Zebra butterfliesPhoto by Marci Damon

More than three million acres in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are covered with lawn and turf grasses. By converting a small portion of your lawn to a more diverse habitat, you can provide wildlife with food, water, shelter, and cover for nesting, while adding beauty and interest to your landscape.

Birds (resident and migratory species), insects (including butterflies), amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders), reptiles (box turtles, snakes), and mammals (foxes, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, deer) will all benefit from diverse trees, grasses, and shrubs.

To Welcome Wildlife

  • Choose native plants when restoring forests, wetlands, meadows, and shoreline buffers or creating formal landscape beds in a city or suburban garden. Most wildlife is dependent on native plants for food and cover.
  • Plant a variety of native vegetation and choose plants with different heights at maturity. For example, tall oaks at the back of your property can be underplanted with smaller trees, (such as redbud), shrubs (such as high bush blueberry) and a groundcover (white wood asters). This type of "edge habitat" is actually preferred by many kinds of wildlife, since it provides food and cover at various levels.
  • Do not deadhead flowers or seed heads; they are important nectar and food sources.
  • Provide the necessary food, water, and cover components for wildlife.

Food Plants for Wildlife

  • Nut and acorn trees (oaks, hickories)
  • Plants for all seasons (spring and summer flowers, late blooming fall asters and goldenrods, and winter plants that retain their seeds).
  • Hummingbird plants (native honeysuckle, trumpet creeper)
  • Plants for butterflies and other pollinators
  • Grasses and legumes
  • Conifers
  • Dead trees or snags
  • Hedgerows

Water Sources

  • Natural puddles that don't drain or drain slowly
  • Streams, creeks
  • Bird baths
  • Man-made ponds

Cover for Resting and Nesting

  • Brush and rock piles
  • Dead trees or snags
  • A mix of cover at all canopy levels: trees, shrubs, and groundcovers
  • A no-mow meadow
  • Bird nest boxes
  • Hedgerows
  • Evergreens (pines, holly)

Plant a Butterfly or Pollinator Garden

  • Choose a sunny, sheltered location with average soil for a butterfly garden. The garden will feed butterflies but also other important pollinators, such as moths, wasps, bees, and beetles.
  • Plant a mix of host plants (where eggs are laid and that caterpillars feed on) and nectar plants (that adult butterflies and moths feed on).
  • Choose single flowered plants, not doubles that are hard for pollinators to access.
  • Do not use pesticides or BT (Bacillus thurigiensis, used for controlling Japanese beetle grubs) on plants or your lawn; these are toxic to insects, including butterflies and caterpillars.

Wildlife Habitat Resources

National Wildlife Federation, Backyard Habitat Certification Program

Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Wild Acres Program

WindStar Wildlife Institute has a certification and internet course with emphasis on creating habitat for wildlife with native plants.


Ten Ways to a Bay Friendly Lawn (pdf)

Creating Living Shorelines (pdf)

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