How to attract wildlife to your garden

How to attract wildlife to your garden post thumbnail image

Main image: Julissa Helm, Pexels

Want to unwind and spend more time in nature, watching the birds and butterflies fluttering about? What about wildlife in your garden? Living in a city does not mean living in a concrete jungle. But tarring or paving the area surrounding your property is a definite way to keep any form of wildlife out of your garden. The idea is to attract wildlife to your garden.

Because we encroach on natural ecosystems with buildings, wildlife does not find suitable habitats where they used to in the past. So why not make an effort in your garden to let nature thrive? It does not mean having to rip out all your cactus plants or flowers but creating an ideal habitat for wildlife. It does not matter how large or small your garden is – by following some of these tips, you are one step closer to attracting wildlife to your garden. Well-planned gardens can do wonders to attract birds, pollinators and small animals.

bee on lavender
Lavender attracts bees to the garden

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Why do I have no wildlife in my garden?

Wildlife is attracted to natural ecosystems, so paving your surroundings, laying bricks all over and planting large lawns are one of the best ways to make your garden inhospitable for wildlife. Using chemical pesticides to kill bugs and so-called ‘pests’ in your garden destroys natural ecosystems. There are organic options available on the market, but over the long term, you would rather want to focus on soil and plant health.

Bugs may eat plants, but these bugs also serve as a food source for birds and other predatory creatures like chameleons. Leaving the bugs will create much more biodiversity, even though they cause damage over the short term.

Planting the same vegetation everywhere in your garden is bad for diversity and won’t create the ideal habitat for wildlife. The more variety in your garden, the better the chance is of a home for insects, birds and more, thus attracting a variety of wildlife to your garden.

When gardening for wildlife, overly manicured lawns are a big no as it is not the most inviting, just like only growing exotic vegetation, not from South Africa. Leave some lawn, but not too much. Mix this up with wild grasses and other indigenous plant species. Planting indigenous plants creates the ideal habitats for wildlife.

birds in the garden

Why do you want wildlife in your garden?

There are more than 900 bird species recorded in South Africa. Attracting them all will be near impossible, but there are ways to attract a wide variety of wildlife to your garden.

Attracting birds is very easy. Add a bird feeder and fill it with seed mix and some fruit as it will quickly draw seed eaters and omnivores. More interesting species will come when you create the right conditions, mimicking their natural environmental preferences. Gardening for wildlife means you need open spaces, trees and shrubbery.

Another great reason to restore natural ecosystems is to create a better predator-prey balance. This way, there is no need to do anything about pests because the natural enemies will take care of them. It is a much better way of gardening as you can sit back and relax a little more. Without insects in the garden, there is no reason for those who prey on insects to visit – no lizards, geckos, birds, spiders, etc.

Attract solitary bees to your garden with this bee hotel from Faithful to Nature

The best way to achieve this is by planting indigenous where you can. It does not mean you can’t have roses decorate the landscape.

Why indigenous plants could attract wildlife to your garden

Indigenous plants attract more wildlife to your garden. Certain butterfly species, for example, will feast on certain indigenous host plants and nothing else.

citrus swallowtail caterpillar
The citrus swallowtail caterpillar seems to harm citrus by nibbling on the leaves, but the damage they do is minimal. Trees will bounce back even stronger. From observations, they will eat 3-6 half leaves in a lifetime.

Another advantage of indigenous vegetation is that it adapted to the geographical region and climate, like less water, heat and more. Indigenous species are Waterwise, so your Eden won’t turn to desert when the going gets tough. Consider practicality when gardening as having to water constantly can be expensive.

Indigenous plants also have natural enemies that can keep their growth in check. When species have no natural enemies, they could become invasive in ideal conditions. Think of the Tree of Heaven, water hyacinth and many others. They were planted for ornamental purposes but became a problem as nothing eats them. Yes, the mass of caterpillars annually feasting on your indigenous tree serves a purpose.

Creating the ideal habitat for wildlife is much easier when you use different types of indigenous plants. Indigenous vegetation will provide hours of entertainment right on your doorstep, with butterflies, birds, and other creatures visiting your garden.

What can you plant to attract wildlife to your garden?

When planning the perfect garden to attract wildlife, ensure enough variety, and focus on indigenous vegetation – not only indigenous to South Africa but plants ideal for the region. Plant a mix of species that flower in different seasons. Pollinators can enjoy your garden year-round.

But it does not stop with flowering plants. Create different biomes to attract wildlife to your garden. Plant annuals and grasses, succulents, trees and also wild grasses. Creating ponds of varying depths in various spots in your garden is great when gardening for wildlife.

Aloes not only add colour but birds and pollinators love them.

Aloes are super rewarding when gardening for wildlife. They provide nectar for birds when they flower, and bees love it too! Birds that could visit include the different sunbird varieties, bulbuls, weavers and more. They also provide a burst of colour to brighten any garden setting. Species such as wild dagga (Leonotis leonorus) also provide masses of blooms, and cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) is not only a beautiful ornamental but attracts birds, butterflies and a variety of bees. It flowers erratically and often year-round.

If you have lots of space, plant a mix of trees, scrubs, and wild grasses, as this will create a habitat for wildlife in your garden. Flowering plants will bring pollinators. Find a good local nursery that specialises in indigenous. They will be able to recommend plants that grow best in your area. Planting coastal species on the Highveld or Lowveld might not be the best.

Other habitats necessary to attract wildlife to your garden

Plants alone will go a long way to attract wildlife to your garden, but there are other elements to incorporate and things to consider when creating the ideal habitat for wildlife.

To have butterflies and other fluttering beauties, put up with the caterpillars. While difficult watching a caterpillar feast on one of your favourite garden plants, we need to let them be. It is part of any healthy ecosystem.

bug on a flower
Flowers give a burst of colour to gardens. At the same time, they attract various pollinating insects.

Water is crucial for drinking and bathing. Create ponds of varying depths by placing plants and rocks in the water. This way, you will create the perfect habitat for small insects like bugs and bees, and deeper water for birds to bathe and smaller animals to drink. Shallow edges also allow frogs to enter and exit. Bee hotels like these are also a brilliant addition to any garden as these create homes for solitary bees.

Plant plants of varying heights, from flowers (get some spring flowers), grasses, and shrubs, to trees. Rocks and perching spots for bees and birds are important too. To conserve soil moisture, use mulch to keep the soil moist for longer, meaning less frequent watering.

A wildlife-friendly garden provides a thriving ecosystem. Pollinators, birds and other wildlife can coexist with people if we allow this.

We would love to hear what you did to attract wildlife to your garden. Tell us in the comments!

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