If you have ever admired a butterfly or enjoyed the song of a bluebird, you already understand some of the benefits to attracting wildlife to your yard. Nature's little creatures provide more than beauty and entertainment - they pollinate flowers and play important roles in ecology.
Butterflies and birds are the most popular types of wildlife that people try to attract to their yards. These animals and others require three basic elements: food, water and shelter.
To attract beneficial wildlife to your yard, plant trees and shrubs that provide natural shelter. Evergreens offer extra protection to birds that overwinter, and shrubs and understory trees are usually a good draw all year long.
Birdhouses are an option for shelter. Different bird species are particular to what kind of house they prefer, so decide what kind of bird you wish to attract and do some research on the houses they prefer before installing one.
Houses for butterflies and bats are less popular and receive mixed reports. My favorite rule applies once again - do some research! Butterfly houses are more likely to be used if placed in a well-planned butterfly garden, and bat houses are more attractive to bats already living in the area.
Ornamental grasses and flowers that produce upright seed heads are good food sources for many birds. These plants, along with trees and shrubs that produce small fruit or nuts, are very attractive to wildlife.
To feed butterflies, use plants that their larvae like to eat as well as the flowers that the adults like. Butterfly larvae are typically voracious eaters, so remember to plant a substantial amount of the larval food source.
Feeders, of any kind, sometimes attract more wildlife than we want in our yards. If you wish to use a feeder, please use it with caution and be aware that you may attract more animals than you planned.
Water is the final element needed to attract wildlife. A waterfall or fountain calls animals with its song, but birdbaths and landscape ponds are also good options. Rinse birdbaths every few days to prevent mosquito breeding and bacterial growth. For butterflies, a water source is as simple as placing rocks with shallow depressions in the garden. The depressions will collect water in rainfall and from morning dew.
There are many resources available to help make your garden more friendly to wildlife. The Kansas Forest Service has a publication: "Trees and Shrubs That Attract Songbirds and Wildlife," and several local organizations have pamphlets on butterfly gardening.
If you have questions about attracting wildlife to your yard, call a Douglas County Extension Master Gardener at 843-7058, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org any time.