Many gardeners are interested in attracting birds, butterflies, and other forms of life to their garden. Native plants provide unmatched habitat value because native flora and fauna have coevolved for thousands of years.

Variable checkerspot. Credit Stephen Rosenthal.
Variable checkerspot. Credit Stephen Rosenthal.

What is Habitat Gardening?

“Habitat Gardening,” also known as “Backyard Restoration,” refers to the process of converting traditional landscape plans in privately owned yards or public spaces to those that attract and support native birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. Habitat gardening greatly benefits wildlife by providing food, shelter, water and nesting places and is typically characterized by a more natural, less formal feel, with more variety in plant choices and naturalistic placement and pruning of plants.

For wildlife value, seeds may be allowed to ripen for birds, bare branches left artfully un-pruned for perches and nesting sites, some bare ground shown through for bird browsing and bee nesting, and un-raked fallen leaves left to provide mulch and shelter. Less water and fertilizer are used in habitat gardens, and pesticide use is kept to an absolute minimum. Plans can involve combining a few key “habitat plants,’ or the entire landscape plan can mirror a typical plant community found in nature that in turn attracts wildlife that would normally be found in those native landscapes. A unifying design theme can also be obtained through habitat gardening for a specific wildlife segment, such as hummingbirds or butterflies.

Western scrub jay. Credit Jim Wadsworth.
Western scrub jay. Credit Jim Wadsworth.

Benefits of Habitat Gardening

Our home gardens and public spaces can combine some of the best features of our wild, world-famous California beauty – stunning plants with lovely fragrance, and the numerous fascinating creatures that are readily attracted given the right environmental conditions. Habitat gardens are ideal for family visits, as children have a natural affinity for the birds and bugs, and appreciate exploration of secret gardens with surprise spaces. Creating, growing and maintaining a natural garden provides children with a healthy outdoor experience where they can play, learn, and develop a genuine respect for nature.

Pollinators are significant to habitat gardening because they often have wings! Winged pollinators can and will travel long distances to seek out reliable nectar sources, so gardening to attract gorgeous butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators is particularly rewarding. If you build it, they will come!

Alfalfa butterfly on Coyote mint. Credit Jim Wadsworth.
Alfalfa butterfly on Coyote mint. Credit Jim Wadsworth.

Create Habitat with Plant Community Design

A native plant community is an array of plants found in a naturally occurring ecosystem. Plant communities typically support certain types of wildlife species that have adapted to or with them over time – sometimes over thousands of years. A local plant community ecosystem, given the right soils, is the best guide to the plants that will look beautiful, thrive in your geographic area, and will be guaranteed to attract the local pollinators.

Some naturally occurring communities, such as vernal pools, are extremely complex and could not be easily created in one’s own backyard. However, others, such as coastal sage scrub, chaparral or oak woodland, given the right soils and growing conditions, can be constructed in your backyard by assembling the individual plants, grasses and shrubs that make up that landscape in the wild. To learn what plants are native to your area and best for creating habitat in your landscape, visit

What is beautiful in nature can be beautiful in our outdoor living spaces, too, and through habitat gardening principles you can create beauty and inspire others to appreciate unique and diverse California.

Information contributed by Laura Camp

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