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Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ – Attract wildlife

Imagine a backyard refuge where butterflies flit around, songbirds splash in a birdbath, and hummingbirds dart from flower to flower. It’s a beautiful, serene scene; one that can benefit Florida wildlife.

And you can make it real, with help from the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program.

Our journey through the program’s nine principles hits the midway point with a look at doing just that, with the “Attract Wildlife” principle. It’s a principle tightly intertwined with the others, and one that’s relatively easy to adopt.

Florida helps in that regard. The state offers a great diversity of habitats and ecosystems, of flora and fauna. With such amazing variety all around us, it doesn’t take much to attract a few birds, butterflies and beneficial insects to your yard. You simply need to provide their basic necessities: food, water and shelter.

Nine Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™

Right Plant, Right Place – Enjoy healthier plants and reduce work by using plants suited to your landscape conditions
Water Efficiently – Reduce water bills, pest problems, and maintenance needs
Fertilize Appropriately – Prevent pollution and maximize plant health
Mulch – Keep moisture in the soil, help control weeds, and reduce stormwater runoff

ATTRACT WILDLIFE – Bring your yard to life by providing water, food, and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other creatures

Manage Yard Pests Responsibly – Create an effective defense against pests while minimizing your impact on the environment
Recycle Yard Waste – Re-use your yard waste to save money and enrich your soil
Reduce Stormwater Runoff – Filter rain through your landscape to protect waterways and replenish the aquifer
Protect the Waterfront – Help preserve Florida’s waterways, plants, and wildlife

You can serve up food sources for a wide range of wildlife by using a diverse palette of plants. A mix of trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers will offer a variety of flowers, berries, seeds, nuts and nectar at various times through the year. As always, of course, make sure to choose the right plants for your landscape conditions.

Water is as necessary for wildlife as it is for us. Natural features like ponds and waterfalls make for wonderful, striking water sources in a landscape. As a benefit, birds love the rushing sound of a waterfall, and a small pond will attract frogs, dragonflies and other wildlife.

But these options aren’t practical or even viable for everyone. Instead, try a simple bird bath. It does the trick, so long as it’s emptied and cleaned regularly. Or, make a puddling station out of a low, moist spot in the yard or by using an upturned saucer or bowl. I’ve even seen butterflies on a hot, dry day turn to a recently watered mulched area to get much-needed moisture.

Finally, provide shelter to wildlife by using vertical layering in your planting. That is, think of the wildlife you’ll find using layers from the tops of trees to the ground cover. At each layer, try to add in a mix of shapes and forms so that a range of wildlife can find refuge for resting, nesting and more.

If you want to attract specific birds or other creatures, you’ll need to go a step further. Research any unique habitat needs those animals might have, then landscape to meet those needs. For example, butterflies must have a specific host plant for their caterpillars to develop. Without it, butterflies won’t stay.

Other ways to attract wildlife:

  • Limit lawn size
  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use
  • Use low-maintenance plants
  • Install bird and bat houses
  • Leave a small brush pile for cover and shelter
  • When possible, leave “snags” – dead tree trunks used by birds and insects

You can learn more with articles at UF/IFAS Wildlife Extension and the UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source.

Following the “Attract Wildlife” principle, land owners can create Florida-Friendly landscapes, and convince neighbors and entire communities to do the same. Every little patch, each corridor that allows small animals, birds and insects to travel from one natural spot to another, benefits the greater Florida ecosystem in the long run.

There is such joy in discovering a new bird or butterfly in your yard, untold elation in watching the antics of territorial butterflies and nectaring insects, and such fascination with watching even predator-prey relationships of beneficial insects. I want to share all this with you. So, get started.

Wilma Holley is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program specialist for Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability. She has worked for UF/IFAS Extension for more than a decade, and previously worked in nurseries and other landscaping-related operations. Contact her at or 941-861-9900.

Contact your local Extension office to learn more:

2 Comments on “Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ – Attract wildlife

  1. These are great suggestions, but I’m looking for a short list of small trees that are appropriate for an “alley” in a mobil home park. No need for flowers, but looking for trees where birds might perch or even nest. Not very tall, not wide.

    • Hi, Rose. We would suggest you contact one of our Plant Clinics ( Staffed by trained Master Gardener volunteers, the clinics (which can be found at our Twin Lakes Park office and locations around the county) offer help with landscaping issues, pest identification, and a range of gardening, lawn and other horticultural topics. Hope that helps!

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