How to Manage Native Shrubs for Wildlife


Every day, more and more wildlife habitat is destroyed as urban sprawl advances across the landscape. Help by planting native shrubs and other plants in your back yard, garden, pasture or woodlot. Native shrubs are adapted to the local ecosystem, and songbirds and other animals depend on native plants for food and shelter. Like all shrubs, native shrubs will need a little extra attention during their first year, but once they are established, native plants generally require little care.

Step 1

Evaluate the site where you want to grow native shrubs. Is the soil dry or wet? Is it rich and loamy, or is there a lot of sand or clay? How much sun does it receive? Find a species of shrub that is best suited for your location.

Step 2

Consider your own desires. Do you want a thick hedgerow to serve as a privacy barrier, or do you just want a few shrubs here and there to add interest to your landscape? How tall do you want the shrubs to be when mature? Do you want shrubs that will produce fragrant flowers or that have brilliant autumn colors? Even when you are planting for wildlife value, your garden should please you, too.

Step 3

Observe the area to see what kind of wildlife is already present. For instance, if you have large amounts of fruit-eating birds like waxwings or thrushes, plant shrubs that produce fruit that they will enjoy, such as chokecherries or serviceberries. Woodpeckers and squirrels prefer nut-producing shrubs, like hazel or scrub oak.

Step 4

Determine what shrubs are native to your area. A hike though a nearby nature reserve might spark some ideas, but keep in mind that not everything growing in the wild is native. Some shrubs, like buckthorn, have escaped from cultivation and are now wreaking havoc on the landscape. A good field guide will help you identify some shrubs, and your local extension office will be able to offer suggestions, too.

Step 5

Plant native shrubs when they are dormant, usually in the late fall or early spring. Plant in the winter in locations where the ground doesn't freeze solid.

Step 6

Dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Build a small mound in the hole to spread the roots over, then backfill with soil. Cover the site with a few inches of mulch to keep weeds down and to regulate soil temperature and moisture, but leave some open space next to the trunk so that the bark can breathe.

Step 7

Water the shrub thoroughly at the time of planting and continue to water it regularly throughout the first growing season. After the first year, native shrubs will usually need water only in very hot or dry weather.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not treat native shrubs planted for wildlife with pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, since these will kill and sicken many animals. Many birds eat insects, so you shouldn't have to treat the shrubs for pests. If weeds become a problem, pull them by hand.

Things You'll Need

  • Native shrubs
  • Mulch


  • Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation: Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration, and Landscaping
  • Sedgemoor District Council: Native Trees, Shrubs and Hedgerow Planting Guide
Keywords: native shrubs, wildlife garden, native plants, hedgerow, attract birds

About this Author

Sonya Welter worked in the natural foods industry for more than seven years before becoming a full-time freelancer in 2010. She has been published in "Mother Earth News," "Legacy" magazine and in several local publications in Duluth, Minn., including "Zenith City News," for which she writes a regular outdoors column. She graduated cum laude in 2002 from Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college.