Creating a Wild Backyard - Wild-Scaping Large Areas (1 acre or more)

Gardening for wildlife has become a favorite backyard hobby for millions of people. This page is designed to give you ideas on turning your backyard into a wildlife garden, with helpful tips on how to arrange food, water, and shelter elements of habitat for wildlife. The Wild Acres site can also help you as you plan your garden with more in-depth information on specific topics such as wildflower meadows. Always be sure your wildscape plans comply with local ordinances.

Once your wildscape is planted, the fun really begins as you observe and discover wildlife as they discover your wildscape. The wildlife species that will visit your backyard is largely determined by the location of your backyard in proximity to other backyards or undisturbed open space. Wildlife visiting backyards in Western Maryland will differ from backyards on the Eastern Shore, but songbirds, hummingbirds, deer, frogs, turtles, butterflies, squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks are just a few of the species you may observe enjoying your wildscape. The age of your neighborhood also plays a part in what species will be attracted to your wildscape. Wildlife that need old trees as residences will begin to frequent neighborhoods with large trees but new neighborhoods with young trees tend to lack such wildlife.

Always be sure to consider space, light, soil and watering requirements of each plant before planting them in your wildscape. Plant nurseries and garden centers are good sources for plant care information. Use organic solutions to insect and disease problems instead of pesticides whenever possible. Check out the page on Beneficial Insects to learn more about insects that can work for you as well as alternatives to pest control.

Black-capped chickadees are easy to attract with the right element Photo by: USFWS 

Diversity is the Key

Some large lots are comprised of grass with very little landscaping. The key to creating excellent wildlife habitat, regardless of the total size of the yard, is to offer a diverse habitat. Small trees and shrubs should form the "backbone" of the garden with lower growing annuals and perennials planted in front. Create a diversity of vertical habitat by planting groundcovers and arbors in addition to trees, shrubs and flowers. These plants form layers of habitat that are attractive to a greater number of wildlife species than if you just planted grass and trees. Also, select plants that do "double duty" in the wildlife garden by serving as food and shelter, which is especially important where space is limited.

How much grass should you keep? If you have children or pets, then some grass is necessary. A general rule of thumb is to have 60% or more of your yard area (excluding the house) planted in something other than grass. This rule is for the person who wants to retire their mower completely and incorporates a diverse blending of shrubs, annuals, perennials and vines in an arrangement that makes good use of available vertical space. Other vertical components adding dimension to the design include window boxes and a grape vine.

Habitat Elements


Trees, shrubs and flowers represent important food components in the wildlife garden. Plants provide food in the fruit they produce, including seeds, berries, or nuts, or serve as food themselves. Plants should be chosen so that a variety of plants flower and fruit all season, which ensures a natural food supply will always be available to wildlife. Also, keep in mind the fruiting characteristics of plants. Inkberries and yews are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are on separate plants. If berries are desired as a food component than a male and female must be planted near each other. It's also imperative to prune these shrubs carefully and at the proper time of year to make sure you don't severely prune off your future food supply.

Annuals and perennials are excellent sources of nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and moths. After flowering, some annuals and perennials produce seeds that are enjoyed by songbirds. Be sure to select flower varieties that produce single rather than double flowers because singles are richer sources of nectar. Annuals, as a general rule, flower for a longer period than perennials and can provide vivid colors. Perennials should be chosen so that something is flowering throughout the season. Some of the best bee and butterfly plants are herbs, which when planted, can also add to your kitchen creations.


Fresh water is probably the most important habitat element that you can add to your wildlife garden. There are many kinds of pedestal birdbaths commercially available. A ground birdbath placed in the garden with a circulating pump and mister may attract shy warblers and is a good choice for yards that aren't accessible to free-roaming predators (like cats). A shallow saucer or dish filled with fresh water does just as well. There are also birdbaths commercially available that can attach directly to porch and deck railings that are just as useful for birds to drink and bathe. A saucer filled with sand and kept wet provides water and nutrients for butterflies and toads too! Larger properties may also have streams and backyard ponds which can provide a sufficient water source for wildlife.


Evergreen trees and shrubs and bushy or thorny deciduous shrubs can provide shelter for wildlife, even when planted near to the house in a foundation bed. Depending on the shrub, birds may even nest in it. Wildlife need shelter from the weather and safe places to rest and nest away from predators. Planting evergreens near feeders can provide year-round shelter for birds.

A grape arbor provides a nice shady retreat for both you and wildlife. In addition to these plant components, bird nesting boxes also provide important shelter for many wildlife species to raise their young. Roosting boxes provide safe places for resting and protection from the elements. If you have a shady spot with some space, then consider adding a toad abode to the landscape.

If you have the space, then consider leaving Snags and Logs or creating Brush Piles for cover.

Recommended Plant List

The following list provides some recommendations for wildlife friendly plants. When selecting plants, keep in mind the size of your space as well as soil and light requirements for the plants you install. Also, be an informed consumer and stay away from plants that are known to be invasive. For a list of commonly planted invasive species, check out the “Bad Plants Planted by Good People” page.


Species Native? Flower/Fruit Benefits
Cosmos N Jun-Aug Attractive to bees and butterflies
Flowering Tobacco
(Nicotiana alata) 
N May-Jul Attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.
(Alcea spp.)
N   Attractive to bees and butterflies; biennial
(Pentas spp.)
N Jun-Sept Nectar attracts bees, butterflies, birds
(Petunia spp.)
N Apr-Jul Can attract butterflies like Painted ladies
(Salvia spp.)
N May-Sep Great for beneficial insect pollinators
(Helianthus annuus)
N Jun-Aug Attracts butterflies, bees, beneficial insects, birds and small mammals
Sweet William/Phlox
(Phlox divaricata)
Y Apr-Jun Showy spring flower that attracts butterflies
Sweet William
(Dianthus barbatus)
N Jun-Jul Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds
Zinnia  N   Great for butterflies and other pollinators

Flowering Tobacco can attract pollinators and birds by: Kerry Wixted  


Species Native? Flower/Fruit Benefits

Big Bluestem
(Andropogon gerardii)

Y Jun-Sep Clump forming plant which provides cover
Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) Y Jun-Oct Clump forming plant which provides cover and seeds for wildlife
(Sorghastrum nutans)
Y Aug-Oct Clump forming plant which provides cover
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) Y Aug-Oct Clump forming plant which provides cover and seeds for wildlife
(Tridens flavus)
Y Aug-Oct Best in dry fields; provides cover
(Panicum virgatum)
Y Jul-Oct Clump forming plant which provides food for sparrows and other songbirds
Virginia wild rye
(Elymus virginicus)
Y Jun-Oct Clump forming plant which tolerates a wide range of conditions

Wild Oats
(Chasmanthium latifolium)

Y Jul-Sep Provides cover

Wild Oats produce attractive fruits while also providing cover for wildlife. Photo by Gene Cooley 


Species Native? Flower/Fruit Benefits
(Anethum graveolens)
N   Host for Black swallowtail larvae
(Foeniculum vulgare)
N   Host for Black swallowtail larvae
(Rosemaryinus officinalis)
N   Good for bees
Sweet Marjoram
(Origanum vulgare)
N   Good for bees
N   Excellent for bees
* Note: many herbs can be aggressive in the garden, so it is best to plant them in containers

Black swallowtail larvae use plants from the Carrot family as larval hosts. Photo by: Lynn Davidson 


Species Native? Flower/Fruit Benefits
(Monarda didyma)
Y Jul-Sep Showy, aromatic flowers which attract hummingbirds and butterflies
(Penstemon digitalis)
Y Jun-Aug Great for hummingbirds
Black-eyed Susan
(Rudbeckia hirta)
Y Jun-Oct Provides both a pollen and nectar source for wildlife
(Liatris spicata)
Y Jul-Aug Nectar source for butterflies and beneficial insect; grows in dry soil
(Asclepias tuberosa)
Y May-Jul
Host plant for monarch butterflies. Also attracts adult butterflies
Common Milkweed
(Asclepias syriaca)
Y May-Jun
Host plant for butterflies; fragrant and attracts beneficial insects
(Solidago spp.)
Y/N   Attracts butterflies and beneficial insects
(Vernonia noveboracensis)
Y Aug-Oct Host plant for butterflies
Joe Pyeweed
(Eupatorium fistulosum)
Y Jul-Oct Attracts songbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects; great for rain gardens
(Delphinium spp.)
Y/N Apr-Jun Provides nectar for butterflies and beneficial insects
(Lupinus perennis)
Y Apr-Jun Prefers sunny areas and acidic soil; host plant for butterflies
(Mitchella repens)
Y May-Jul
Groundcover that provides berries for birds and small mammals
Purple Coneflower
(Echinacea purpureum)
Y Jul-Aug Provides nectar for pollinators as well as seeds for birds
(Sedum spp.)
Y/N   Provides good groundcover and some varieties are used by butterflies
Turk’s Cap Lily
(Lilium superbum)
Wild Bleeding Heart
(Dicentra eximia)
Y Apr-Sep Good for songbirds and beneficial insects
Wild Columbine
(Aquilegia canadensis)
Y Apr-Jul Great for butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects

Goldenrods are great for attracting butterflies like this fritillary. Photo by: Kerry Wixted 


Species Native? Flower/Fruit Benefits
(Vaccinium spp.)
Y/N   Provide berry source for birds as well as nectar source for butterflies and bees
(Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)
Y Apr-Jun  Provides cover, nectar for insects, berries for songbirds and leaves for moths
(Cornus spp.)
Y/N   Provides cover and berries for birds and small mammals
(Sambucus canadensis)
Y May
Fragrant flowers and berries important for songbirds and small mammals
(Hydrangea spp.)
Y/N Jun-Aug Provides cover and food for pollinators
(Ilex glabra)
Y May-Jun
Provides cover and berries for songbirds and small mammals; need a male and female for berries
(Juniperus spp.)
Y/N   Provides year-round shelter
(Rhododendron maximum)
Y May-Aug
Provides year-round shelter for wildlife
Sweet Pepperbush
(Clethra alnifolia)
Y Jul-Aug
Fragrant and attracts butterflies, beneficial bugs, songbirds and waterfowl; provides cover and food
(Viburnum spp.)
    Produce fruits enjoyed by songbirds and small mammals
Virginia Sweetspire
(Itea virginica)
Y Jun-Jul
Provides nectar for beneficial insects and fruit for songbirds and small mammals
(Ilex verticillata)
Y Jun-Jul
Provides cover and berries for songbirds and small mammals; need a male and female for berries
(Taxus canadensis)
Y Mar-May
Provides cover and berries for songbirds

A duskywing skipper feeds on blueberry nectar by: Kerry Wixted  

Small Trees

Species Native? Flower/Fruit Benefits
American holly
(Ilex opaca)
Y May-Jun Provides year-round cover and berries for songbirds
Fire Cherry
(Prunus pensylvanica)
Y May
High wildlife value for birds and mammals
(Chionanthus virginicus)
Y May-Jun
Fragrant flowers and attractive to songbirds
Flowering Dogwood
(Cornus florida)
Y Apr-May
High wildlife value and showy flowers in spring
Mountain Ash
(Sorbus americana)
Y May-Jul
High wildlife value for songbirds and small mammals
(Asimina triloba)
Y Apr-Jun
Produces edible fruits favored by birds, mammals and people
(Amelanchier arborea)
Y Mar-May
Used by 58 species of wildlife in MD; berries are edible to songbirds, mammals and people
Sweetbay Magnolia
(Magnolia virginiana)
Y May-Jul
Semi-evergreen and attractive to songbirds, mammals and beneficial insects
(Rhus spp.)
Y/N   Berries attractive to songbirds and small mammals

American Holly provides berries and year-round cover for a variety of wildlife. Photo by: Kerry Wixted 

Large Trees

Species Native? Flower/Fruit  Benefits
American Beech
(Fagus grandifolia)
Y Apr-May
Nuts edible to small mammals; also attracts songbirds
American Elm
(Ulmus americana)
Y Mar-Apr
High wildlife value and attractive to nesting Baltimore Orioles
(Carya cordiformis)
Y Apr-May
Fruits edible to mammals; attractive to songbirds
Eastern White Pine
(Pinus strobus)
Y May-Jul
Birds and small mammals feed on seeds; provides cover
Northern Red Oak
(Quercus rubra)
Y Apr-May Acorns important for many species of wildlife
(Diospyros virginiana)
Y Apr-May
High wildlife value; fruits are edible for mammals, birds and people
Slippery Elm
(Ulmus rubra)
Y Mar-May High wildlife value
Sugar Maple
(Acer saccharum)
Y Apr-May
High wildlife value for songbirds and small mammals
Tulip Poplar
(Liriodendron tulipifera)
Y June
Attracts hummingbirds, songbirds and small mammals
White Ash
(Fraxinus americana)
Y Apr-May
Attracts birds, butterflies, beneficial bugs and small mammals
White Oak
(Quercus alba)
Y Mar-May
Acorns valuable for wildlife; MD state tree; high wildlife value

Many wildlife species enjoy White Oak acorns. Photo by: Steve J. Baskauf, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 


Species Native? Flower/Fruit Benefits

(Celastrus scandens)

Y May-Jun
Provides fruits, buds and leaves. Excellent winter food for birds.
Oriental bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) is invasive.      
(Passiflora incarnata)
Y Jun-Sep
Great for butterflies and provides edible fruits
Trumpet Creeper
(Campsis radicans)
Y Jul-Sep
Great for butterflies and hummingbirds
Trumpet Honeysuckle
(Lonicera sempervirens)
Y Apr-Oct
Excellent plant for hummingbirds and provides berries for songbirds
Virgin’s Bower
(Clematis virginiana)
Y Jul-Sept
Fragrant flowers; Note: avoid invasive Japanese clematis
Wild Grape
(Vitis spp.)
Y/N   Provides berries for wildlife

Passionflower is attractive to many species of butterflies. Photo by: Kerry Wixted 

Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard!

For Additional Information, Contact:

Kerry Wixted
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Ave, E-1
Annapolis, MD 21401
Phone: 410-260-8566
Fax: 410-260-8596


  • Black-capped chickadee photo by: USFWS
  • Wild Oats picture by Gene Cooley
  • Black swallowtail caterpillar picture by Lynn Davidson
  • White oak acorns by: Steve J. Baskauf, University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point
  • All other photos by Kerry Wixted