June’21 Gardening for Wildlife

By Corey Cameron

By Corey Cameron

Habitat loss is the most significant reason for population decline in all species. Urban gardens certainly cannot perfectly replace habitat loss; however, it can assist in needed safe sites for wildlife.

When landscaping our properties, we can do so much to help our pollinators and other wildlife just by knowing a few things. Less lawn, more garden. When we use lawn as our default landscape, we might as well pave over everything. Where will our pollinators find food if all we offer is lawn, hosta and mulch? Conservation and activism begin at home.

When our gardens attract pollinators, everything else falls into place. Pollinators like bees and butterflies spread pollen from one plant to another. They facilitate the growth of fruit and seeds which in turn bring the birds. A garden with plants that produce fruit, seeds and nectar eliminates the need for bird feeders, which in turn controls rodent problems (one of the biggest complaints I hear from people with feeders).

Our best pollinators are bees. Ontario is home to approximately 400 species of native bees which account for about 70% of pollinator activity. Biotic pollination is the term used when pollination is aided by bees. Abiotic pollination relies on wind and water. When pollination is carried out by birds, the term used is ornithophily. Hummingbirds are the most common avian pollinator.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation recognizes Canadians who make their home, school, business, or community gardens suitable for wildlife with wildlife friendly certified gardens. The criteria that must be met for this certification is that you provide earth friendly gardens, food, water and shelter for wildlife.

Below are some ideas regarding each of the criteria:

  • EARTH FRIENDLY: The most important of all is don’t use pesticides. More than 95% of pesticide product never reaches it’s intended target anyway. And forget about organics. They might be safer for humans and pets but not for other organisms. Without bugs and other organisms, the ecosystem becomes broken. Healthy yards don’t need pesticides. In fact, not only do pesticides damage the ecosystem, regular applications will damage the soil health and stunt plant growth.
  • SHELTER: Gather dead logs and limbs and provide a pile in a corner of your yard. They provide a hiding spot for birds and small critters in the case of predation. They also provide shade on very hot days. Do not clean up your gardens in the fall. Rake the yard leaves into the garden and then leave them there for the winter. They provide shelter and warmth for many wintering insects. Spring clean up should not take place until a consistent temperature of +10 is achieved for at least 7 days. Feeders should be close to hedgerows and shrubs so that feeding birds have somewhere to escape if needed. Nest boxes are not only used for nesting birds but often used as shelter in the dead of winter. Dead tree snags provide opportunity for cavity nesters.


  • WATER: Ready made bird baths are a great offering but must be cleaned on a regular basis. A shallow dish with rocks in the middle provide perching birds and butterflies safe access to water. A favourite of birds is dripping water or mist from a hose.
  • FOOD: Plants that are most visited by pollinators are red, orange, and yellow and most attractive are those with very little scent. Birds generally have a keen sense of sight but a very poor sense of smell. Pollinator plants are an important part of the health of the global ecosystem.

Some suggested plants native to Southern Ontario are:

Trees/Shrubs: Elderberry, Serviceberry, Birch, Maple, Dogwood, Willow, Oak, Poplar, Hawthorn, Sumac, Chokeberry, Holly

Climbers: Honeysuckle, Wild Grape, Virginia Creeper

Weeds to leave: Teasel, Thistle, Goldenrod, Joe Pye Weed, Clover

Flowering Plants: Coneflowers (Echinacea), Sunflowers, Milkweeds, Cardinal Flower, Bergamot (Bee Balm), New England Asters, Phlox, Wild Strawberry, Anise Hyssop, Butterfly Weed, Lobelia, Wild Lupine, Ironweed, Black Eyed Susan, Turtlehead, Poppies

Grasses: Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Bottlebrush

In addition to providing native plants for our pollinators, many native species are host plants for butterflies.


Butterfly Host Plants

Milkweed – Monarch

Pearly Everlasting – American Painted Lady

Cherry, Plum – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Pussy Willow – Mourning Cloak

Nettles – Red Admiral, Question Mark

Native Grasses – Skippers

Dill. Fennel, Queens Annes Lace – Black Swallowtail

Willow – Viceroy