Creating a Habitat Garden

Reading the Sierra Foothill Garden's post on creating habitat today was a timely reminder how important wildlife habitat is -- especially in the suburbs. And it bears repeating that it really doesn't take much to create a habitat garden.


Food means different things for different critters. Many birds and insects need the seeds and fruits of plants, like the manzanita berries in the photo above. Pollinators need blooming plants with nectar and pollen, and hummingbirds need hummingbird plants like this Salvia spatacea (hummingbird sage).

For raising their young, many birds need insects. I wondered why the hummingbirds were coming to the California fescue again and again until someone explained that they probably picked off small critters as a protein treat for the babies.

No Pesticides, No Herbicides

And I really mean NO. Do yourself and your family a favor and stop adding chemicals to your garden. Get a little tolerant of a few weeds, and enjoy seeing small nibbles on the plants in your garden. A plant that never shows insect damage is probably not a great habitat plant (neither is a plant that gets devoured; you don't want a single type of insect to take over). 

Next time you're worried about a few small holes in a leaf, think of the leaf-cutter bee that might have used that plant material, or think of the hummingbird babies getting their protein snack. 


Everybody needs shelter to be comfortable. For birds, that might mean a few trees or large bushes, or you might put up a bird house or two for cavity nesters. But other critters also need their habitat. Lizards love rocks, and a dry stream bed with plenty of rocks to bask in the sun is ideal. 

Salamanders and other, smaller critters might enjoy a small log pile. Last time I used the term "small log pile" I received several comments regarding rats and other vermin, most likely from gardeners with much more space than I have. I really did mean small. 5 or 6 pieces of wood, 10 inches long, artfully -- well, maybe no so artfully -- arranged under the redwood tree, like this. 

Maybe a mouse would find this pile big enough for a home, but anything larger most likely looks for a bigger pile than this. 

Water is quite possibly the biggest contribution you can make to wildlife in the long dry season in California. I've placed birdbaths of different sizes in different parts of the garden. 

The succulent bird bath was a happy accident. I inherited the concrete bird bath, but found out it had a crack. Adding a saucer, a bit of soil, and a few succulents made it a very popular drinking spot with different birds, from junco-sized to robin-sized. And let me just come clean (metaphorically speaking) and admit that I don't scrub out the bird baths regularly. Well, maybe once a year. But I figure birds can drink from a puddle and will be fine with a few algae or whatever dust or dirt accumulates.

The pot-and-saucer bird bath in the first picture of this post came about when I spotted a neighbor's cat having a look at my saucer in the ground. I realized I had to elevate the saucer to give the birds a better chance of escape.

Many of my bird baths include a rock or two to allow smaller birds easy access, and several include a solar fountain pump. Birds love the sound of running water, and it's refreshing for people as well. Mr. Mouse did a thorough and educational post about the solar fountains here, so I won't repeat the details.


Possibly the most important part of the wildlife habitat you create is that you enjoy your visitors. If you wander through your garden often, you'll notice what's still missing. You'll refill the bird bath, pull the weeds before the thought of herbicides enters anybody's head. You'll admire the butterflies and bumble bees. And you'll think of a few more perfect native plants for your garden.  Truly a win-win situation!


Elephant's Eye said…
There is one unhappy gardener blogging about Damage from leafcutter bees. Sadly we don't seem to have any in this garden, but I do remember them in the last garden. Perfect circles sliced out of the leaves, by a bee, with a tiny pair of scissors?!
debsgarden said…
One of the greatest joys i have is watching the wildlife in my garden. I don't want them to destroy what i have created, but I think there is a way of garden management that keeps critters as well as humans happy. Thanks for a great post!
I hardly ever scrub out my bird baths either; I don't really believe that birds who drink from stagnant ponds and scummy puddles are going to be killed if there is algae in the bottom of the bird bath. Sheesh.

I love your depiction and definition of habitat garden; I have slaved to create one here at The Havens. The rewards are huge! Lately, a ground hog has moved in. We now have meadow voles and lots of other little mammals, so we now have Great Horned owls hunting here at night, red tailed and Cooper's hawks during the day. There are an infinite number of wonderful bugs to observe (I have at least 6 different kinds of bees, for example), lots of birds, snakes, toads, leopard frogs, salamanders, box turtles, etc etc etc.

I really don't understand why more people don't indulge in this most lovely of activities: creating a wildlife habitat garden. It doesn't even have to be very big.

Lovely post.
Hi Mrs.Town Mouse! I love this post and I try to love wildlife that comes to my garden. It's not easy, although: they eat my plants!
Also I don't want Mister Black Bear come visit me. People saw him recently very close to our place! Mister Mole is also not welcome. He destroys my flowerbeds (I'd prefer him to destroy our lawn, but he is not a fool!) But, honestly, I try to be better and forgive my guests everything! Saying that, I should confess: I kill slugs!
Sue Langley said…
Mouse, glad you were reminded because this is a great post!
The more natives I plant for our area, the more variety of birds and insects I see. So enjoyable.

After 6 years, our quail have come back in great numbers after being frightened off badly from the house construction. I attribute that to time and leaving the brush piles out.