A Native Garden

Habitat Gardening

In the simplest form a habitat is a welcoming area for a specific life form.  To encourage a particular life form you should attempt to provide as many of your chosen occupant’s specific necessities as possible.

In the beginning you will want to concentrate on one specific life form and do it successfully.  Once that habitat is in place you can see if there are any other creatures which will live in harmony with your 1st chosen occupant.  You don’t want your avian friends looking at your caterpillars or butterflies as a nice supplement to their diet.  You may not want the caterpillars consuming the plant you wanted for the humming birds.


Here are the key elements to any habitat.


  • What will your chosen occupant need to eat? 
  • How often?
  • How many varieties?


  • Protection from the elements
  • Protection from predators
  • Protection from competitors
  • Nesting sites


  • Running or still?


Who’s coming to dinner?

HummingbirdsWho are you encouraging to live with you?  Will you encourage wild life or are you going to acquire a friend? If you are importing an animal you will also want to ensure that that animal cannot roam away from the sanctuary of your habitat.

What plants can you provide to encourage your new friends?

When planning a habitat garden you will want to know what your chosen occupant likes to eat.  Will the occupant consume the plant or just use the nectar?  Butterflies may do both at different times of their lives sometimes it’s the same plant and others have different food needs at different stages.  Try to provide both to keep your guest around for a longer time. 

If you are encouraging birds know what they will eat and when it will be available.  Humming birds need small insects and nectar all year long so you will want to look for plants which have long blooming periods.  However, few plants bloom all the time, so include in your design a variety of plants that bloom at different times of the year.  Just as you like berry season or winter squash your visitors will appreciate the variety you provide.  Song birds like seeds and fruit so provide grasses with seeds they will enjoy and fruiting plants for a long season of forage.  Specific plant lists are at the end along with web sites specific to certain animals.

For butterflies will find your plants more easily if they are grouped together to form a large mass rather than single plants scattered over you yard.

Will your occupant need food sources other than that which your garden can provide? 

How will you provide that food so that you are not encouraging gate crashers?  You would not feed your other domestic pets outside as that will encourage visitors who can become problems, such as Coyotes, raccoon, opossum, rodents, snakes.  However if your occupants are rabbits, birds or amphibians you will have to address where they will eat and how to prevent intruders. 

Bird feeders should be on a raised platform at least 5’ above the ground and so situated that a cat or squirrel cannot jump to it from a wall, tree, house roof  or slope.  A hungry cat or squirrel will leap 10’. 

Turtles, lizards and bunnys must have forage at the ground level.  You might consider penning them during the feeding time.  Give below ground, side and overhead protection.  Cayotes will dig and leap over low wire fences and hawks and owls will swoop into an open pen to choose their special meal.  For some animals you can create a small house where the opening is large enough for them to enter but too small for the unwanted guest.  The cat houses at the marina are a good example.  They allow the cats to enter, but are raised to keep out the squirrels and too small for most dogs.


Where will they sleep?

nestingYour new guests will stay around more if you can provide them a safe haven for snoozing, nesting and protection.  A perfectly groomed yard is less inviting than one where they can find a small pile of leaves to forage in and use for nesting. Cut flower stalks will continue to provide seeds if left to dry in a secluded corner.  Learn what your chosen visitor will need.  Many birds require small twigs and string to create their nests. 

Humming birds like tall trees where they can view the surrounding neighborhood.  They like to nest in tall cactus or high eaves.  Butterflies like a warm rock to rest on and and open area to flit about.  Most pretty bird houses will be ignored by your feathered friends.  Most birds have very specific requirements for homes and where they are located.  Find out exactly what they want and you will have more success encouraging them into your yard.  Frogs and toads like quiet damp areas. Create a toad house by chipping a notch out of an old flower pot saucer and place it upside down under a bush.  You’d be amazed a just how small an opening they require.  They love to hide inside underground meter boxes and they burrow into the soil during the winter.



birdsAll creatures require access to water.  Many have very specific requirements.  Often you can just provide a saucer of water in a quiet secluded area.   Be consistent about having water available and keep the bowl full and clean.

 Humming birds love hoses and water fountains.  They love to buzz in and swirl around the mist.  Often when I water my containers with a hose a hummer will zoom in and hover face to face and chitter away.   If you have a fountain with a basin place a stone in the basin so that it is free of the water by about 1”.  Most birds like a shallow bird bath and the stone gives them something to on which to perch.  If you are using a bird bath clean the bath daily and position it away from walls or overhanging trees where predators can lurk and away from the mid-day sun which will over heat the water and encourage alga to grow.  Find out what your occupant likes and you will be rewarded by being able to watch them from a short distance. 

For vertically challenged visitors place a low bowl or saucer in a shady area where you can exclude predators.  Make sure the rim is low enough for them to reach inside.


A bundle of joy!

Baby BirdsOnce you have attracted your chosen occupant and provided them with the necessities the will often proceed to produce offspring.  Butterflies, birds and reptiles will lay eggs.  The birds will stay with the eggs and tend the fledglings.  If you have an active nest, try to provide proper nutrition for the parents and a safe area for them to find it.  Reptiles will bury their eggs.  If you know where they are laid you can mark the area so that no one disturbs the nest or compacts the soil by stepping in it.  Insects will lay the eggs on their larva’s food source.  If you are encouraging monarch’s you must provide milk weed (asclepias) as that is the only food they will eat.  Once the insect hatches it will proceed to consume the plant.  You may want to grow this plant in a back corner to provide a secure area for it and so you don’t have to look at a half eaten bush.    Insecticides should never be used around a butterfly garden.


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