Chapter 18: Habitat Gardening for Wildlife

Landscaping for wildlife is both an art and a science. Whether we use plants creatively as a form of artistic expression or we design the landscape as merely a utilitarian space, we can sustain the biodiversity around us by planning our gardens with an ecological function in mind. When we plan our surroundings in a way that supports complex interactions between plants and animals, we become more fully connected to nature ourselves.

Habitat gardening is an enjoyable way to more fully appreciate nature while improving the available food, water, and cover for birds, amphibians, mammals, and other wild creatures in our landscape. Applying the principles of good vegetative structure and horizontal layering as we add plants to the landscape will provide wildlife with beneficial food sources as well as much needed cover from predators, winter winds, and summer sun. Nest boxes, water features, brush piles and other amenities will enhance the habitat’s value and can be planned as attractive focal points in the garden.

However, as one assesses the existing habitat and makes choices about what plants and amenities to add, care must be taken in the placement of those enhancements, in order to minimize the possibility of attracting “unwelcome” wildlife species. There are no “nuisance wildlife” species; rather, we create the conditions in our landscape that attract wildlife, and sometimes our unwitting choices set the stage for certain wildlife species to become a problem. Therefore, we must plan the habitat garden in a way that balances our need for aesthetics and beauty with the reality of how wildlife will likely use the space as we’ve designed it.

Habitat Loss and Declining Wildlife Populations

The decline of wildlife species is occurring at an alarming, accelerated rate. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) maintains a Wildlife Action Plan (published 2015) which identifies 925 species of greatest concern, classified into four groups or ‘tiers’ that describe varying degrees of population declines attributed to habitat loss. Of these, 290 species or 31% are insects, which are an essential part of aquatic and terrestrial food webs.

Table 18-1: Wildlife groups and numbers

Wildlife Groups in Virginia (Total Species in Parentheses) Number of Species of Greatest Conservation Need
Mammals (96) 24
Birds (390) 96
Fishes (210) 97
Reptiles (62) 28
Amphibians (82) 32
Mussels 61
Aquatic Crustaceans 61
Aquatic Insects 148
Terrestrial Insects 142
Other Aquatic Invertabrates 34
Other Terrestrial Invertabrates 202
Total species of greatest concern 925

Except regularly nesting sea turtle species, list does not include marine wildlife.

Habitat loss is caused by many factors. The most obvious is development and fragmentation of forest, meadow and wetland habitats, as we continue to grow the economy by building commercial and residential sites. This development brings with it a host of factors that adversely impact the remaining or surrounding habitats, and these factors include but are not limited to a prevalence of impervious surfaces that contribute to increased erosion and runoff, which carries chemicals and sediments with it, and the extensive use of lawn and other non-native plants in the landscape for ornamentation. There are adverse impacts occurring in the more rural or agricultural areas, including the routine use of herbicides and pesticides and farming practices that remove hedgerows and large expanses of vegetation in order to maximize production. In addition, as more land disturbance occurs across all these areas—urban, suburban and rural—we’ve seen a connected proliferation of invasive exotic plant species that compete with native plant communities.

The additive effect of all these factors or pressures on the environment is an overall reduction in the quantity and quality of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, which is the single most important reason that wildlife populations are in decline, across multiple genera and species. The 2015 revised edition of the Wildlife Action Plan therefore places even greater emphasis on habitat conservation by providing summaries of priority actions that local Planning District Commissions can apply on a regional scale.

What can Master Gardener volunteers do at the local level to support the Wildlife Action Plan? Master Gardeners are in a unique position to influence the trajectory of habitat loss by increasing public understanding of this issue. Oftentimes, homeowners and landowners are either completely unaware of or only vaguely familiar with the connection between their landscape practices and the effects of those practices on habitat quality. Continued emphasis in our education outreach programs about good conservation landscaping practices is essential for raising awareness. If we provide consistent, clear messages and simple guidance about how to improve or restore habitat in our communities, then the resulting actions by the public should help to slow—and ultimately, one hopes, to reverse—the trend of declining wildlife species. Conservation begins at home and in the neighborhood, and habitat gardening is a good first step to restoring and sustaining biodiversity.

Habitat Principles

What Wildlife Needs: Vegetative (Biotic) Components

In order to understand fully what wildlife needs, we must begin with plants. Each plant species in a given geographic area has a total number of individual plants that make up a population, and the collection of plant populations found in that area form an assemblage known as the plant community. A diverse, healthy plant community provides multiple ecological services, such as interception of rainfall, which helps to recharge the groundwater and reduce flooding and erosion. Plant communities also contribute to nutrient cycling, oxygen exchange and carbon sequestration processes. Perhaps one of the most crucial functions of a plant community, in addition to these many benefits, is the life-sustaining support it provides to an associated community of wildlife species. The plant community provides organic matter for a variety of organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, and the plants also provide food and cover for wildlife, including birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects.

Plant and animal communities live and interact together in varying compositions and in distinct, often complementary relationships to each other. These biologically diverse communities, when combined together with the other non-living (abiotic) elements of the surrounding environment, such as soil, water and sunlight, form a functional system of continuous energy exchange called an ecosystem. Forests, wetlands and prairies are examples of ecosystems that contain thousands of plant and animal populations that interact with each other in the context of other landscape components.

Together, these interdependent populations of plants and animals make up countless communities within ecosystems, which give an area its species richness and genetic diversity. Biodiversity refers to the variety of genes, species and ecosystems in the aggregate, across the larger landscape.

A habitat is the area within an ecosystem where an animal is able to secure the food, water, cover and space it needs to survive and reproduce. Every wildlife species has specific habitat requirements; but because there are often overlaps of habitat features within a system, there are usually multiple wildlife species that can live in a given habitat. Salamanders, for example, require moist soil and rich organic matter that can be found in forest, riverine, and wetland ecosystems. Each of those ecosystems contain multiple habitat components—the tree canopy, boggy low areas, rocky outcrops, etc.—and other wildlife species like frogs and birds will be found in association with the habitats in those ecosystems, too. This means that if we want to restore and sustain biodiversity in the landscape around our home or on our property, we simply need to “put back” an assemblage of many of the plant species and other elements that would naturally have occurred there, and arrange the plants and those elements in such a way that many wildlife species will be able to take advantage of them and meet their needs for survival.

Habitat gardens are therefore most successful when they support a broad diversity of wildlife species, and the easiest way to achieve wildlife diversity is to choose a variety of plant species that most closely mimic the vegetative structure of a natural system. Plants are the living or biotic component of the landscape, and vegetative or vertical structure refers to layers of plants that provide a level of complexity and functionality in their arrangement such that they sustain a broad array of wildlife species.

A drawn diagram. From left to right. Mulch layer that goes into a herbaceous layer containing smaller plants. Next is shrub layer containing shrubs and small trees. Next is tree canopy containing several varieties of trees and a snag.
Figure 18-1: Mulch, herbaceous plants, shrubs and small trees, and large trees compose different layers in a forest ecosystem.

Mulch layer

For example, on the ground plane of an eastern deciduous forest, the first component is the mulch layer, which forms a humus blanket that maintains soil temperature and can protect the ground from erosion. The mulch layer is critical for the decomposition process and supports many insects such as sow bugs, beetles and millipedes. These insects then become food for predatory insects such as centipedes and also serve to feed other wildlife, such as spiders, salamanders, toads, lizards, turtles, small mammals and birds. As the leaf litter and woody debris are broken down through the chewing and shredding of insects, along with the associated decay that’s wrought by fungi and bacteria, nutrients are released back into the soil, where plants can take them up again. This continuous recycling of organic matter and replenishment of soil is a most valuable aspect of the mulch layer. Therefore, one of the very first steps in establishing a habitat garden is to retain the leaf litter in the landscape, so as to support a rich assortment of organisms that will form the foundation for a complex food web.

Herbaceous layer

The next layer in our forest example is the herbaceous layer. These are plants with green, mostly non-woody stems, and they include species that form the groundcover layer. Groundcovers are plants that creep along the mulch or grow in clumps or masses and provide a protective covering for the soil below. Foamflower (Tiarella), wild ginger, striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), sundrops, woodland phlox, columbine, and bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are some wildflowers or “forbs” we might see in the forest setting. In addition to these groundcover plants, the herbaceous layer may also contain a variety of ferns as well as vines, such as crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), pipevine (Isotrema macrophyllum), trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Of special note is that groundcovers in nature are typically much taller than the two to three inches in height we’re accustomed to seeing in a conventional lawn. Hence, the herbaceous layer in a productive habitat garden is not likely to be a short carpet but rather a diverse composition of plants of varying heights that simply cover the ground.

Shrub layer

Standing above the herbaceous layer but below the taller trees is the shrub layer or “sub-canopy” layer. This layer is comprised of flowering shrubs that grow in a wide range of sizes, from as small as 2 feet for huckleberry or lowbush blueberry, to medium heights of 6-12 feet for deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and viburnums, and as tall as 15 or 20 feet for American hazelnut (Corylus americana), witch hazel, and rhododendrons.

Tree canopy layer

Overhead is the canopy formed by the tallest plants, the tree layer. Some trees are small, only 20 to 35 feet in height, such as pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), paw paw (Asimina triloba), and redbud (Cercis canadensis). Others grow within a range of 30 to 60 feet in height, such as serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and American holly (Ilex opaca). The largest trees, such as oaks and hickories, can attain heights of 80 to 100 feet.

Since most of our built landscapes are typically missing one or more vegetative layers, we can easily support more wildlife species by taking our cues from nature and choosing a palette of plants appropriate for our particular site conditions. For example, if the landscape is primarily wide open lawn, which is devoid of vegetative layers and diversity, we could bring life back to the scene by emulating a meadow habitat made up of sun-loving native grasses and flowers. If our landscape has some tree cover but little else, we could add a shrub layer and herbaceous ground covers. A very wet, boggy area in the yard that’s difficult to mow and maintain could be transformed into a mini-wetland, with the addition of common elderberry and buttonbush to make up the shrub layer, and moisture-loving plants like Joe pyeweed (Eutrochium purpureum), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) to form an herbaceous layer.

Horizontal and vertical structure layer

Another habitat principle we can apply in our landscape planning is horizontal structure. Over the course of time, plant species within a given community will naturally change, if there are no interventions such as mowing, grazing or burning. Each stage of change occurs in succession after the one before it, and this process of succession is why a plant community that starts out as a meadow will gradually be replaced with woody species and eventually become a forest in the final stage. The arrangement and interspersion of these different successional stages in proximity to each other is what provides horizontal structure. We can use basic gardening and maintenance methods to improve horizontal structure by encouraging the growth of particular vegetative types that will mimic different successional stages, which in turn will support different wildlife species. For example, if we stop mowing an area, we can allow woody shrubs and trees to gradually take over and provide a forest-type habitat. If, on the other hand, we already have a woodland and want to attract wildlife species that require grasses and other flowering herbaceous plants, we can create an opening in the canopy and plant perennials and grasses, then keep the successional changes in check by mowing every two to three years, which will prevent woody vegetation from becoming re-established there.

We can also enhance the places where two habitat types come together, referred to as an edge. This transition zone is made up of plants from each of the habitats juxtaposed to each other and therefore contains wildlife species from both habitats as well. The greater the number and variety of plant species along an edge, the higher the abundance of wildlife found there. In a landscape setting, we can maximize this edge effect by increasing the number of plant species in the space between where two different vegetative types occur. For example, where a lawn abuts a stand of trees, we can add a shrub layer alongside the trees, to soften the edge. We could even take the edge one step further by adding a layer of herbaceous flowering plants next to the shrub layer. Hence, even a very small space like a townhouse yard can greatly increase its habitat potential by simply adding layers that improve both vertical and horizontal structure.

A diagram map. In the lower left corner is a birdhouse, wet area, spring runoff stream, shade plants, ground cover. The lower right corner contains stone wall, birdhouse, fruit trees. The upper right corner and towards the center contains leach field, septic tank, cedar rail fence with vines, wood shed utility, garage, compost, hummingbird feeder, flowers, bat house. From the upper right corner into the center is a bird house, bird bath, deck, house, hummingbird feeder, butterfly house, and flowers.
Figure 18-2: Habitat diagram.
Habitat structure:  Adding layers of plants to the landscape is a very effective way of increasing available food and cover for wildlife.  Flowering perennials form an herbaceous groundcover next to shrubs and small trees of varying heights and texture. Placement of a shrub border is ideal along an edge where the grouping will be adjacent to taller trees. Look for places throughout the property to increase vertical structure, such as along fences, property lines, walkways and driveways. Shrub beds can also be situated in the middle of a lawn to create a habitat island.  Arrange the plants in large clusters or groupings, which will maximize the depth of the bed and the interior structure for greater cover, rather than installing a single row of plants.

Similarly, the edges of small creeks and streams that run through the landscape can be enhanced or protected with vegetation. An edge of shrubs and trees planted along a waterway will provide a sheltering buffer for wildlife from human activity, and the roots of the plants will hold the soil and filter runoff that enters the stream – thus improving the aquatic habitat within the stream, too.

Choosing Plants for Wildlife: Interrelationships and Biodiversity

Now that we know how to put a habitat together—arrange it in layers, with lots of structure and diversity—the next step is deciding which plants to use. There’s an important case to be made for selecting native plants for wildlife whenever possible.

What’s a native plant? According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Native species are those that occur in the region in which they evolved. Plants evolve over geologic time in response to physical and biotic processes characteristic of a region: the climate, soils, timing of rainfall, drought, and frost; and interactions with the other species inhabiting the local community.”

Mounting scientific evidence indicates a strong correlation between the use of native plants in the landscape and insect biodiversity.

According to researchers Desirée L. Narango, Douglas W. Tallamy, and Peter P. Marra, “Over 90% of herbivorous insects specialize on one or a few native plant lineages—thus, ecosystems dominated by nonnative plants are characterized by reduced insect diversity, abundance, and biomass. Given that the majority of terrestrial birds rely on insects as a primary food source for reproduction and survival, the persistence of insectivorous bird populations is inextricably linked to insect conservation,” (2018). The choice of plants we make in our landscape not only impacts the biodiversity of insect populations but also multiple bird populations as well. Further, Tallamy and other scientists have found that not all native plants are equally productive. Some plant species support far greater biomass or numbers of organisms than others. For example, native plants in the Lobelia genus (such as cardinal flower) only support four species of Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths and skippers), while plants in the Carex genus (the sedges) support 36 species of Lepidoptera.

As gardeners, then, we have a wide range of choices before us when selecting plants for habitat improvement. The initial decisions we make for habitat gardening will likely be the same as for any other project, based on three primary factors: 1) how we plan to use the site; 2) the current site conditions; and 3) what plant species are most appropriate for those site conditions and the geographic region we live in. Budget is typically a fourth factor. Although it’s true that the more native plant species we use, the better the wildlife diversity will be, it’s important to find the right balance to suit our specific site, which is an individual choice that will depend on our own particular needs. Ultimately, the degree to which one is able to improve habitat and sustain wildlife will be unique to each situation and dependent on individual preference.

In addition, there are many other reasons to use native plants besides the benefit of providing food and cover for wildlife. Whenever we choose “the right plant for the right place,” we ensure a more successful outcome, especially if we select those best adapted for drought—or water-tolerance. And although native plants are not maintenance free—contrary to popular opinion—they can substantially decrease long-term maintenance requirements over time, once established. In general, native plant landscapes use less water, help reduce energy costs, and can increase property value because of their intrinsic aesthetic appeal.

Goochland-Powhatan Extension Master Gardener Habitat Demonstration Garden

By Linda Toler, Extension Master Gardener, Goochland-Powhatan

Group of people stands around a large area of dirt and leaves amid a green lawn.
Figure 18-3: Extension Master Gardeners build a lasagna garden.

In 2021, Extension Master Gardener volunteers from the Goochland-Powhatan Master Gardener Association (GPMGA) initiated a project called “HOPE from the Garden” (HOPE stands for Helping Our Planet Endure) to encourage gardeners to adopt practices that will help keep the land healthy and support the life that depends on it, keep local waters clean and plentiful, and keep the air clean and unpolluted.

The initiative focuses on these areas:

  • Building and maintaining a healthy soil.
  • Minimizing the use of pesticides.
  • Reducing lawn areas.
  • Incorporating native plants into our landscapes and eliminating invasive plants.
  • Providing healthy wildlife habitats.
  • Conserving water.
  • Managing stormwater runoff.
  • Adopting gardening practices that contribute to clean air.

Some of the specific recommendations within each area are “no-brainers,” while others like no-till gardening and reducing lawn areas, may require a change in thinking for some gardeners. Some may ask, “is it even possible to have an attractive landscape that adopts these practices?”

Goochland-Powhatan Extension Master Gardeners  believe the answer is “yes.” And so, in late Fall 2022, a team of GPMGA volunteers began installation of a “HOPE Garden” in a large, sunny, lawn area in front of the county building housing the Goochland County Extension Office and others.

 The main practices illustrated by the garden are:

  • Conversion of a lawn area into an ecologically beneficial garden using no-till gardening techniques.
  • Design of an attractive garden of native plants that provides value to wildlife.
  • Maintaining a garden without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and gasoline-powered equipment.
Diagram of Hope garden drawn on graph paper with plants including mountain mint, sourwoood tree, winterberry, dogwood, and Joe Pye weed.
Figure 18-4: HOPE Garden design.

In Fall 2022, garden installation began using a no-till, “lasagna garden” approach. Plentiful fall leaves and grass clippings were layered over sheets of cardboard, wet down, and left to break down over the winter months.

Plant installation began the following spring. Plants selected for the garden are native to Virginia’s Capital Region, are attractive in the home landscape, and most importantly, support the invertebrates, birds, and mammals that are so important to our local ecosystems. For example, the native dogwood (Cornus florida) included in the design is the larval host for 115 native caterpillar species. The design includes trees, shrubs, and perennials selected to provide garden interest throughout the year. Each plant was selected for the teaching opportunities it presents. Other features to support wildlife will be added as the garden evolves.

The garden is laid out with pathways for up-close viewing of the plants and their “visitors.”  Educational signage describing the plants and their benefits to our native ecosystem are planned as are educational events and activities for homeowners and children.

The “HOPE Garden” is a new project that will evolve over time. The volunteers are excited about providing a forum for presenting the positive benefits of converting part of a lawn area into an attractive native plant garden that will help support our native wildlife.

To initiate a project like this in your community, find a location that has visibility in the community, get buy-in from key stakeholders, decide what you want to teach with the garden, and line up a team of hard-working volunteers who are committed to the project and sharing the concepts with the community.

Conservation Landscaping and Habitat Gardening

Conservation landscaping refers to landscape principles that apply best practices for conserving water, soil, and existing native plant communities. The Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council has developed simple guidelines that can help homeowners, landowners, landscape professionals and municipal decision-makers take action to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. However, these guidelines can certainly be applied to other areas of the state that are outside the Bay watershed, because conservation practices help improve environmental quality no matter where we live.

The “Eight Essential Elements” are useful for making informed landscape choices. A conservation landscape:

  1. Is designed to benefit the environment and function efficiently and aesthetically for human use and well-being;
  2. Uses locally native plants that are appropriate for site conditions;
  3. Institutes a management plan for the removal of existing invasive plants and the prevention of future nonnative plant invasions;
  4. Provides habitat for wildlife;
  5. Promotes healthy air quality and minimizes air pollution;
  6. Conserves and cleans water;
  7. Promotes healthy soils;
  8. Is managed to conserve energy, reduce waste, and eliminate or minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Conservation landscaping is therefore a systematic approach that integrates the use of native plants and wildlife habitat into our built environment while simultaneously reducing the need for mowing or for using fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, water and fossil fuels. With this approach, plants are selected not just for their ornamental appeal but for their function in providing the highest habitat value for the site, in order to sustain multiple wildlife species. There’s much less emphasis on using turfgrass as the predominant cover type, because turfgrass supports very little biodiversity. Instead, the principles apply greater emphasis on replacing lawn with assemblages of native plants that would be found locally in the natural environment. In essence, a conservation landscape sustains life and conserves resources in a way that traditional landscaping often does not. Yet, conservation landscapes can provide as much—and many would say they provide more—beauty and aesthetic appeal to the human eye.

After the vegetative components have been chosen and the various layers of plants have become established, it’s time to look around the landscape and strategically fill in any remaining spaces with additional structural components that will augment the available habitat for wildlife. These are the non-living or abiotic elements of the landscape. The most commonly used structural components include brush piles and rock piles, snags (dead trees), nest boxes, areas with bare soil, and water features.

Table 18-2: Examples of Conventional Landscaping Practices that Reduce or Increase Habitat Value

Examples of Conventional Landscaping Practices that Reduce Habitat Value Examples of Conservation Landscaping Practices that Increase Habitat Value
Select plants primarily for their perceived decorative value, unusual physical characteristics, or rapid growth habits that will quickly and easily fill in a site, regardless of where the plant species originated. Select plants primarily for their utility to wildlife, water quality and ecosystem processes, in order to emulate native plant habitats that would be found naturally in the local region and are most appropriate for the given site conditions. Avoid selecting non-native “alien” or “exotic” invasive plant species known to be problematic in the environment, and control these plants if they enter the landscape, in order to reduce the likelihood of their competition with native plant communities.
Maximize lawn as a predominant feature of the landscape. Minimize lawn by using it artistically where needed, for its specific functional value, such as for a pathway, or for certain recreational activities, or to frame a view or provide an intentional edge around a planted bed.
Routinely apply fertilizer and pesticides to optimize plant growth. Use native plant species that are well-adapted to local soils, climate and insect predation, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for fertilizers or pesticides, which can run off the site during a rain event and have harmful effects on water quality and aquatic wildlife species.
Rake-up and bag-up leaves in autumn, and dispose of in the landfill.  Remove and dispose of all downed twigs, branches and other woody debris. Keep leaves on site by shredding and/or composting them, and use the material for mulch and/or as an organic amendment to ornamental planting beds, which will enrich the soil and provide a sustainable food source for insects and other wildlife. Keep downed twigs and branches on site by chipping them and composting the material or using it for mulch, or cut the larger branches into manageable sizes that can be used to create brush piles for wildlife cover.
Remove all dead vegetation from flowering plants in the fall. Allow dead vegetation to remain on site throughout winter (until late February/early March), which will provide cover for dormant insects or their eggs, and places for birds to feed and seek protection from harsh weather. Design the landscape such that plant species are strategically chosen and placed to provide interesting structural elements in winter dormancy, and therefore greater visual and aesthetic interest throughout the season.
Mow all the vegetation along a creek or stream, down to the water’s edge. Maintain at least a 35 foot buffer of plants such as shrubs and trees along waterways, which will filter runoff from the surrounding land, will shade the water, and will keep the soil from eroding the banks, thereby protecting aquatic wildlife species that cannot tolerate extremes of water temperature and that need clean water to thrive.

Brush Piles and Rock Piles

Brush piles and rock piles provide places for wildlife to seek shelter from the elements of rain, wind and snow over the course of a year. The “nooks and crannies” afford cool, dark areas to hide from the summer sun, or a protected spot to nestle down and retain warmth against the winter’s chill. Temperature extremes aside, these simple constructed piles of easily found materials also provide valuable escape cover from predators, as well as places for wildlife to raise young. Rabbits, raccoons, mice, chipmunks, box turtles, lizards, snakes, insect-eating birds are just some of the many other animals that seek out these protected areas from time to time, either to rest, find food, overwinter or lay their eggs. Depending on how big the pile is, some species may create a burrow or nest underneath the pile to live on a more permanent basis.

The limiting factor for brush piles and rock piles, of course, will be the size of the yard, as these piles are best suited to fairly large size lots (at least an acre), with plenty of space. It’s also important to locate the pile well away from buildings and vegetable gardens, in order to minimize the likelihood of attracting wildlife such as groundhogs or skunks, which might decide to seek alternative shelter under the foundation of a nearby house or shed. Very small yards, such as a courtyard or a town house lot, are not conducive to making a pile at all.

A cartoon diagram. A flat area of land goes directly into a steep hill. Within this space is a pile of rocks with plants growing. At the bottom is a log with two frogs at each opening.
Figure 18-5: Rock pile habitat with large opening on bottom to allow amphibians to enter.

Rock piles can be placed on the edges of the property near existing vegetation, or behind a shrub bed or adjacent to a stand of trees—wherever the rocks will blend in with the surrounding landscape to look natural and not too contrived. A rock pile can also benefit frogs and other aquatic organisms when stacked loosely among the vegetation next to a creek or a pond, or partially submerged at the water’s edge, at least a foot below the water’s surface.

To build the pile, choose rocks or old bricks and blocks of various sizes and shapes, ranging from potato size to soccer ball size for the home landscape setting, or larger sizes in the more rural, spacious setting. Arrange the rocks unevenly, with open spaces between them, to fill an area at least five or six feet wide and one or two feet deep. Don’t worry about being too artistic with rock placement. Wildlife doesn’t care how pretty it looks; they just want a place to hide when the time comes. Consider planting a ground cover around the edges of the rock, or a vine that will grow over it, to provide additional protection. No need to mow there anymore!

Similarly, a brush pile is loosely constructed with lots of open spaces between the branches, which will make it easier for a wren to fly in or a rabbit to run under when threatened. Although a brush pile can be messy and built as big and wide as you like, avoid dumping a big pile of debris on the ground, which is a practice more suited to starting a compost heap. Rather, build the foundation of the brush pile in the manner of a miniature log cabin, starting with stumps or small logs, depending on what you have on hand, and criss-cross these in a couple of stacks until you have a firm base, preferably on level ground. Then stand large tree limbs up against the base, stacked against it, with the butt ends of the branches on the ground, and the thinner, lighter tips pointing up above. This will form a somewhat pyramidal-looking structure that you can continue to add smaller branches to, until most of the interior is no longer visible, but with plenty of empty voids remaining throughout the stack. Place the greatest number of branches on the side of the pile that faces the prevailing winds, to ensure additional protection from summer thunderstorms and winter winds.

Effective brush piles are quite large. In a rural landscape or on a very large lot, they should be at least 12 to 15 feet in diameter and at least five or six feet tall. However, this may not be practical for a smaller suburban lot. A smaller pile, such as six to eight feet wide and four to five feet tall, may be more appropriate for a residential setting and should still be adequate for many wildlife species to use.


Another structural component that some would say is “worth its weight in gold” for wildlife is a dead tree or snag. Dead trees provide a cornucopia of benefits, because the decaying material is host to innumerable insects and their larvae that chew their way through the wood or otherwise feed beneath the bark. Approximately 30 percent of native bee species use abandoned beetle tunnels in dead trees as a nesting site to lay their eggs. This abundance of burrowing insects, grubs and eggs provide an invaluable protein source for dozens of bird and mammal species. Woodpeckers make their homes in dead trees, too, and the holes they leave behind in the trunk and the branches provide places for bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, tree swallows, screech owls, titmice, opossums, tree squirrels, bats, raccoons and other cavity-seekers to raise their young. Snags provide open perches for hawks to hunt from, and when dead trees are located near a water body, kingfishers, flycatchers and herons can hunt from these perches as well. Other birds use snags as a convenient post to sing from when proclaiming their territory. Dead trees also provide a refuge for birds and hibernating mammals in winter, when fewer resources for cover may be available in other parts of the landscape. In a pond environment, a fallen tree in the water can provide excellent habitat structure for fish and other aquatic species.

The astonishing array of wildlife species that rely on dead trees—and on decomposing logs and branches on the ground—cannot be overstated. Therefore, whenever possible, leave dead trees standing. If a dying or dead tree poses a threat to a walkway, driveway or building, the tree can be taken down and left on the ground to decompose naturally and become an interesting if not unusual focal point, especially if it’s used as a backdrop for planting flowers and ferns around it. Or, sections of the tree can be cut up and used to make a brush pile, as described earlier. Either way, retaining dead trees and woody material on site will greatly enhance the habitat value for wildlife and also recycle nutrients back into the soil.

Nest Boxes

A photograph of a blue bluebird house on a post in front of a garden.
Figure 18-6: Eastern bluebird house.


Where no dead or dying trees are present, the next best thing is to put up nest boxes for cavity-seekers. Nest boxes provide vital homes for birds and small mammals such as flying squirrels to bear and raise their young, and each species that uses them has different requirements for the box dimensions, including the overall size of the box, the diameter of its opening, and the depth of the cavity within.

There are several considerations for constructing a bird house. Use untreated wood and select rough-cut lumber that’s a minimum of ¾- inch thick (one inch is better). Cedar is a good choice, if available, because of its durability. The box should provide for adequate ventilation near the top, for heat to escape, and holes in the bottom for drainage, if water gets in. The roof of the box should overhang the front, to keep rain from entering, and the box should also have a provision for opening up the side or the top to clean out the contents at the end of the breeding season. Roughen the inside of the front part of the box, or attach a small piece of hardware cloth to it, to make it easier for young birds to climb out when it’s time for them to fledge; do not paint the inside of the box. Also, do not attach a perch to the outside of the box, which merely provides an easier foothold for predators and encourages other non-native birds like starlings and house sparrows to attempt to enter.

To install a bird house, place it on a free-standing post or pole, well away from trees, which are the domain of the black rat snake. Secure a conical or stovepipe-type baffle to the post or pole beneath the box, in order to discourage raccoons, snakes and other predators. Do not use grease on the pole, as this is an unreliable method for deterrence and may sicken animals which ingest it. Be sure the front of the box is directed away from the prevailing winds, but face the box towards a distant tree where young birds can land when they leave the nest.

Table 18-3: Examples of Common Nest Box Dimensions

Various sources may recommend different dimensions. More detailed specifications for constructing nest boxes are available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Bird Species Diameter of Entrance Hole (inches) Depth of Cavity (inches) - from bottom of hole to the floor of the box Floor of Cavity (inches x inches) Height of Box Above the Ground (feet) Comments
Eastern Bluebird 1.5 6.5 5 x 5 5-15 Place in open areas away from buildings and spaced 100 feet apart
Carolina Chickadee 1.125 8 4 x 4 5-15 Place in area with mature hardwoods
Northern Flicker 2.5 16-18 7 x 7 8-10 Fill box with sawdust
House Wren 1 6-8 4-6 5-10 This species will fill the nest box with sticks
A photograph of a wooden bat house on a post in front of a large tree.
Figure 18-7: Bat houses have no floor to allow bats to enter/exit from the bottom.


Bat houses are constructed very differently than bird houses. A bat house has no floor on the bottom, because bats fly in and out from below, and the interior of the box is made up of several narrow partitions, conducive to the bats hanging between the baffles. The species that most commonly use bat houses in the mid-Atlantic region are the little brown bat and the big brown bat; females of these species congregate in nursery colonies in the summertime and may use boxes to raise their young. However, success with bat houses is mixed and seems to depend on many variables, such as the numbers of partitions within the box and the width between them; or how much sun the box receives (it should be painted a dark color to absorb sunlight, because bats need warm temperatures); or how far above the ground the box is mounted (typically 12 to 20 feet). Boxes placed in proximity to a natural water source, such as a pond, lake, stream or river, are often said to have the greatest success of use, because bats frequent aquatic areas where insect numbers are typically high. Place bat houses on the side of a building away from nighttime lights, and orient the box towards the southeast for maximum exposure to sunlight in the early morning. Instructions for building a bat house are available online, here is one example from the U.S. Forest Service: “Building a Bat House.”


Another type of nesting house is one that can be made for orchard mason bees, which seek out holes or tunnels in plant stems to build brood cells in which to lay their eggs. Make the bee nest house from plants that have hollow stems, such as reed grass or teasel. If there happens to be a stand of invasive bamboo available, select narrow stems approximately half inch or less in diameter and cut them into five or six inch lengths. Then hollow out about three and a half inches on the end of each stem, leaving part of the tube closed. Gather about 10 to 15 of these pieces, tie them into a bundle with the closed ends together, and hang the bundle horizontally from a tree or building about three to six feet off the ground, in a sunny area with the holes facing east or southeast, and sheltered from the elements.

Or, make a “bee block” by drilling a series of holes between 3/32 and 3/8 inch in diameter, about ¾ inch apart on center, into an untreated (preservative free) block of wood, or into an old log or stump. Do not drill all the way through but rather only three to four inches deep, for holes less than ¼ inch diameter, or five to six inches deep for holes larger than ¼ inch.

Areas with Bare Soil

Bare soil is often an overlooked element in the landscape that can be useful for some wildlife species. Songbirds will appreciate an occasional dust bath where bare soil is available, in order to control mites and other external parasites on their skin or in their feathers. Birds also ingest bits of grit and coarse sand, which help to grind up food such as hard seeds in the bird’s gizzard. A simple way of providing the dust they need is to scrape away the vegetation from a two to three foot diameter patch of ground and allow it to dry out.

Areas of bare ground are also extremely important to bees, because almost 70 percent of North America’s 4,000 native bee species nest in the ground. These are solitary-nesting bees, which means that individual females seek out their own nest site to tunnel into the ground. Since the soil surface should be bare in order to provide bees the access they need to dig, a good rule of thumb is to clear small patches of bare ground in a sunny, open space, up to a few feet across, and pat the areas firmly to compact the surface. Different locations will attract different bee species; therefore try clearing patches on both flat ground and on slopes, particularly those that are facing south.

Bare ground can also be supplemented with sand pits for bees. Find a sunny spot, dig a hole in the ground about two-feet deep, and fill it with a mix of sand and loam that will provide good drainage.

Water Features

Another structural element that’s essential to any habitat garden is the presence of water, which can be provided in many ways. Bird baths are perhaps the easiest and can be purchased in a variety of shapes and sizes. Choose a bird bath with a shallow basin that has gradually sloping sides and is no more than two or three inches deep. Put one or two fist-sized stones into the water where birds can land, and place the bird bath several feet away from a shrub or tree, so that birds can easily seek cover if needed. To extend the season for year-round bird use, install a small heating element that will keep the water from freezing in winter.

An even simpler way of creating a bird bath is to turn the lid of an old trash can upside-down and nestle it within a plant border, or use a large, plastic plant dish the same way. Regardless of size or type, replenish all bird baths with fresh water every few days throughout the summer, to keep mosquitoes from breeding there.

Creating small mud puddles for insects is another method of providing water. Butterflies in particular use wet patches of soil (or wet manure) to obtain minerals, and this “puddling” behavior is commonly seen along the muddy edges of roads after a rain storm. To replicate a small mud puddle, fill a shallow cake pan with a mixture of sand and soil, fill it with water, and place it in a sunny area near a flower bed.

There may also be opportunities in the landscape to capture and divert a portion of the rainwater that falls and to collect it in a shallow depression to create a mini-wetland. Unlike a true rain garden, which is constructed several feet deep with permeable soil and is designed to hold water for no more than four days, the mini-wetland is only about 12 to 15 inches deep and is lined with a layer of clay at the bottom to hold the water for a longer time. The depression is filled with a soil mixture that contains mostly loamy organic matter and a bit of clay, then it’s planted with species that are adapted for periodic inundation—hence the habitat. Locate this water feature in a low-lying area where water already naturally collects.

Or, construct the mini-wetland approximately 10 feet away from a building where it will receive some of the water from a downspout, with the aid of a shallow, planted swale that directs the water from the downspout to the area below. One can also connect a flexible plastic pipe to the downspout and bury it in the ground, with the end of the pipe daylighting directly into the clay-lined depression. However, be sure there’s enough slope between the building and the water feature, so that the pipe doesn’t back up during a heavy downpour.

These examples are simple ways of providing water for terrestrial wildlife species to use for drinking or bathing. A water garden or frog pond provides a larger habitat for aquatic species to live and breed in and is discussed in the section below, “Water Garden for Frogs, Salamanders, and Other Aquatic Species.”

Table 18-4: Selected native shrubs for wildlife habitats

Source: USDA-NRCS (2014). Field Office Technical Guide, Section 2, Plant Establishment Guide. [NOTE: This shrub list is excerpted and adapted from a much larger database.]

Common Name Scientific Name Height (feet) at 20 years Not Preferred by Deer Fruit / Seed Abundance Value to Pollinating Insects Bloom Period Shade Tolerance Anaerobic (wet) Soil Drought Tolerance
Highbush Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosus 6 High High Spring Tolerant Medium Medium
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis 15 Medium High Summer Tolerant High Medium
Eastern Red Cedar (evergreen) Juniperus virginiana 20 x Medium High Late Spring Intermediate Low High
Black Chokeberry Photinia melanocarpa 15 x Medium Moderate Spring Tolerant Medium Medium
Red Chokeberry Photinia pyrifolia 5 x Medium Moderate Mid Spring Intolerant Medium Low
Coralberry Symphoricarpos orbiculatus 2 x High Low Mid Spring Intermediate None Medium
Southern Crabapple Malus angustifolia 30 x High High Mid Spring Intolerant Low Medium
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida 20 Medium Low Early Spring Tolerant None Low
American Black Elderberry Sambucus nigra, ssp. canadensis 7 x High Moderate Spring Intolerant Low Medium
White Fringetree Chionanthus virinicus 20 High Low Mid Spring Tolerant Low Medium
Cockspur Hawthorn Crataegus crus-galli 30 High High Late Spring Intolerant None High
American Holly (evergreen) Ilex opaca 20 x Low High Mid Spring Tolerant Low Medium
Winterberry Holly Ilix verticillata 6 x High High Late Spring Intermediate High Low
Indigobush Amorpha fruticosa 6 x High High Late Spring Intolerant None Medium
Common Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius 10 High Moderate Late Spring Intolerate None High
Pawpaw Asimina triloba 25 x Medium Low Mid Spring Tolerant Low Low
American Plum Prunus americana 24 x Medium Moderate Mid Spring Intolerant Medium High
Chickasaw Plum Prunus angustifolia 12 x Medium Moderate Early Spring Intolerant None None
Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis 25 Medium High Spring Tolerant None High
Swamp Rose Rosa palustris 8 Medium Moderate Spring Intolerant High Low
Canada Serviceberry Amelanchier canadensis 20 x High Moderate Mid Spring Intermediate Medium Low
Northern Spicebush Lindera benzoin 12 x Low High Mid Spring Intermediate Medium Low
Strawberrybush Euonymus americanus 8 Medium Low Late Spring Intolerant Low None
Smooth Sumac Rhus glabra 12 High Moderate Mid Spring Intolerant Low Medium
Winged Sumac Rhus copallinum 8 High Moderate Mid Spring Intolerant Medium Medium
Eastern Sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus 7 x Medium Low Summer Intolerant Low Low
Blackhaw Viburnum Viburnum prunifolium 16 x Medium Moderate Spring Tolerant None Medium
Southern Arrowwood Viburnum Viburnum dentatum var. dentatum 15 x Medium Moderate Early Spring Intermediate None Low
Silky Willow Salix serricea 12 Medium High Mid Spring Intermediate High Low

Selected Habitat Gardens that Sustain Wildlife Diversity

Habitat Garden for Butterflies and Other Pollinators

One of the most popular, visually-rich landscaped habitats is a garden designed specifically to support pollinators. Pollinators are wildlife species that move pollen from the flowers of male plants to the flowers of female plants of the same species, when the pollinator travels from flower to flower in search of nectar, pollen or other insects to eat. Pollinators include hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, beetles, flies and some species of bats. Their role is to help fertilize female plants and enable the plants to produce seeds, nuts or other fruit. These animals are therefore critical for ecological function. Without pollinator services, plants would not be able to survive reproductively, because over 85% of flowering plants require an animal—usually an insect—to move pollen (Ollerton et al., 2011), and over 25% of the global diets of birds and mammals are comprised of pollinator-produced fruits and seeds (Adamson 2016). Our agricultural industry is also heavily reliant on pollinators to produce the high yielding crops we’ve come to expect in food production. “In 2009, it was estimated that honey bees contributed USD 11.68 billion to agriculture in the U.S.” (Calderone, 2012). In Virginia, bees are attributed with supporting $23 million of the apple industry (McBryde, 2016).

Restoring a site by replacing lawn with pollinator habitat can transform the landscape, because as the new plants become established and begin blooming, insects of all types very quickly descend on the flowers, seemingly from out of nowhere. To plan a pollinator garden, as with any other kind of habitat garden, it’s helpful to remember that each group of organisms has different requirements. When we attempt to select plants for butterflies, we need to think of butterflies as if they’re “two animals in one,” because of their metamorphic life cycle. A butterfly start outs as an egg, develops into a caterpillar that must eat leaves, and then after several stages and successive molts, it forms a chrysalis and develops into an adult, which must get its energy from flower nectar. Hence, to be successful, a butterfly garden must include host plants for the larvae and nectar plants for the adults. For example, the larvae of monarchs need milkweed leaves, while the adults can forage among numerous nectar-producing plants. If the only plants we select for a garden are the ones that simply provide a colorful bed of blooms, then we will have missed half the equation, and the overall habitat value for butterflies will be lower as a result.

A tremendous number of butterfly species rely heavily on tree species as host plants. For example, black cherry trees support swallowtails, painted ladies and luna moths, and black locust trees support sulphurs and skippers. Elm is the host plant for mourning cloak butterflies, willow is the host for tiger swallowtail, and hackberry tree for question marks. Based on the work of Narango et al. 2020, and Tallamy 2007, the following list of 20 woody plant genera includes trees and shrubs ranked by their value for supporting Lepidoptera (the classification of butterflies, moths and skippers). The list is based on an exhaustive search of the scientific literature about host plant ecology. Below are the top 10 tree genera for supporting Lepidoptera:

Ten most valuable woody native plant genera for supporting lepidoptera:

  • Quercus (oaks) support 534 species of Lepidoptera
  • Prunus (cherries) 456 species
  • Salix (willows) 456 species
  • Betula (birches) 413 species
  • Populus (poplars) 368 species
  • Malus (crabapples) 311 species
  • Vaccinium (blueberries) 288 species
  • Acer (maples) 285 species
  • Ulmus (elms) 213 species
  • Pinus (pines) 203 species

Most valuable ornamental native perennial plant genera for supporting lepidoptera:

  • Solidago (goldenrods) support 115 species of Lepidoptera
  • Aster (asters) 112 species
  • Helianthus (sunflowers) 73 species
  • Eupatorium (pyeweeds, boneset) 42 species
  • Ipomoea (morning glories) 39 species
  • Carex (sedges) 36 species
  • Lonicera (honeysuckles) 36 species
  • Lupinus (lupines) 33 species
  • Viola (violets) 29 species
  • Geranium (geraniums) 23 species
  • Rudbeckia (coneflowers) 17 species

These data clearly indicate that butterfly species—indeed, whole populations of butterfly species—are dependent on hundreds of species of trees, shrubs and perennial flowers. We would therefore do well to select several trees, shrubs and flowering plants from the above groups when planning our pollinator garden, knowing that when we do, we’ll have all our bases covered, because the myriad connections between all those groups will ensure a high likelihood of a biodiverse habitat.

In addition to Tallamy’s work, other scientists are also conducting field research to further document the association between pollinators and specific plant species. In Pennsylvania, for example, Connie Schmotzer at Penn State Extension devised a series of “Pollinator Trials,” in part to evaluate “the level of insect attractiveness of various perennial plant species or cultivars.” The study monitored “88 pollinator-rewarding herbaceous perennial plants,” to see how many and what type of insect pollinators would seek them out. Below is a synopsis of some of the study results:

Best Plants for Pollinator Visitor Diversity (ranked in order of preference, out of 88) (Schmotzer and Ellis, 2014):

  • Clustered Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)
  • Coastal Plain Joe Pyeweed (Eupatoriadephus dubius)
  • Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
  • Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)
  • Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
  • Flat Topped Aster (Doellingeria umbellata)
  • Spotted Joe Pyeweed (Eupatoriadelphus maculatus ‘Bartered Bride’)

Best Plants for Sheer Number of Bee and Syrphid [Fly] Visitors (Schmotzer 2013) (Numbers indicate the mean number of bees/syrphids observed per plot in 2 minutes):

  • Clustered Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum): 19 bees/syrphids
  • Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis): 14 bees/syrphids
  • Pink Tickseed (Coreopsis rosea): 14 bees/syrphids
  • Lance-Leaved Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata): 13 bees/syrphids
  • Spotted Joe Pyeweed (Eupatoriadelphus maculatus ‘Bartered Bride’): 12 bees/syrphids
  • Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium): 12 bees/syrphids

Best Plants for Attracting Butterflies (Schmotzer 2013) (Numbers indicate the mean number of butterflies/skippers observed per plot in 2 minutes:

  • Coastal Plain Joe Pyeweed (Eupatoriadephus dubius): 17 butterflies/skippers
  • Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum): 5 butterflies/skippers
  • Showy Aster (Eurybia spectabilis): 4 butterflies/skippers
  • Sweet Joe Pyeweed (Eutrochium purpureum subsp. maculatum ‘Gateway’): 3 butterflies/skippers
  • Dwarf Blazing Star (Liatris microcephala): 3 butterflies/skippers

As one can see, certain plants are like powerhouses when it comes to supporting pollinators. Therefore, all one needs to do to have a highly productive pollinator habitat is to start with the above top genera [goldenrods (Solidago); milkweed (Asclepias); tickseed (Coreopsis); mountain mint (Pycnanthemum); pyeweed (Eupatorium or Eutrochium); asters (Eurybia); mistflower (Conoclinium); and blazing star (Liatris)], and then look at the Virginia regional native plant list for the garden area in question, in order to determine the particular species of goldenrod, milkweed, tickseed, pyeweed, or aster. that would be most suitable for the given site conditions.

Moreover, not only do these represent a broad spectrum of species and flowering types, they also bloom at different times throughout the season, which adds a temporal dimension to the association of insects that will frequent the plants. For example, peak bloom time for mountain mint is mid-June to mid-July; for swamp milkweed, mid-July to mid-August; and for pyeweed, mid-August to early September. This means if we select a variety of plants across flowering times, in addition to selecting across genera, we can magnify the habitat benefits even more. A good rule of thumb is to “provide blooming plants from early spring to fall, with at least three species of flower in bloom each season” [Xerces Pollinator Conservation Fact Sheet].

In addition to the genera listed above, other excellent pollinator plants include those in the coneflower (Rudbeckia), beardtongue (Penstemon), phlox (Phlox), bergamot (Monarda), and ironweed (Vernonia) genera. Flowering perennials such as these, combined with native warm-season grasses to form meadows in large open settings, will provide early successional habitat that benefits many bird species as well. Some native warm-season grasses suitable for dry, sunny meadows are the following: big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius or Schizachyrium scoparium), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).

Looked at another way, if landscape diversity is currently low in the built-environment around us, and if we add more forestal and meadow-like components (i.e., a diversity of shrubs, trees, grasses, and flowering perennials), then we’ll be supporting the butterfly species that are associated with each of those vegetation types.

An established pollinator habitat garden or meadow should be allowed to stand throughout the dormant months in fall and winter to provide winter cover. Mowing a pollinator garden is rarely necessary, and typically this practice is reserved for larger landscapes where the predominant vegetative type is native warm-season grasses, which are either burned or mowed only once every three years, to keep the thatch on the ground from becoming too thick. There’s a fairly short window of time for mowing or burning these rural fields, usually between mid-February to mid-March, which is at the end of winter, when insects have been dormant in the dead vegetation, but before birds begin nesting in the spring.

Here are some additional pollinator habitat tips from the Xerces Society:

  • “Avoid pollen-less cultivars and double-petaled varieties of ornamental flowers.”
  • Butterflies need warmth in order to fly; therefore plant pollinator habitats in open, sunny areas.
  • Shelter pollinator habitats from the wind with some type of cover, such as groups of shrubs or hedgerows, trees, or a nearby wall or fence.
  • Include some tall grasses in the habitat, allow the grass to remain overwinter, and conserve dead leaves and sticks in small piles. Caterpillars will use the grasses and brush piles to seek safety to build a chrysalis.
  • Avoid cleaning out leaves and garden debris in the weeks leading up to the first severe cold spells of winter, because butterflies overwinter (hibernate) in the debris, either as eggs, larvae, pupae or even adults, depending on the species.
  • Do not use insecticides in or near the garden, especially neonicotinoids, which “are systemic chemicals absorbed by plants and dispersed through plant tissues, including pollen and nectar.”

Butterfly Species Associated with Forest, Field, and Forest/Field Intergrade (Maria Van Dyke, Native Bee Research Lab, Dept. Entomology, Cornell University):


  • Zebra Swallowtail
  • Easter Tiger Swallowtail
  • Spicebush Swallowtail
  • Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Common Blue
  • Question Mark
  • Eastern Comma
  • Mourning Cloak
  • Red Spotted Purple


  • Black Swallowtail
  • Cabbage White
  • Clouded Sulphur
  • Orange Sulphur
  • American Copper
  • Eastern Tailed Blue
  • Great Spangled Fritillary
  • Meadow Fritillary
  • Pearl Crescent
  • Red Admiral
  • Common Buckeye
  • Hackberry Emperor
  • Tawny Emperor
  • Northern Pearly Eye

Forest/Field Intergrade:

  • Monarch
  • Common Wood Nymph
  • Red-Banded Hairstreak

Bird Garden

In earlier sections of this chapter we describe the importance of enhancing layers of vegetative structure within the landscape to support a biodiverse assemblage of plant and animal communities, and here we revisit that theme again in the context of providing good habitat for birds. The most effective way to design a garden space that will become a home for many bird species is to grow lush shrub borders and hedgerows replete with fruits and seeds; to plant trees for an overhead canopy; and to fill the landscape between those two layers with pollinator habitat that will attract the insects and spiders that birds feed on for protein. These vegetative elements—the herbaceous flowering layer, the shrub layer and the canopy layer—along with other structural elements like brush piles, nest boxes and water features, will ensure an abundance of bird species throughout the seasons.

Birds need plenty of space to establish a territory, engage in courtship, build a nest, raise and feed their young, and move about in the landscape to find food and cover. The choice of shrub species and how they’re arranged in relation to the surrounding trees and other elements will provide varying degrees of food and cover depending on the time of year. During the growing season in spring and summer, deciduous plants are full of leaves that provide shade and protection, but in winter, birds will need the cover of evergreens such as eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), bayberry (Morella pennsylvanica), American holly (Ilex opaca), and Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana).

In spring, the new growth on trees like oaks, cherry, and poplar are a magnet for insects, and migratory neotropical birds such as orioles, warblers, tanagers, and vireos will utilize the canopy to glean insects from the leaves and branches. As late spring gives way to summer and birds begin breeding, they turn their attention to berry-producing shrubs and other mast (fruits and seeds), as more food becomes available.

Birds will also use hedgerows as a protective corridor to get from one area to another throughout the year. Shrubby thickets made up of species such as blackberries (Rubus), sumac (Rhus), chokeberry (Aronia), dogwood (Cornus) and viburnums (Viburnum) provide excellent cover and mast for catbirds, mockingbirds, thrashers, robins and many others.

The advancing progression of fruit ripening over the seasons ensures there’s always plenty of food available from spring to fall, and many berries and seeds are persistent through the winter. Therefore, prune trees and shrubs in late winter, after the majority of fruits and seeds have been eaten, and before nesting season begins.

In large landscape settings, a good size shrub bed is a large circle of 15 to 30 feet in diameter, with a variety of species planted at least eight feet apart. This many plants results in a deep mass of leaves and branches, where birds can nest or easily dart in and out of when threatened. Alternatively, select one species to fill an entire plant bed, for example five inkberry (Ilex glabra) in one bed, or five American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), or five New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus). In smaller landscapes with less room, plant clusters of just three shrubs instead. Mainly the goal is to group plants together as much as possible, rather than singly, here and there.

Every once in a while we hear folks complain that “all the quail and rabbits are gone,” and they claim it’s because “there’s too many hawks.” But the reality is that the decline of small mammals and birds is because too many landowners—in cities and in rural areas—are “cleaning out” fencerows, hedgerows, and ditches. There’s a definite need to educate the public about the value in letting hedgerows and fencerows stay a little more wild with blackberries, greenbrier, grape vine, and Virginia creeper, in order to preserve habitat for the small mammals and birds that the hawks feed on, whether one lives on a tiny urban lot or on a large rural farm. “Gardening for birds” is so rewarding that it shouldn’t be limited to foundation plantings but extended throughout the landscape.

One other special consideration is the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is a joy to see in any habitat setting, and a bird garden would seem incomplete without these jewels on the wing. As pollinators, they’re especially keen on the nectar of tubular-shaped flowers, but they will also use a few other flower types selectively. If the landscape doesn’t already include a pollinator patch with some of the following plant species in it, choose at least a few from the plant list below, based on the region of the state it’s in, and the growing conditions of the site:

Plant list for ruby-throated hummingbird:

  • Wild Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis)
  • Oxeye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera americana)
  • Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis or I. biflora)
  • Seashore Mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica)
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
  • Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
  • Horsemint or Wild Bergamot (Monarda bradburiana or M. fistulosa)
  • Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
  • Sundrops (Oenothera perennis)
  • Narrow-Leaved Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa)
  • Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Lyre-Leaf Sage (Salvia lyrata)
  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)—SHRUB
  • Yellow Poplar or Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera)—TREE
  • Trumpetvine or Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans)—VINE
  • Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)—VINE
  • Trumpet or Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)—VINE
  • Carolina jasmine or jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)—VINE

Water Garden for Frogs, Salamanders and Other Aquatic Species

The most effective habitat for supporting frogs, salamanders and other aquatic species is an in-ground wildlife pool that mimics a natural pond or wetland system. There are many options for providing ground-level water features, ranging from small and inexpensive to large and elaborate. Pre-fabricated liners are available at many garden centers and offer a convenient way to get a water source into the landscape quickly. These are often shaped like bathtubs and are available in different dimensions. Most are about three feet deep and made of thick, durable plastic or fiberglass, with built-in, shallow shelves for placement of potted aquatic plants. To install a pre-fabricated liner, dig a proportionate hole to accommodate its shape and size, and make sure the liner is level once it’s in the ground. Remember to call Miss Utility before digging.

Alternatively, one can dig a water garden by hand and create a custom-made shape that’s tailored to the specific site, as big or as small as practical. Locate the garden where it can be seen from a porch or window, and in a level area where there will be at least three to five hours of sunlight per day, with plants shading the water the rest of the day, because most aquatic organisms such as tadpoles need shade protection from temperature extremes.

Dig the deepest area 36 inches, then create shallower edges in concentric circles around this, to make ledges of different heights, such as 24 inches deep, 14 inches deep, and eight or 10 inches deep. The biggest challenge will be to level the sides with each other. Remove any rocks, roots, sticks or other sharp objects from the hole as it’s being dug.

A hand-dug water garden will require two flexible plastic (PVC) liners and two geotextile pads that are at least eight ounces in weight each. The size of the liners and pads should be larger than the total size of the pond (for example, a 30 foot diameter pond would need liners 40 x 40 feet). An ideal size is about 18-20 feet long by 12-15 feet wide, but do some research first to see what size pond liners are actually available on the market. Be sure to buy a liner specifically designed for aquatic gardens, and at least 30-45 mil thick, rather than an ordinary tarp or liner from a hardware store, because the typical home improvement products are usually too thin, and are often pre-treated with a fungicide or algicide.

The installation is assembled like a giant sandwich: start with a two-inch layer of sand on the bottom, or use one geo-textile pad; next lay one of the PVC liners over the sand or pad; then lay another geo-textile pad down; and finish with the second PVC liner. The padded underlayment will help protect the water feature from tree roots and small burrowing animals that might tunnel underneath; some folks use old carpeting for this purpose.

Once the plastic layers are installed, use large rocks to hold the liner down in the middle, as well as along the ledges and around the upper edge. Small logs can also be used for edging around the top. If the pond is large, provide shallow, muddy areas, and also flat rocks in the open, where amphibians can bask in the sun. Fill the pond with non-chlorinated water (or wait several days for the chlorine in treated water to dissipate), and check the level during the driest part of the summer, to see if water may need to be added from time to time. To prevent a terrestrial animal like a bird or a chipmunk from falling in and not being able to escape, place a small branch or log in the pond that an animal can use to climb out.

After all the rocks are in place, the next step is to choose the plants. Just as we use layers of plants in a terrestrial habitat for wildlife diversity, use layers in the water garden to achieve the same effect. Ideally the pond will have enough plants to cover from one half to two-thirds of the surface area of the water. Select native aquatic plants suited to the different levels within the pond. Emergent plants root in the bottom, and their stems and leaves grow upright, out of the water. This is the area where salamanders and frogs spawn and lay their eggs. The matrix of plant roots and stems will provide a good micro-habitat for breeding, as well as multiple places for tadpoles and other organisms to feed and to hide. Floating plants root in the bottom, and their leaves float on the water’s surface. Submergent plants grow completely underwater.

To achieve the best plant diversity, bring a list with you to the aquatic garden center to make the selection (see chart at the end of this section, “Native Plants for Moist Sites or Aquatic Habitats”). Choose plants that are adapted for each of the pond layers (emergent, floating and submergent), as well as plants to place around the edge that will hang over the water and provide additional cover. Avoid using cattails from a local farm pond, because cattails are very aggressive and will fill a pond quickly and choke out other vegetation.

One other consideration is whether or not to consider a recirculating pump or an aerator. The benefits of an aerator are that it provides water movement, keeps the water’s oxygen content high, and minimizes algae build-up. Some amphibians prefer to live and breed in quiet water, while others only live and breed in moving water.

Therefore, if the pond is large enough and designed with different shelves for layers of varying depths, you can provide both types of micro-habitats (i.e., shallow, quiet water, and deeper water with a current) to support a broader range of species. If a pump or aerator will be used, have an electrician install a GFCI (ground-fault protected) outlet in the vicinity of the pond, during the digging stages.

However, if the pond is very small (less than 10 feet in diameter) and is filled with plants, the species that use the water garden will most likely be those that primarily associate with vernal or temporary pools. In this case, the abundance of diverse plants should support enough insect diversity to ensure there will be numerous predaceous insects as well as frogs eating any mosquito larvae, and a pump may not be necessary.

“Mosquito dunks” are not generally recommended for use in a frog pond. These pellets contain spores of bacteria known as Bti, a subspecies of the familiar Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that is widely used to control grasshoppers, caterpillars and other insects. Bti targets larvae within the suborder Nematocera, which includes mosquitoes; however, there may be larger, ecosystem effects to using Bti in ponds intended for wildlife (Brühl et. al., 2020). As the water garden becomes established with a full complement of diverse plants, many predatory, carnivorous aquatic invertebrates will move into the habitat, such as copepods, water bugs, diving beetles, and dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. These insects and their larvae all feed on mosquito larvae, as do frogs and salamanders.

Perhaps the most important recommendation for providing a safe haven for frogs and salamanders is: do NOT add fish. Fish prey on tadpoles; fish body wastes increase nitrogen in the water and can cause a nutrient imbalance; and goldfish and koi are non-native. Likewise, it is not recommended to purchase tadpoles or snails, as their genetic source cannot be fully confirmed, and releasing organisms from other areas into a new site can introduce pathogens to the environment that may be detrimental to the health of local aquatic populations.

A healthy aquatic habitat will gradually reach an equilibrium as various organisms become established. Over time, though, the pond is bound to gradually fill in with sediment from fallen leaves, and the amount of total water will gradually decrease as the plants’ roots fill in and take over. Therefore, every two to three years in late winter (late February), remove any excessive amounts of decaying material or sediment, being careful to scoop out any newts, salamanders or frogs among the material, and temporarily hold them in a bucket, until the job is completed and they can be returned to the water.

Table 18-5: Native Plants for Moist Sites or Aquatic Habitats

Trees should be planted near a water feature or in a buffer along the edge of a creek. Ferns and grasses should be planted next to a water feature. Herbaceous flowering plants should be planted next to a water feature up to the water's edge. Sedges should be planted at the water's edge or in the water up to 1 foot deep. Emergent flowering plants grow in 1-2 feet of water. Floating plants grow in 2-8 feet of water. Click "next" to see more table rows

Plant Type Common Name Scientific Name Approx. Height of Plant (ft)
Tree Green Ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica 50
Tree Sweetbay Magnolia Magnolia virginiana 20-60
Tree River Birch Betula nigra 45
Tree Northern Red Oak Quercus rubra 100
Tree Red Mulberry Morus rubra 35
Tree Black Willow Salix nigra 40
Small Tree/Shrub Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia 20
Small Tree/Shrub American Elderberry Sambucus canadensis 10
Small Tree/Shrub American Beautyberry Callicarpa americana 10
Small Tree/Shrub Southern Bayberry Myrica cerifera 8-20
Shrub Highbush Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum 10
Shrub Possumhaw Viburnum nudum 10
Shrub Red Osier Dogwood Cornus sericea 10
Shrub Sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus 10
Shrub Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis 10
Shrub Silky Dogwood Cornus amomum 7
Shrub Virginia Sweetspire Itea virginica 3-6
Shrub Inkberry vIlex glabra
Fern Chain Fern Woodwardia areolata 2
Fern Lady Fern Athyrium filix-femina 2-3
Fern Maidenhair Fern Adiantum pedatum 1-2
Fern Cinnamon Fern Osmunda cinnamomea 3
Fern Royal Fern Osmunda regalis 3-5
Fern Sensitive Fern Onoclea sensibilis 1-2
Grass Inland/River Sea Oats Chasmanthium latifolium 2-4
Grass Eastern Gammagrass Tripsacum dactyloides 4-6
Grass Bushy Bluestem Andropogon glomeratus 3-5
Grass Switchgrass Panicum virgatum 4-6
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis 3-5
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata 5-6
Herbaceous Flowering Plant New York Ironweed Vernonia noveboracensis 4-6
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Blue Vervain Verbena hastata 4-6
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Joe Pyeweed Eupatorium purpureum 4-6
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Common Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum 3-4
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Blue Mistflower Eupatorium coelestinum 3
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Blazing Star Liatris spicata 4
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Turtlehead Chelone glabra 2-4
Herbaceous Flowering Plant New York Aster Symphotricum novi-belgii 1-3
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Northern Blue Flag Iris versicolor 2-4
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Southern Blue Flag Iris virginica 2-3
Sedge Tussock Sedge Carex stricta 2-4
Sedge Fox Sedge Carex vulpinoidea 3
Sedge Shallow Sedge Carex lurida 3
Emergent Flowering Plants Arrowhead Sagittaria lancifolia 2-3
Emergent Flowering Plants Pickerelweed Pontedaria cordata 2-3
Emergent Flowering Plants Soft Rush Juncus effusesv 3
Floating Plants American White Waterlily Nymphaea odorata NA
Floating Plants Yellow Pond Lily Nuphar lutea NA
Floating Plants Illinois Pondweed Potamogeton illinoensis NA
Floating Plants Longleaf Pondweed Potamogeton nodosus NA
Floating Plants Frogbit Limnobium spongia NA
Submerged Plant Eel Grass Vallisneria americana
Submerged Plant Canadian Waterweed Anacharis Canadensis
Submerged Plant Coon’s Tail Ceratophyllum demersum
Iris Northern Blue Flag Iris versicolor 2-4
Iris Southern Blue Flag Iris virginica 2-3

Troubleshooting Wildlife Conflicts

The adaptability of wildlife to our urban and suburban built environments is one of the leading causes of wildlife and human conflicts. As we’ve cleared the land for residences and commerce, and changed the landscape by adding a wider variety of ornamental plantings, the result has been that opportunistic wildlife species like deer, raccoons, and opossums have made themselves right at home among our gardens, in our attics, and under our sheds. In some cases, the developed landscapes of today support even more of certain species than in historical times, such as deer, because habitat fragmentation caused by development has resulted in greater interspersion, increased availability of desirable landscape plants, and less hunting pressure than in bygone years.

Feeding Wildlife

Another primary reason for many of the wildlife conflicts encountered is that people just can’t seem to keep themselves from feeding wildlife, whether deliberately or unwittingly. Each time a person feeds an animal, whether their love is birds or deer or squirrels, it naturally brings the animals closer to us, not further away, regardless of what species the animal is. Hence a bird feeder attracts a bear; dog food attracts a skunk; salt licks and apples attract deer; and kitchen scraps thrown in the yard, or a trash can with yesterday’s leftovers attracts a raccoon.

Also, feeding wildlife can be problematic for the animals themselves, because bringing animals together artificially increases their numbers and makes it more likely they’ll spread diseases to each other. Their behavior may also be altered, and they can become more aggressive towards each other or even towards people, because they gradually lose their fear of humans. Oftentimes when there’s an escalating problem in a neighborhood—for example where deer are eating every dogwood and azalea in sight—it’s attributed to someone who’s been feeding deer. The very first step to resolving this type of problem would be to simply stop feeding. It’s also important to remember that state regulations govern the feeding of deer. According to the DWR 2022-2023 Virginia Hunting and Trapping Regulations, “Department regulation makes it illegal to place, distribute, or allow the placement of food, minerals, salt, carrion, trash, or similar substances to feed or attract the following:”

Deer and Elk:

    • Attractants prohibited September 1 through the first Saturday in January, statewide.
    • Attractants prohibited  during any open deer or elk season, statewide
    • Attractants prohibited year round in Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise counties as well as those counties listed which are associated with the management of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Virginia.

Bears: Attractants prohibited year round, statewide.

All species: It is illegal to feed any wild animal when the feeding results in property damage, endangers people or wildlife, or creates a public health concern.

In addition, if a bird feeder is attracting a bear, the feeder must be taken down immediately, or the homeowner will be in violation of a regulation that prohibits the feeding of bears at any time.

The DWR regulations also state the following: “The Department does not encourage the feeding of wildlife at any time of the year. Feeding restrictions help control the transmission of diseases, wildlife conflicts, littering concerns, and enforcement issues about hunting with bait.”

Therefore, some basic pointers about feeding: 1) Do not throw large piles of old bread and kitchen scraps in the yard—this will attract crows, starlings, grackles, vultures, skunks, raccoons and opossums. 2) Do not feed apples and corn to deer and squirrels—this will only encourage them to keep coming back, and their numbers will increase until a conflict arises. It will be much harder to get rid of them later. 3) Do not put cat food or dog food out for wildlife. Avoid using a pet door in a garage for feeding pets, which may encourage wildlife to come into the building. 4) Keep charcoal grills and gas grills clean of grease and other food residue. 5) Take bird feeders down in the summertime, to avoid attracting bears, and because natural food sources are plentiful during the growing season. 6) Use specially-designed trash cans to exclude raccoons and bears; use clamps to tighten trash can lids.

Evaluating a Wildlife Conflict

The process for evaluating and dealing with wildlife conflicts is fairly straightforward. First, determine exactly which species is causing the damage or problem, rather than making assumptions. Just because there’s a hole in the cedar soffit under the eaves doesn’t necessarily mean a woodpecker made it. Second, once you know what species is involved, find out specific details about its life history and habits, in order to understand more about what the animal likely wants, or why it’s doing what it’s doing. The third step is to determine the various options available and start with the one that’s least toxic or least invasive. These non-chemical, non-lethal options may include changing the habitat to make it less desirable to the animal, or implementing some sort of prevention or exclusion method that will deter the animal from causing the same problem again. The last step is to use chemical and/or lethal means, only if none of the previous options have worked. In some circumstances, more than one option may be necessary to fully address or eliminate the problem.

In the recommendations below, there are several references made to trapping wildlife, but it is not meant to imply that any animal can be trapped and transported somewhere else and released. It is illegal in the state of Virginia to trap and relocate any animal to another area.

In the event that a situation presents itself where trapping will be necessary to address a wildlife conflict, consider contacting a licensed trapper who lives in your area and may be willing to assist you with the endeavor. A list of licensed trappers can be found on the DWR website.

Also, several laws and regulations are quoted below, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. If you have any questions about legalities or conflict issues, the most practical and easiest thing to do is to call the DWR Wildlife Conflict Helpline Toll Free Number 1-855-571-9003, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Legal Definition of “Nuisance Species”

While there may be many wildlife species we personally consider problematic, there are laws and regulations in the Code of Virginia that provide legal guidance on what actually constitutes a nuisance species. Per regulation, “the following animals: house mouse; Norway rat; black rat; coyote; groundhog; nutria; feral hog; European starling; English sparrow; mute swan; and pigeon (rock dove) are designated as nuisance species and may be taken at any time by use of a firearm or other weapon (unless prohibited by local ordinances), and on some public lands during certain time periods.”

According to the Code of Virginia 29.1-100, nuisance species means “those species designated as such by regulations of the Board [as listed above], and those species found committing or about to commit depredation upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, wildlife, livestock or other property, or when concentrated in numbers and manners as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance. However, the term nuisance does not include (i) animals designated as endangered or threatened…(ii) animals classified as game [bear, deer, rabbit, squirrel, bobcat, red fox, gray fox, raccoon] or fur-bearing animals [opossum, weasels (long-tailed and least weasels), striped skunk, spotted skunk, river otter, mink, beaver, muskrat] and (iii) those species protected by state or federal law [all songbirds, woodpeckers, hawks, vultures, waterfowl etc. under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and many other species under the federal Endangered Species Act].”

This means that if a woodpecker is banging on your siding, you are not authorized to harm, harass or “take” (kill) it, even though it definitely is a nuisance!

By law, the only people authorized to harm, harass or “take” (kill) nuisance species as defined above are DWR personnel, Federal personnel with wildlife responsibilities, Animal Control Officers, Commercial Nuisance Animal Permittees, licensed hunters, licensed trappers, and landowners (under certain conditions).

When a Commercial Nuisance Animal Permittee receives a complaint from a private citizen, the Permittee is authorized to: 1) capture or remove wildlife from a building or dwelling and release the animal upon the “curtilage” of the building [the fenced-in ground and buildings immediately surrounding a house or dwelling]; 2) capture and temporarily possess injured, sick or orphaned wildlife for transport to Wildlife Rehabilitation Permittees; 3) capture and temporarily possess and transport wildlife for dispatch (killed); 4) capture wildlife for immediate dispatch; 5) immediately dispatch wildlife. Commercial Nuisance Animal Permittees are not authorized to capture, possess, transport or dispatch: 1) companion animals, including dogs and cats, whether owned or feral; 2) state or federal threatened or endangered species; 3) federally protected migratory bird species; 4) black bears; 5) white-tailed deer; 6) wild turkey. They are also NOT authorized to relocate (release) any live animals, except for squirrels trapped from areas where discharge of firearms is prohibited and when permission is obtained from the landowner where the squirrel is being released.

Control Options

For specific control recommendations for each of the animals listed below, please refer to the VCE Pest Management Guide (PMG), Home Grounds and Animals, section 8: “Other Animals: Vertebrates as Pests.” All pesticide (bait, repellent, and rodenticide) recommendations must come from this VCE publication 456-018.


Too many deer in a forested area can cause overbrowsing to the extent that available habitat is severely compromised for some wildlife species that rely on understory food and cover to survive. However, the effects vary among species. On the one hand, ground-nesting birds such as ovenbirds and shrub-nesting birds like buntings may be adversely affected from overbrowsing, whereas other species like cardinals and nuthatches are not influenced. In addition to the problems posed to other wildlife by overbrowsing, an overabundance of deer can result in the spread of more invasive plants throughout the ecosystem and substantially reduce understory regeneration of oaks and other trees.

Deer are opportunistic, and in a residential setting, if deer are hungry enough and presented with enough easily accessible ornamental plants, they’ll selectively pick and choose the plants best suited to their needs at that particular point in time. There are excellent publications available online (such as Managing Deer Damage in Maryland, Bulletin 354) which contain strategic guidelines and plant lists for minimizing deer damage for different land uses. For example, a Christmas tree grower can use repellents to protect new tree seedlings until they’re tall enough to be out of reach of deer, whereas repellents are not cost-effective for an agricultural operator of a large nursery, orchard or vegetable farm. A homeowner may select a plant off the recommended list for their landscape bed (Kays 2003), but may subsequently find that deer will eat the plant anyway. Unfortunately, these kinds of “Resistance” lists are not consistently reliable, because deer will browse on plants for a variety of reasons: the health of the individual animal, the quality of the surrounding habitat, the amount of other available food in the area, the time of year, whether or not the animal is lactating. Hence, deer may always eat hostas in one neighborhood, but in another part of the state, deer may rarely eat hostas.

The take-away point is that the plants do not “resist” or “deter” anything. Rather, it’s the deer that’s in control. Whether or not a deer eats certain plants will depend on how desirable that plant is, how hungry the deer is, and so on. Eating or not eating is a behavior that’s up to the deer, not the plant. If a plant smells bad and has waxy, unpleasant leaves, a deer can walk away and eat something else. However, just because a deer walked away one time doesn’t mean that another deer won’t come along later and eat that plant in one big chomp. According to DWR Deer Biologist Nelson Lafon, “It’s a myth that you can deter deer by only using certain plants.” Therefore, be wary of nurseries that make claims about a plant’s deterrence properties.

Whether or not a planted bed is browsed by deer can also depend on where the plants are located. In general, deer are less likely to browse right up against a house or where dogs or people frequently move about—but here, too, there are always exceptions, if a deer is hungry, persistent or bold enough.

The best option in a home landscape is exclusion of plants using plastic fencing, or woven wire or chain link at least eight feet and preferably 10 feet tall around vegetable gardens and other small planted beds. Use tree protectors around young seedlings to cover the vulnerable bark, and use a cage made of woven wire to protect specimen plants.

For very large areas, electric fencing eight to 10 feet tall works best. There’s another fencing design for rural properties that’s been promoted by Cooperative Extension for many years, which entails setting the fence at an angle such that deer are said to be less likely to jump over it.

For smaller scale home gardens, try using a modified electric fence with aluminum foil “tents” or wrappers that attach to the wires and are rubbed with peanut butter. A deer is attracted to the peanut butter and receives a shock when its nose touches the foil that conducts the current. This results in aversive conditioning, which deters the deer from coming back to the same area again, at least for a while.

Some homeowners have had success with installing two parallel 4-foot-high fences approximately 3 feet apart from each other. Apparently the panels are too close together for deer to feel comfortable jumping over.

Commercial, chemical repellents can be applied to target plants as a deterrent, but they must be applied at the beginning of the growing season before deer begin browsing on the plants, and they should preferably be applied to so-called deer-resistant species, to maximize potential effect. However, the chemicals may gradually break down over time or get washed off in rain events, and they must therefore be re-applied regularly to maintain effectiveness. There are over a dozen commercially available chemical repellent products, which contain a variety of ingredients that either emit a foul odor which deer find offensive, such as putrefied egg-based compounds, garlic, fish meal, or coyote urine, or various plant compounds like capsaicin (hot pepper) or other chemicals that are distasteful or injurious to the palate.

When everything else fails, get a dog that will chase deer out of the yard!


Black bears occur throughout most of Virginia, and as development increases, it becomes increasingly likely that people will encounter bear in residential areas. However, in this part of the bear’s range, they do not exhibit predatory behavior, and it is extremely unlikely that a bear will attack or harm a human, unless the animal is provoked or feels threatened. As described in the “Feeding Wildlife” section above, one of the primary reasons bear are attracted to human development is because of an available food source. At least 30% of complaints about bear are attributed to the presence of bird feeders, and 50% of complaints are associated with storage of garbage. A much smaller percentage (less than 10%) is related to agricultural food sources such as apiaries, orchards, other crops, and livestock feed.

According to Virginia state law: “It shall be unlawful for any person as defined in §1-230 (Code of Virginia) to place, distribute, or allow the placement of food, minerals, carrion, trash, or similar substances to feed or attract bear. Nor, upon notification by department [DWR] personnel, shall any person continue to place, distribute, or allow the placement of any food, mineral, carrion, trash, or similar substances for any purpose, if placement of these materials results in the presence of bear.”

The simplest way to prevent bear encounters is to monitor bird feeders and other food sources outside the home to ensure that bear and other wild mammals are not being attracted. If it becomes apparent that a bear is using a feeder or frequenting a garbage can, or if bear are known to have been sighted in the area, remove all feeders and other open food sources immediately. A good rule of thumb is to take down bird feeders between April 1 and December 1 to prevent problems from occurring.

If a bear is sighted, keep your distance and allow the bear to leave the area. The goal is to keep a bear from feeling comfortable around residential areas, and if there’s no food source available, the bear will likely just move through the area and continue on its way. If a bear is sighted in a tree, keep dogs and other pets away, so the bear will leave.


Voles are herbivores that eat bulbs and roots. They make tunnels near the surface of the sod as they travel from tree to tree to eat roots and strip the bark; they do NOT make mounds. A common vole deterrent is a bait-station ground trap that can be installed above or below ground. To confirm whether or not voles are indeed the ones eating bulbs, use an apple bait test: place the bait near the runway on the surface of the turf, and cover the bait with a bucket, then weight the bucket down with a brick to keep other animals out. Later inspect the bait to see if the apple has been chewed by a vole. Other methods include placing a mouse trap on the ground perpendicular to the runway, then baiting it and covering it as described above.

Other methods of deterring voles: 1) use only a thin layer of mulch around trees, and pull the mulch away from the trunk; 2) avoid killing snakes, which are a primary predator of voles and other small mammals. Owls and hawks are also predators of voles; 3) before planting bulbs, enclose them in a small wire basket, or place a layer of gravel or sharp shale bits (‘Perma Till’) in the hole when planting, to surround and protect the bulb.


Moles are insectivores that prey on worms, grubs, and other insects or larvae; they do NOT eat flower bulbs, contrary to popular opinion. Moles tunnel just below the soil surface and leave mounds as they go; they can dig up to 150 feet of new tunnels a day, and their action helps to aerate the soil. It is said they can consume their body weight in food daily, which makes them an important predator of problematic grubs such as Japanese beetle larvae. Moles, like any other wildlife species, have a specific role in the environment, and the first level of dealing with them is tolerance of their activities. Allow moles to continue feeding on the grubs in the soil and consider it a service. If tunneling becomes problematic, try collapsing the tunnels by walking over them, which may also prevent mice and voles from using them as easy runways, or use an underground barrier or baffle to edge around plant beds. When all other options are exhausted, use a mole trap to kill, or use baits. For specific bait recommendations, please see VCE publication 456-018.


Raccoons are wily creatures that can cause all kinds of damage, and they can carry rabies. Raccoons get into chimneys and attics, they get into barns and livestock feed stores or grain, they damage agricultural crops such as corn fields, they get into trash cans and dumpsters. To manage: 1) make sure the chimney has a properly fitted and secure chimney cap; 2) close off any holes under the eaves or other openings where raccoons could get in; 3) remove or secure food sources; 4) if a raccoon is already in a building or attic, try harassment with a loud radio tuned to a talk station; or bright lights.

The legal provision for raccoon damage management, according to the Code of Virginia 29.1-517 Fur Bearing Animals: “When muskrats or raccoons are damaging crops or dams, the owner of the premises may kill them or have them killed under a permit obtained from the Conservation Police Officer [of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources].” Under Regulation 4-VAC 15-210-51 Open Season for Trapping-generally: “November 15 through last day in February… except there shall be a continuous open season to trap raccoon within the incorporated limits of any city or town in the Commonwealth and in the counties of Arlington, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Henrico, James City, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Roanoke and York.”

The above Code and Regulation indicate that if you live in a city or town or one of the counties listed, you can live trap a problem raccoon and release it outside (then seal up any entrances where it was able to get in). If you don’t live in one of those areas, and the raccoon is causing conflict that doesn’t involve crops or a dam, and you’ve tried all other options, then hire a professional (Commercial Nuisance Animal Permittee).

Another alternative is to find a licensed trapper who lives in your area and is willing to assist you with the endeavor. A list of licensed trappers can be found on the DWR website.


Use chemical repellents similar to those used for deer, to discourage feeding on plant leaves and shoots. Plant a species like onions, which rabbits do not prefer, in between other plants that are more desirable. Fence the garden with two-foot high hardware cloth (wire mesh) or chicken wire, and extend it at least five inches below the ground, all around the bed. Individual plants or vulnerable seedlings can be covered with a basket.

See also the legal provision for trapping rabbits and squirrels under the “Squirrel” section, below.


Squirrels can wreak havoc in a variety of ways. They can chew their way through the sill of a window, or chew a hole under the eaves to make an entrance and get into an attic. To keep them away from buildings, trim any overhanging tree branches to keep limbs well-away from the roof; staple hardware cloth over any openings under the eaves, or seal them over with a board or piece of metal flashing.

If a squirrel gets inside the house, place a loud radio tuned to a talk station near the room, and/or bright lights to scare them to leave. A “Hav-a-Heart” trap may be available from a local Animal Control Office to live trap the squirrel and release it directly outside, next to the building.

Around bird feeders, squirrels will chew the edges of the feeder if it’s made of wood. Many advertised “squirrel-proof” feeders are available on the market, with various designs, such as one that slides a metal baffle over the seed hopper to close it off when a squirrel stands on the edge, or a feeder that has a battery-operated sensor, which spins the feeder to throw the squirrel off. Despite their intended outcome, these feeders may not always work, because squirrels eventually seem to outwit the baffle device, and squirrels have been know to continue to attempt to climb onto the ‘spin-feeder’ until the feeder’s batteries run out. In most cases it’s usually best to take feeders down for a time, until the squirrel loses interest and moves on to something else.

The legal provision for squirrel damage management, according to the Code of Virginia 29.1-516 Game Animals: “Landowners, resident members of hunt clubs and tenants (with written permission of landowner) may kill rabbits or squirrels for their own use during the closed season.

Also—Code of Virginia 29.1-530 Open and Closed Season for Trapping, Bag Limits, etc.: “a landowner or his agent may trap and dispose of, except by sale, squirrels causing a nuisance on his property at any time in any area where the use of firearms for such purpose is prohibited by law or local ordinance.”


Skunks are nocturnal, secretive, solitary and opportunistic. They prey on insects and will eat grasshoppers, crickets and also mice. They may knock over and empty the contents of trashcans; dig up lawns in search of grubs or insect nests; and like raccoons, they can carry rabies. To manage for skunks: 1) use a locking trash can to secure waste; 2) do not leave pet food outside; 3) remove brush and cover away from the foundation of dwellings or other buildings; 4) use a chemical treatment for the grubs in the lawn if their numbers exceed six per square foot; 5) if a skunk is in the crawl space under a building or has burrowed a hole under a shed, lay a board at the entrance as a ramp to try to encourage the skunk to come out; 6) when you’re sure the skunk is no longer underneath a building, tightly secure hardware cloth (wire mesh) along the edge of the building foundation to cover any burrow entrance or other opening; 7) use a covered bait trap that’s designed to capture a skunk and protect others from being sprayed. Lay a towel or blanket over the trap as an added precaution.

Per Regulation 4VAC15-220-10 Continuous Open Season for Taking of Striped Skunks: “It shall be lawful to take striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) at any time.” And—Regulation 4 VAC 15-220-20 Taking of Spotted Skunks: “A landowner or tenant may take [kill], on his own land or land under his control, spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius) committing or about to commit depredation. However the pelt of the spotted skunk may not be sold.”


Opossums are also nocturnal. Since they’re primarily tree-dwellers, they’re inclined to enter attics without an invitation. As omnivores, they’re also opportunistic when seeking food sources and will get into storage areas or outbuildings where bird seed or dog food is kept. To manage for opossum: 1) remove or secure food sources; 2) use hardware cloth or other screening or exclusion method to protect foundation openings; 3) repair eaves and areas under the roof overhang to keep animals out; and 4) trap as needed.

Since Opossum is legally defined as a furbearer species, the following are applicable regulations for trapping:

  • 29.1-517 Fur-Bearing Animals: “A landowner may shoot fur-bearing animals except muskrats or raccoons upon his own land during closed season.”
  • 29.1-530 Open and Closed Season for Trapping, Bag Limits, etc: “A landowner may trap fur-bearing animals, except beaver, muskrat and raccoons, upon his own land during closed season.”
  • Regulation 4 VAC 15-210-51 Open Season for Trapping – generally: “November 15 through last day in February, except there shall be a continuous open season to trap opossum within the incorporated limits of any city or town in the Commonwealth and in the counties of Arlington, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Henrico, James City, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Roanoke and York.”


Groundhogs dig large burrows and can do damage beneath the foundation of a building. Their burrows can be 25 to 30 feet long and from two to five feet deep, and they usually have two entrances. Groundhogs also feed on agricultural crops and may damage fruit trees in orchards. Here it’s important to remove fallen fruit as quickly as possible, to avoid attracting groundhogs to the free bounty.

The best measure for keeping groundhogs out of a structure is preventive maintenance, by ensuring that garages, porches, decks, sheds and other outbuildings do not have openings for access that will invite a groundhog’s curiosity to explore and dig deeper.

In the garden, use a fence at least three feet high to keep groundhogs out, and extend the bottom of the fence under the ground at least one or two feet, as they may try to burrow underneath it.


During the early spring, male woodpeckers establish their territory and attract a mate by pounding on dead trees and logs. If sufficient dead trees are not available, a woodpecker may decide that the hollow sound made by rapping on the siding of a house is just as good. In this scenario, one can try hanging reflective or noisy items from the building near where the bird has been striking, such as old CD’s, plastic grocery bags, rattling pie tins, or shiny metal flashing cut into strips.

Another possibility is that there may be some insect damage taking place underneath the siding or under the eaves that has attracted the woodpecker. Since woodpeckers are closely associated with dead trees and have a specialized tongue that’s adapted for pulling grubs out of wood, these birds spend a lot of time climbing up and down trees listening for the sound of chewing insects beneath the bark, which are a clear signal that food is at hand. Therefore, if scare tactics have not worked in discouraging the woodpecker from leaving the building, it’s possible that there’s some decay beneath the fascia board. Check for water-damaged wood, which is often an indicator of rot, and replace any damaged material.

Also, stack firewood and lumber at least 10-20 feet away from the house, to avoid insect damage from carpenter ants, termites, borers, and powder post beetles, which might attract woodpeckers as well.

Woodpeckers are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and may not be harmed, harassed or “taken” at any time.


Bats are very small and can squeeze between very narrow cracks and crevices underneath boards or eaves. Therefore, to reduce the likelihood of bats entering an attic space or getting into the walls, practice diligent preventative maintenance and make repairs as soon as damage is observed. It’s especially important to do this before the breeding season, when nursery colonies will be looking for places to roost to raise their young. At the end of the breeding season, bats will look for shelter to hibernate over winter. Some simple practices for maintenance or repair: 1) Attach ¼ inch steel mesh (hardware cloth) to the inside of gable vents; 2) patch any holes fist size or larger with new siding, paneling, sheet metal, or plywood and paint; 3) Stuff smaller holes with steel wool or copper wool, and then cover with caulk.

If a bat does get into the house, don’t panic but try to contain it in one room. Turn off all the lights and open all the windows, and continue watching the bat until you see it leave. If the bat appears to be resting quietly, try to trap it in a plastic container, and then release it outside.

If bats are living in the attic, turn on a loud radio and use bright lights as a deterrence. Another technique is to sit outside the building on a lawn chair at dusk and watch the house from the outside, to see how bats are getting in and out of the structure. Have a ladder and tools and materials ready. When darkness falls, the bats will leave the building en masse, which should provide an opportunity to make repairs and block access to their return. However, in the months of May through August, there may be young bats that stay behind when the adults come out to feed, and it’s imperative there are no bats still present within the structure before sealing up the holes.

Sometimes placing a bat house on the wall near the opening where bats have been going in and out may entice them to use the bat house instead. However, if these methods are not successful and a large number of bats is still the structure, seek professional assistance.

Bats are a non-game species and cannot be harmed or taken at any time. There are three federally endangered species of bats in Virginia. Therefore, before implementing a control technique that may cause harm, seek assistance in determining what species of bat is in question.


Despite people’s fears, snakes are rather benign and will usually try to get away when they see anyone approaching. There are 32 snake species in Virginia, and only 3 are venomous. The most common venomous snake seen across the state is the copperhead, which may frequent firewood piles or other areas with protective cover. Snakes that eat rodents are beneficial!

Three photographs. The first is of a northern copperhead; a tan colored snake with light and darker brown marks along the body. The second is eastern cottonmouth; a darker colored snake with light brown and darker brown markings. The third is a timber rattlesnake; a light brown with narrow dark brown and black markings.
Figure 18-8: Virginia’s venomous snakes include northern copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen, eastern cottonmouth snake, Agkistrodon p. piscivorus, and timber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus.

The preventative for snakes is to keep the building maintained and seal up any small cracks, tears, or other openings around windows, doors and under the eaves. Eastern rat snakes are tree climbers and may get inside an attic space. Snakes may also find their way into a basement or crawl space. If a snake gets in, use a towel or small blanket to place over the snake and then secure it to release it outdoors.

Canada goose

One goose produces a pound of manure every day. That’s a lot of organic matter that can pollute ponds, lakes and other waterways. Feeding geese only makes the problem worse, because it encourages them to congregate, and the concentration of nitrogen and urea from their droppings will kill fish and other wildlife in the pond water and can also cause an algae bloom. The wisest rule of thumb is not to feed geese at all.

To manage goose conflict, use scare tactics such as reflective tape; noise makers such as horns and whistles; and predator replicas. There’s also a bright yellow, inflatable plastic ball with a red eyeball on it that is sometimes used. Inflate the ball and hang it from a tree limb near the water, so it’s easily visible to the geese. It’s said that they apparently perceive the yellow ball and eye as a predator or something to be avoided. In large areas, such as around a lake in a big subdivision, a dog can be employed to chase geese and keep them from landing. This is most effective if initiated early in the season, when geese are flying over looking for places to land and a safe site to begin nest-building.

Geese prefer wide open lawns and fields, and another effective way to deter them is to leave a wide buffer of grasses, shrubs and other vegetation around the perimeter of the lake or pond. Geese usually approach land from the water’s side, and if the bank is full of vegetation, they will not come up on land in that location. Therefore avoid mowing down to the water’s edge wherever possible. If a view of the water is desired, carefully select a few small areas between trees or shrubs ,where a few branches can be strategically removed to open a small ‘window’ to the water, in lieu of cutting out entire shrubs or mowing all the vegetation. Retaining a buffer will be more beneficial to aquatic organisms that live in the water or at the water’s edge, too. If there’s currently no vegetated buffer to work with, set up a temporary fence or other barrier such as rocks at the very edge of the water along the entire length of the bank, to discourage geese from walking up onto land from the water side.

If geese have already become well established and are nesting, another technique that field biologists use is called “egg addling.” This is a mechanical method whereby the eggs in the nest are rapidly shaken in order to break up the contents within, so they won’t hatch. Although the adults may still not leave, the method ensures that the goose population at that location will not grow any larger.

In some municipalities a special goose hunt may be organized to reduce their numbers. To inquire how to set this up, contact a DWR Waterfowl Biologist or a Conservation Police Officer.

Additional Resources

General Habitat Information

Native Plant Resources

  • Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed, by Slattery, Reshetiloff and Zwicker. 2003.
  • Native Plants for Conservation, Restoration and Landscaping (VA Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage Division): Plant lists for physiographic regions of the state (Coastal, Piedmont and Mountain), with a key indicating relative value of plants to wildlife. Also includes a link to a list of Virginia invasive plant species.
  • Regional Native Plant Guides are available (such as Eastern Shore, Northern Neck, Northern Virginia) at VA Coastal Zone Management Program,
  • Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora Use the Atlas to see which plants are actually native in your own County.
  • Three complete listings of native “Herbaceous Plants,” “Shrubs” and “Trees” are available online at, which are used with permission from the USDA-NRCS (2014) Field Office Technical Guide, Section 2, Plant Establishment Guide.

Gardening for Butterflies and Other Pollinators

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pollinators web site
  • Numerous excellent publications are available from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at , as follows:
  • –Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, by Mader, Shepherd, Vaughan and Black; 2011; Xerces Society; 380 pgs.
  • –XERCES “Invertebrate Conservation” FACT SHEETS (
  • Pollinator Plants [for] Mid-Atlantic Region
  • Conserving Bumble Bees: Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America’s Declining Pollinators, by Hatfield, Jepsen, Mader, Black and Shepherd, 2012.
  • Pollinator Trial Results, by Schmotzer; 2013; Penn State Extension; 2 pg. Fact Sheet.
  • Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants, by Reel; U.S. Forest Service; 16 pg. color booklet, excellent for the general public
  • Urban and Suburban Meadows, by Zimmerman; 2010; Matrix Media Press; 272 pgs. Step-by-step guidelines for evaluating, designing, preparing and planting a site.

Gardening for Birds

  • Bird Gardening Book: The Complete Guide to Creating a Bird-Friendly Habitat in Your Backyard, by Stokes; 1998; Little, Brown & Co. 95 pgs.
  • Hummingbird Gardens: Turning Your Yard into Hummingbird Heaven, edited by Marinelli and Hanson; 2000; Handbook # 163, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Inc.; 111 pgs.
  • Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife, by Mizejewski; 2010 edition; National Wildlife Federation; 128 pgs.
  • Web Page – How to Attract Birds to Your Garden, National Wildlife Federation
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology [see also Nest Watch: All About Bird Houses]
  • Woodworking for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Animals, 3rd edition, by Henderson; 2010; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; 164 pgs.

Gardening for Aquatic Wildlife

  • Backyard Ponds: Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for Dragonflies and Damselflies, by Mazzacano, Paulson and Abbott; 2014; Migratory Dragonfly Partnership; 22 pgs.
  • How to Create a Frog Pond (Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders); Amphibian Ark; 17 pgs.
  • Pond-Building Guide (contains sections on “Characteristics of Amphibian Friendly Ponds” and “Mosquito Control”); 2015; 5 pgs.
  • A Guide to Creating Vernal Ponds: All the Information You Need to Build and Maintain an Ephemeral Wetland, by Biebighauser; 2002; USDA Forest Service and Izaak Walton League; 36 pgs. or
  • Habitat Management Guidelines for Amphibians and Reptiles of the Southeastern United States [Technical Publication HMG-2], by Bailey, Holmes, Buhlmann and Mitchell; 2006; PARC (Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation); 88 pgs.
  • or

Wildlife Conflicts

  • WILDLIFE CONFLICT HELPLINE Toll Free Number 1-855-571-9003, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (VA Department of Wildlife Resources).
  • VA Department of Wildlife Resources—FACT SHEETS on 20 wildlife species available on web site, How to Prevent or Resolve Conflict with Wildlife.
  • ARTICLES for the general public: When Wildlife Overstays its Welcome, and Feeding Wildlife: Food for Thought—
  • Wildlife Damage Control FACT SHEETS available on Beavers, Black Bears, Canada Goose, Moles, and Snakes, from VA Cooperative Extension
  • Snakes of Virginia, VA Department of Wildlife Resources [Booklet available for $4.95 through e-Store at]
  • A Guide to the Bats of Virginia, Special Publication No. 5, by Reynolds and Fernald; 2015; VA Department of Wildlife Resources; 40 pgs. Includes information about how to handle bats in homes or buildings. [Booklet available for purchase through e-Store at]
  • DEER RESISTANT PLANTS: “Deer Resistant Plants,” North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Urban Horticulture Fact Sheet 15; 8 pgs;
  • Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage, Fact Sheet # 655; 2003; Maryland Cooperative Extension; 8 pgs.
  • Deer: A Garden Pest [Hort 62NP], by Hussey; 2013; VA Cooperative Extension; 4 pg. Fact Sheet.
  • REPELLENTS: “White-Tailed Deer,” [Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet Series], by Curtis and Sullivan; 2001; Cornell Cooperative Extension; 6 pgs.
  • Managing Deer Damage in Maryland [Bulletin 354], by Kays; 2003; Maryland Cooperative Extension; 40 pgs. Excellent guidelines that can be applied to Virginia, not just Maryland!
  • Deer Proofing Your Yard and Garden, 2nd Edition, by Hart; 2005; Storey Publishing; 208 pgs.
  • Squirrel Wars: Backyard Wildlife Battles and How to Win Them, by Harrison; 2000; Willow Creek Press; 176 pgs.


  • Adamson, N. L. (2016). “Pollinators in our Communities.”
  • Brühl, C. A., Després, L., Frör, O., Patil, C. D., Poulin, B., Tetreau, G., & Allgeier, S. (2020). Environmental and socioeconomic effects of mosquito control in europe using the biocide bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis (bti). Science of the Total Environment724.
  • Calderone N.W. (2012). “Insect pollinated crops, insect pollinators and US agriculture: Trend analysis of aggregate data for the period 1992–2009.” PLoS ONE. 2012;7:e37235. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037235.
  • “General Information & Hunting Regulations.” (2022). Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
  • Hennessy, C. and Hild, K. (2021). “Are Virginia opossums really ecological traps for ticks? Groundtruthing laboratory observations?”Ticks and Tickborne Diseases 12, 5.
  • “How many species of native bees are in the United States?” U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Kays, Jonathan S. (2021). “Managing Deer Damage in Maryland (EB-354).” University of Maryland Extension.
  • Kays, Jonathan S., Bartlett, Michael V., and Curtis, Lisa. (2003). “Resistance of Ornamentals to Deer Damage, Fact Sheet # 655.” Maryland Cooperative Extension.
  • McBryde, J. (2016). “Virginia Honeybees are all the Buzz” FarmFlavor.
  • Narango, D. L., Tallamy, D.W., and Marra, P.P. (2018). “Nonnative plants reduce population growth of an insectivorous bird.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (45), p 11549-11554.
  • Narango, D.L., Tallamy, D.W. & Shropshire, K.J. (2020). “Few keystone plant genera support the majority of Lepidoptera species.” Nat Commun 11,5751.
  • Ollerton, Winfree and Tarrant. (2011). “How Many Flowering Plants are Pollinated by Animals?” Oikos, 120, 3.
  • Schmotzer, C. and Ellis, K. (2014). “Bees, Bugs & Blooms.” Maryland Native Plant Society.,%20Bugs,%20Blooms,%20top%20plant%20picks,%20MGPSU-1.PDF
  • Tallamy, D.W. (2007). Bringing Nature Home. Timber Press.


Written by Carol A. Heiser, Education Section Manager and Habitat Education Coordinator, VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (2015)

  • Revised by Nancy Brooks (2021)

Image Attributions

  • Figure 18-1: Mulch, herbaceous plants. Johnson, Devon. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
  • Figure 18-2: Habitat diagram. Virginia Cooperative Extension. 2020. From “Backyard Wildlife Habitats”  426-070 (SPES-247P)
  • Figure 18-3: Extension Master Gardeners build a lasagna garden. Toler, Linda. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
  • Figure 18-4: Hope Garden design. Toler, Linda. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
  • Figure 18-5: Rock garden. Johnson, Devon. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Includes “Frog green amphibian animal nature.” 2017. Josethestoryteller on Pixabay. Adapted from “Living With Wildlife” Figure 3. by Jenifer Rees. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
  • Figure 18-6: Eastern bluebird house.  Johnson, Devon. 2022. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
  • Figure 18-7: Bat box. “Bat box in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.” 2017. Rhododendrites. WikimediaCC BY-SA 4.0
  • Figure 18-8: Virginia’s poisonous snakes, Johnson Devon. 2022. Includes “Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va.” 2016. Chesapeake Bay Program. FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0, “8125.” 2005. Centers for Disease Control. Public Domain. “8162.” 2005. Centers for Disease Control. Public Domain. 


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