tips for a Wildlife-Friendly Garden

Create a welcoming, biodiverse garden that benefits all animals that inhabit it.

beehive surrounded by wildflowers

Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images

When people talk about creating a wildlife-friendly garden, they often focus on small additions like nesting boxes, feeders, or bug or bee "hotels." These things are beneficial; however, if you really want to create a wildlife-friendly garden, it is important to go back to basics. 

Digging down and thinking about the soil, water, and plants is the best way to get a biodiverse garden that is both attractive and beneficial to the other creatures with whom we share our space. 

Care for the Soil

When you think about wildlife in your garden, your mind may turn first to bees, butterflies, birds, and other very visible creatures within the garden ecology. But it important to remember that much of the wildlife we want to attract to our gardens is not immediately visible, and may not even be visible to the naked eye. Every handful of healthy soil teems with life, and the soil biota is crucial to the garden as a whole.

It all comes back to the soil. If the soil does not thrive and we do not take steps to protect and improve it, plants can suffer, which has a knock-on effect on all life within the ecosystem, including us. 

Operating a no-dig system and caring for the soil is one of the most important fundamentals in creating a truly wildlife-friendly garden. It should go without saying, but it is vital always to garden organically. Avoid all harmful synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers—and work with nature rather than fighting it within your space. 

Manage and Use Water Effectively 

Most wildlife in your garden relies on water as much as you do. So before you even begin to think about plants and other elements to add to a wildlife-friendly garden, it is important to make sure you manage and use water effectively within the space. Finding ways to catch and store rainwater within plants and soil is crucial, no matter how much rain can be expected in your area.

In many settings, creating a wildlife pond is a wonderful idea. An appropriately planted pond offers a wonderful habitat for a range of creatures, and makes sure that there is an accessible water source.

Aim for Diverse Planting

Choosing plants that are appropriate to place is crucial, as is ensuring that plant choices are as diverse as possible. Remember, however, that diversity is not about cramming in as many different plants as you can. It is about thinking holistically and considering how the plants interact with each other, and with wildlife in the space.

Choose flowering plants that bloom over as much of the year as possible. Select plants with different root forms, growth habits, and other characteristics. Develop diverse schemes in which all elements work together. Find syntropy (when things are wholesomely associated with each other) in systems.

Choose Plenty of Native Plants

To aid local wildlife, it is always a good idea to incorporate plenty of native plants into any scheme. Non-native species (those that are non-invasive) can sometimes be beneficial; but it is important to remember that native wildlife has evolved in tandem with native plants, so they can often confer benefits to local wildlife that non-native plants cannot. 

Remember, some of the most wildlife-friendly native plants in an area can be considered "weeds." Make space for weeds in your garden and don't be too quick to get rid of them from all your spaces.

Create as Many Different Habitats as Possible

Finally, your goal in a wildlife-friendly garden should be to create as many different habitats as you can. Of course, some will be created through the tips mentioned above. Ponds and other water sources, rain gardens, perhaps boggy areas or wetlands,  are created through water management earthworks. Planting obviously creates even more habitats.

For example, you might create forest or woodland zones, fruit trees and guilds, hedgerows, wildflower meadows, perennial borders, etc. You will companion plant and create polycultures in food-producing areas. 

Further to these things, those looking to create wildlife-friendly gardens can make brush piles, dead hedges, stump gardens, rockeries. Placing natural materials will provide shelter and habitat to many creatures. Maximize the edges—the most productive and biodiverse part of any ecosystem—and your garden should attract many different creatures, making them all feel at home. 

Before you think about adding extras like boxes, feeders and bee "hotels," it is important to make sure you have the basics in place for a truly wildlife-friendly garden.