Native shrubs and grasses for wildlife


Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard habitat is not only beneficial for the Earth but also essential for supporting local wildlife populations. By incorporating a variety of native shrubs and grasses into your landscape, you can provide food, shelter, and protection for various species. From offering berries for birds to creating hiding spots for small mammals, these plants play a crucial role in supporting biodiversity right in your own yard. Below is a curated list of wildlife-friendly shrubs and grasses, along with some planting tips to make them visually appealing to you, too.


Use tall shrubs as a hedge or a background for colorful flowers. Thick, low-growing ones make excellent groundcovers. Plant shrubs in groups of three or more to 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 for birds 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. 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 plants?

  • 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 to your particular environment for hundreds of years, 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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