Yard work can be overwhelming at times, but there are ways to naturally cultivate a low-maintenance, creature-friendly space. Turning your property into a wildlife sanctuary of sorts will provide you with years of enjoyment—not to mention the wonderful service you will be doing for the native critters in your area. The best backyard wildlife sanctuaries are far from perfectly manicured, so if you like the idea of your own plot of wilderness, this might be a good option for you. If you decide to cultivate a wildlife-friendly yard, there are several animals and insects you’ll want to consciously attract.

How to Attract Helpful Animals

Birds and bats, in particular, bring many beneficial qualities to a yard. Birds often eat insects in the spring to feed their young, and they can also turn your yard into a bird watching paradise. Bats are masters of eating insects, including mosquitoes. Although they have been much maligned in popular culture, bats do not pose a health risk to humans unless they roost in the home and their droppings accumulate.

The easiest way to attract birds is to feed them. Home and garden stores stock plenty of packages of premixed birdseed, but these commercial mixes often contain seeds that most birds don’t like. Keep in mind, too, that different birds have different eating habits. Some are perfectly content to eat birdseed, while others prefer fruit, insects, or other animals. Hummingbirds, of course, eat nectar or sugar water. To attract the most birds, create a custom-blended birdseed mixture to appeal to the birds in your area. Many wildlife organizations have online resources to help you determine which seeds to use. To attract insect-eating birds, hang suet cakes from a tree, balcony, or bird feeder. Suet is a solid fat that provides a hearty food source for birds during the winter. Hang feeders out of reach of cats and dogs and in somewhat sheltered places so the birds don’t get blown around by gusts of wind. Consider hanging more than one feeder, too. This will prevent larger, more aggressive birds from scaring off the smaller birds. Start feeding in the fall—around September or October—and continue through the winter and spring.

Since most bats are nocturnal and eat mostly insects, the best way to attract them is to also attract insects that are active at night. Supplement your yard or garden with plants such as spearmint, salvia, phlox, moonflower, and cornflower to lure the insects that bats like to eat. To keep the bats hanging around, manufactured bat houses can be purchased at hardware or garden supply stores, or you can also make your own. Be sure to place them high up—about 15 feet off the ground—near a water source and in a location where the house will receive plenty of sun during the day. The bigger the bat house you select, the more bats you’ll attract—single, male bats typically look for small, narrow bat houses, while female bats look for larger houses that they can use for nesting and raising their young.

How to Attract Ladybugs

One of the most helpful insects to have in a yard or garden, ladybugs—or lady beetles, as they’re sometimes called—work hard to keep the garden pest population at bay. Ladybugs feast on aphids and other small, soft-bodied pests, so one of the best ways to attract ladybugs is to allow aphids and other pests to flourish for a while. Avoid pesticide use—pesticides will kill pest insects, but they’ll also harm the ladybugs and other beneficial insects. Adult ladybugs can eat about 50 aphids in one day, so if your garden’s aphid population is allowed to grow, you’ll have a better chance of attracting ladybugs. If you’re concerned about attracting a large enough ladybug population, you can always purchase them from a garden supply retailer. Consider ordering more than you think you might need—many of them will probably fly away when you open the box.

How to Attract Bees

Bees have a somewhat mixed reputation. Bee stings hurt and can be life threatening to those who are allergic to them, but bees are vital to our agricultural system. Healthy bee colonies are responsible for the success of hundreds of crops grown in the US, and creating a safe, stable home for bees in your yard will help strengthen the bee population as a whole. Diverse plant choices will provide the varying nutrients that different bees need to survive. Choose varieties of flowers, trees, and shrubs that bloom at different times of the year, and try to vary height, density, and type of flower. Flowers that are flat and that have only one level of petals contain more pollen and nectar, and they are typically easier for bees to reach. Stick to native plant species if possible. Wild bees are accustomed to and receive the most nutrients from the types of pollen and nectar found in their home area, so use your yard to continue those native plants.

How to Attract Frogs

They’re not the most attractive or cuddly creatures, but frogs have an important place in our ecosystem. Not only are they a food source for larger animals, they also help keep pest insect populations under control. Many species of frogs, toads, and other amphibians are at serious risk for extinction, so creating a haven for them in your yard will help protect the population. Start by buying or building a frog shelter. Use small rocks to prop open a terracotta flowerpot upside down in soft, loose soil to provide a home and burrowing space for your yard’s amphibious visitors—just make sure to leave a large enough opening of about three inches. Frogs need water to survive, so place your frog shelter near a pond, stream, or other water source. A birdbath with low edges or even a place where an air conditioner condenser drips will also work well.

How to Attract Lizards

Similar to frogs, lizards play an important role in keeping your yard’s pest population in check. In terms of habitat, lizards look for spots that contain both rocks and leaves or tree bark. They typically use the rocks to sun themselves, and the leaves and tree bark provide necessary cover from predators. The organic material also attracts insects, which in turn provide a convenient food source for the lizards. In contrast to frogs and other amphibians, lizards prefer dry ground, so don’t worry about providing a designated water source.

Perfectly manicured yards certainly have their place, but they aren’t always the most hospitable to native wildlife species. Attracting birds, bats, and other beneficial insects, amphibians, and critters can actually lessen the amount of maintenance and pesticide use your yard and garden require. And, most importantly, you’ll be doing a service to your local ecosystem. 

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Sources: Clemson University Cooperative Extension; FineGardening.com; Gardener’s Supply Company; GardeningKnowHow.com; Library of Congress; National Wildlife Foundation; San Francisco Chronicle.

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