The spring of 2020 brought out the gardener in many of us, including in my husband and me. We learned to plant vegetables and even started trading shoots with friends. This year, I plan to take my gardening to the next level, planting not just vegetables for my family, but also flowers and plants that will support and promote various kinds of wildlife. I intend to invite butterflies, hummingbirds, and even squirrels to my backyard sanctuary. And then, I hope to enjoy relaxing in and observing the workings of the little ecosystem for years to come.
Read on to learn tips for creating your own backyard wildlife habitat, and keep in mind that most of the suggestions can be adapted for either gardens in yards or containers on patios.
Create Your Own Butterfly Garden
Butterflies are beautiful creatures, but did you know that they’re also an important part of a healthy backyard ecosystem? As pollinators, butterflies ensure that flowering plants can reproduce and, as both predators to pests and prey for birds and bats, butterflies play a vital role in the ecosystem’s food chain.
When you’re choosing a space for your garden, make sure it’s in a sunny spot. Butterflies are cold blooded and need the warmth from the sun to survive. Next, add a birdbath or water feature of some kind. Male butterflies collect water and nutrients from the edges of puddles and ponds.
Finally, choose your flowers. To make a successful habitat for butterflies, you’ll need two types of plants: nectar and host. The nectar plants should bloom from November to February for the butterflies and the host plants will house the caterpillars until they reach the butterfly stage. The Texas Discovery Gardens recommends choosing plants from this list and planting 3-5 of each.
Some Nectar Plants to Choose From
Gregg’s Mist Flower
Some Host Plants to Choose From
Make a Hummingbird Habitat
Ruby-throated hummingbirds live in Texas and are attracted to native plants that provide food and shelter. They arrive in our area in the spring and hang around until late fall when they migrate to warmer parts of Texas and Central America.
If you’d like your backyard to be more hummingbird-friendly, try planting a hummingbird bush and salvia, which are both low-maintenance. Cuphea and lantana are also great perennial options and include a variety of species.
Of course, if you’re not ready to overhaul your backyard landscape just yet, you could install a hummingbird feeder. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red so consider choosing a feeder of that color. Place it away from ground predators and in a place where it may reflect the light to be more visible. A location with partial shade would be perfect so the birds don’t have to feed in direct sunlight. Finally, remember to keep your feeder stocked with either store-bought or home-made nectar during hummingbird season and to clean it regularly.
Let’s Talk About Squirrels
I’m just going to put it out there. I love squirrels. They’re cute and fuzzy and fun to watch. My sister-in-law has fully embraced her backyard squirrel and named him Pete. You can even follow pete_the_squirrel on tiktok.
Now I know not everyone is so enthusiastic about these adorable rodents. (My own father used to try to scare them out of the yard with a bb gun.) They can dig holes in the yard and eat all the food meant for birds. But if I learned anything from my father growing up, it’s that it’s almost impossible to keep these critters out of your yard. If you haven’t seen it yet, just check out the hilarious lengths Mark Rober went to to keep the squirrels out of his bird feeder here.
That’s why I think the easiest way to keep the squirrels from your bird feeders or gardens is to lure them away with more attractive options. Create a space just for them. Consider buying or building a simple squirrel feeder and leaving out nuts, seeds, corn, zucchini, pumpkin, squash, strawberries, or even peanut butter. Squirrels also will appreciate a fresh water fountain or birdbath.
Now that you have some tips for inviting butterflies, hummingbirds, and squirrels into your backyard, grab your kids and consider visiting the nature trails around town for inspiration. Two Carrollton trails you may like are the Furneaux Creek Nature Trail off the blue line around Branch Hollow Park or the Elm Fork Nature Preserve Trail in the McKinnish Sports Complex. Bring a take-along-guide like this one to share with and inspire your little ones or create your own nature scavenger hunt to teach them all about your very own backyard ecosystem. After all as American poet Gary Snyder puts it, “nature is not a place to visit at all. It is home.”
About the Author
Carrie Thomas is a mother of 3 (Hailey 2, Caleb 4, and Jackson 7) and has been a CECPTA blue and yellow group member for almost 2 years. She moved to Carrollton from New Jersey in the winter of 2018 when her husband accepted a job at UTD. She is a middle school English teacher in Carrollton and loves spending time with her family, reading dystopian YA novels, and unwinding with a glass of wine and one of the well-written Netflix shows.