Gardening with native plants has gained widespread popularity in recent years. Not only do native plants beautify the landscape, they also provide much needed habitat for wildlife species. Many of the exotic plants that are commonly used in home gardens do not support insects and larger wildlife in the same way that native plants would. Native insects coevolved with native plants and rely on these plants for food and to complete their lifecycles. In turn, songbirds need those insects to survive and feed their young.
Most shrubs that are considered great for wildlife produce fruit that is attractive to songbirds, but it is important to note that some species are also hosts for certain insects. Northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is one such shrub. It produces fruit that is enjoyed by migrating thrushes and also supports spicebush swallowtail caterpillars. Northern spicebush also has showy, fragrant flowers in the spring and excellent fall color, making it very valuable as a landscape plant. Other shrubs that make good screens and provide wildlife value are: dogwood (Cornus spp.), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), viburnum (Viburnum spp.), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and inkberry (Ilex glabra).
Mimicking nature is the best way to ensure that wildlife will utilize your backyard habitat. Try planting a variety of different species of differing heights because not all wildlife species forage or find shelter at the same level. Take this one step further by choosing plants that provide food throughout the year. Shrubs like winterberries and cranberry viburnums will hold onto their fruit into the winter months, offering fruit eating birds a much needed food source once the weather gets colder.
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