Sunday, November 17, 2013

Front Yard Habitat

Wildlife gardening is getting more attention these days thanks to the focus and support of organizations that encourage people to create and certify wildlife habitats. Initially programs for certification focused on “backyard” wildlife habitat. It’s a shame to shuttle wildlife off to the backyard so I’d like to suggest that we create “front yard” habitat too!

Annual salvia (Salvia coccinea)

In my case the sunniest part of the yard is in the front so limiting myself to the backyard would severely limit my plant choices: “Sorry Mrs. Hummingbird, no fresh flowers for you!” Instead I do use my sunny areas to grow popular hummingbird favorites like annual salvia (Salvia coccinea) and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Butterflies and birds are loving my viburnums which thrive in the sun and produce copious amounts of flowers and berries for them.  Providing a source of food is one of the cornerstones of providing habitat.

Even more food is provided when you use native plants in the front yard that are host plants for native insects. The same cardinal flower that the hummingbird loves happens to be the host plant for looper moths. The eggs of the moth turn into plump green caterpillars which are eaten by small birds like wrens and warblers.

Wax myrtle provides shelter and tasty berries
The evergreen wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) grow more densely in the sunny areas. Twiggy plants like hawthorns and viburnums also provide a more dense cover, providing niches for bird nests deep within the plant. The sunny edges of my property are perfect for these plants. They provide natural shelter and places to raise young birds, two more cornerstones of habitat.

Water is the final cornerstone. I have a small birdbath right outside my office window (which happens to be in the front). From here I can monitor the level of the water as well as enjoy the birds that come to visit it. Water is also available in the backyard but why limit yourself (and them) to just one place?

An inexpensive birdbath entertains the birds and me!

All this is not to say that we don’t also provide some elements of habitat in the backyard. Piles of sticks, flat rocks, a few tree snags and loads of shade tolerant plants can be found there. Those items support habitats of different sorts. Small mammals, snakes, lizards and small birds frolic and live in those sticks, rocks and tree snags. Beetles and bugs of all kinds find homes (and food) in and under the rocks, bark and leaves.

But the backyard alone can’t satisfy the whole habitat job. Fortunately many habitat programs have now removed the “backyard” focus from the descriptions on their website and instead simply promote the essentials of providing habitat no matter where you do it.

So if the front yard is the best place for you to create your wildlife habitat, go ahead and do it! Maybe we'll even come up with an official sign one day.



  1. Every garden I have has been planted or replanted for wildlife and I love using the front and back as well...still a work in progress. I hope eventually to have extended the front gardens to entice even more wildlife.

  2. Ellen, I LOVE your front yard habitat sign! You need to get those on some sweatshirts asap! Sign me up. And great post, too. We really have to work on those HOAs. In the words of Doug Tallamy, 'those boards are just made of people, and people can bring change to them.' My paraphrase.