Native plants contribute to a backyard wildlife habitat in the best possible ways. They’re beautiful. They evolved over hundreds of years in lockstep with other living things in a balanced native ecosystem, so they require less maintenance, less fertilizer, less water. They present a naturalized look and feel to a backyard. Most importantly, they provide exactly what urban wildlife clamors for — nectar, berries, seeds and cover.
If wildflowers are just a bit too wild-looking for your taste, then mix them in groups among hybridized species or even plant them behind tamer-looking varieties. Above all, don’t leave them completely out, they’re essential sources of nectar and seeds for birds, including hummingbirds, mammals, butterflies and other insects.
Wildflower plants and seeds are available through many sources: Garden centers carry them (although choices are usually limited). Local farmers’ markets often have sellers of homegrown plants and seeds. The internet has many wildflower nurseries listed. Local native plant clubs exchange seeds and plants. If you’d like to take seeds from the wild, be sure to collect them responsibly. And, never take an entire plant, their numbers are dwindling (in some cases, drastically) as native habitat is converted for urban use.
The following list isn’t complete — there are many more native species that do well in a backyard environment. Check with your County Extension Service or garden center for a list of best native species for your location.
*Top photo: Perennials in a naturalized garden. (© Brenda Carson)