Native shrubs and grasses for wildlife


Shrubs and tall grasses are important elements of a backyard wildlife habitat because they provide food and places to hide from predators. And for some wildlife, also nesting places.


Use shrubs as a hedge or a background for colorful flowers. Thick, low-growing shrubs make excellent groundcovers. If you plant them in groups of three or more, they’ll be more visually appealing. Diversify your choices by height, width, character, foliage color, and time of fruit or seed production to assure eye appeal for you and high value to wildlife. Don’t overlook evergreens—they’ll provide tasty fall and winter berries and year-round cover. You needn’t tear out existing shrubs; as old unsuitable shrubs die, replace them with native species.

Tall grasses

Tall grasses are important as food and cover for wildlife. Plant them in groups of the same variety in a bed of their own, or use them as backdrops for flowers or along the perimeter of your yard. Let them stand over the winter as wildlife cover and to add interest to winter’s barren scenery. Then, cut them down in the spring to make way for new growth.

Some berry-producing shrubs are either male or female and will only produce fruit when planted near each other for fertilization. So buy them when they’re fruiting, if possible, to ensure you get both sexes. Or obtain a guarantee from the seller. As a general rule, you can buy fewer males than females. Female plants produce the berries, so there’s no need to plant more males than necessary. The supplier can tell you the exact ratio of males to females for each species.

Why native?

  • Wildlife seems to prefer them over cultivars.
  • It helps to ensure that native species continue to survive in a world where human development is killing them off.
  • Natives have been adapting over hundreds of years to your particular environment, which makes them hardier and less expensive to maintain.

Garden centers in your locale will probably only stock varieties suited to your particular environment, but you can also check hardiness zones to ensure you’re purchasing suitable shrubs and grasses. (Click here to use the interactive USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.) Be sure to take note of planting and care instructions shown on plants’ tags.

ShrubSuggested SpeciesLatin Name
BlackberryAllegheny, HighbushRubus spp.
BlueberryLow-bush, Black High-bushVaccinium spp.
ButtonbushCephalanthus occidentalis
ChokeberryPrunus virginiana
CoralberrySymphoricarpos orbiculatus
CurrantWild Black, GoldenRibes spp.
DeerberryVaccinium stamineum
DogwoodRedosier, Silky, GrayCornus spp.
ElderberryAmericanSambucus canadensis
Euonymus(Groundcover)Euonymus obovatus
GooseberryMissouri, PricklyRibes spp.
HawthornRosaceae crataegus
HollyDeciduousIlex decidua
Mountain Laurel(Toxic to humans)Kalmia latifolia
Oregon grapeMahonia aquifolium
RaspberryBlack, RedRubus spp.
RoseCarolina, Prairie, Swamp, MeadowRosa spp.
SalmonberryRubus spectabilis
ServiceberryJuneberry, Dwarf, DownyAmelanchier spp.
Snowberry(Mildly toxic to humans)Symphoricarpos albus
SpicebushLindera benzoin
SumacFragrant, Smooth, StaghornRhus spp.
ViburnumMapleleaf, Arrowwood, PossumhawViburnum spp.
Wild PlumPrunus americana
Wild StrawberryFragaria virginiana
WinterberryIlex verticillata
YellowrootXanthorhiza simplicissima
Grass speciesLatin name
Baker's CordgrassSpartina bakeri
Big BluestemAndropogon gerardii
Blue GramaBouteloua gracilis
BottlebrushElymus hystrix
BuffalograssBuchloe dactyloides
Giant Plume GrassSacharum giganteum
Hairy GramaBouteloua hirsuta
Indian GrassSorghastrum nutans
Indian Rice GrassAchnatherum hymenoides
Little BluestemSchizachyrium scoparium
Prairie DropseedSporobolus heterolepis
Purple LovegrassEragrostis spectabilis
River OatsChasmanthium latifolium
SwitchgrassPanicum virgatum
Tussock SedgeCarex stricta
Two-flowered Melic GrassMelica mutica
Vanilla Sweet GrassHierochloe odorata

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