Creating a Wildscape

By Mike Lorenc, Conservation Garden Park

The typical Utah landscape consists of a lot of lawn, a few trees, some plants around the foundation and maybe a vegetable garden. We’ve come to think of this as the ideal. But to birds, bees, and other pollinators, this landscape is an empty desert. And because they’re devoid of food, shelter or nesting areas, our home landscapes are completely uninviting to birds and pollinators. We can fix this by changing our landscapes to include food sources that will attract birds and pollinators like butterflies and native bees. The benefits are tremendous—our plants are better pollinated, we use less water, pests now have predators to keep their numbers down, and our landscape looks better. Who doesn’t love to see brightly colored butterflies or birds living in their yards? If you want to create your own wildscape, here are some steps that will make your yard more inviting to local wildlife.

Reduce lawn. You probably saw this one coming! Reducing the amount of lawn in your landscape is the most important first step. Lawn provides nothing of value for pollinators or birds. No berries, no seeds, no shelter—nothing. Limiting lawn also reduces the amount of water you need in your landscape.

Choose native plants. Native plants attract native birds and bees, so the more you plant, the better. Native plants aren’t always easy to find, but it’s worth the effort. Plant Select and Sego Supreme are a couple of great programs that certify plants for water efficiency and toughness here in the West. These programs include a lot of local and locally adapted plants and make good guides to selecting great plants.

Plant for different ripening times. Having food ripen in your landscape at different times of year provides a food source year-round. Serviceberries and crabapples make perfect woody plants for a good wildscape. Serviceberries, for example, bloom very early, and the fruit ripens in early summer. Few other food sources are available this early, so they provide an important resource. Crabapples bloom later in spring, but their fruit ripens in the fall, and newer varieties have apples that cling to their branches all winter, making them a perfect winter food source.

Plant densely and diversely. Planting many varieties of plants will attract many different types of pollinators. Plant smaller numbers of each type of plant to leave room for greater variety. And by planting more densely you’ll provide cover for wildlife to hide in. Dense evergreens are especially welcome. Not only are they a great source of shelter, but they also attract insects that birds eat and grow cones with seeds that birds can also eat.

If we all make just a portion of our yard into a wildscape we could save water, increase habitat for native plants and animals, increase our yard’s beauty, and provide food and nesting areas for a whole host of birds, bees and other pollinators. Wildscapes transform our suburban yards from pollinator wastelands into inviting habitats that make our homes, at least in part, more closely in tune with the natural world.