Deer in Spring Landscape

Maryland's Wild Acres

Wild-scaping Townhouses & Condominiums

Backyard wildlife habitat does not have to be restricted to acres and acres of well-landscaped yards. This article is designed to give you ideas on how to turn your townhouse or condominium backyard into a wildlife garden with helpful tips on how to arrange food, water and shelter elements of habitat for wildlife. Once you've planned your wildlife garden, make sure your wildscape complies with townhouse and condominium guidelines before planting. Songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, moths, squirrels, chipmunks, turtles and rabbits are just some of the wildlife species that will visit a townhouse or condominium wildscape.

Always be sure of the light, soil and watering requirements of each plant and whether or not those needs will be met in the place it will be planted. Plant nurseries and garden centers are good sources for plant care information. Use organic solutions to insect and disease problems instead of pesticides whenever possible.

Diversity is the Key

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

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

Habitat Elements

Food

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

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

Water

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

Shelter

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

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

Recommended Plant List

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

Sunflowers are great for butterflies.

Annuals

Species

Native?

Flower/Fruit

Benefits

Cosmos

N

Jun-Aug

Attractive to bees and butterflies

Flowering Tobacco

(Nicotiana alata)

N

May-Jul

Attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

Hollyhocks

(Alcea spp.)

N

 

Attractive to bees and butterflies; biennial

Pentas

(Pentas spp.)

N

Jun-Sept

Nectar attracts bees, butterflies, birds

Petunia

(Petunia spp.)

N

Apr-Jul

Can attract butterflies like Painted ladies

Salvia

(Salvia spp.)

N

May-Sep

Great for beneficial insect pollinators

Sunflowers

(Helianthus annuus)

N

Jun-Aug

Attracts butterflies, bees, beneficial insects, birds and small mammals

Sweet William/Phlox

(Phlox divaricata)

Y

Apr-Jun

Showy spring flower that attracts butterflies

Sweet William

(Dianthus barbatus)

N

Jun-Jul

Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Zinnia

N

 

Pentas are favorites of bees and butterflies


Wild Oats produce attractive fruits while also providing cover for wildlife

Grasses

Species

Native?

Flower/Fruit

Benefits

Big Bluestem

(Andropogon gerardii)

Y

Jun-Sep

Clump forming plant which provides cover

Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides

Y

Jun-Oct

Clump forming plant which provides cover and seeds for wildlife

Indiangrass

(Sorghastrum nutans)

Y

Aug-Oct

Clump forming plant which provides cover

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium

Y

Aug-Oct

Clump forming plant which provides cover and seeds for wildlife

Switchgrass
(Panicum virgatum)

Y

Jul-Oct

Clump forming plant which provides food for sparrows and other songbirds

Wild Oats

(Chasmanthium latifolium)

Y

Jul-Sep

Provides cover


Black swallowtail larvae use plants from the Carrot family as larval hosts

Herbs*

Species

Native?

Flower/Fruit

Benefits

Dill

(Anethum graveolens)

N

 

Host for Black swallowtail larvae

Fennel

(Foeniculum vulgare)

N

 

Host for Black swallowtail larvae

Rosemary

(Rosemaryinus officinalis)

N

 

Good for bees

Sweet Marjoram

(Origanum vulgare)

N

 

Good for bees

Thyme

(Thymus)

N

 

Excellent for bees

* Note: many herbs can be aggressive in the garden, so it is best to plant them in containers

Perennials

Species

Native?

Flower/Fruit

Benefits

Beebalm

(Monarda didyma)

Y

Jul-Sep

Showy, aromatic flowers which attract hummingbirds and butterflies

Beardtongue

(Penstemon digitalis)

Y

Jun-Aug

Great for hummingbirds

Black-eyed Susan

(Rudbeckia hirta)

Y

Jun-Oct

Provides both a pollen and nectar source for wildlife

Blazingstar

(Liatris spicata)

Y

Jul-Aug

Nectar source for butterflies and beneficial insect; grows in dry soil

Butterflyweed

(Asclepias tuberosa)

Y

May-Jul/

Aug-Nov

Host plant for monarch butterflies. Also attracts adult butterflies

Common Milkweed

(Asclepias syriaca)

Y

May-Jun/

Aug-Nov

Host plant for butterflies; fragrant and attracts beneficial insects

Ironweed

(Vernonia noveboracensis)

Y

Aug-Oct

Host plant for butterflies

Joe Pyeweed

(Eupatorium fistulosum)

Y

Jul-Oct

Attracts songbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects; great for rain gardens

Larkspurs

(Delphinium spp).

Y/N

Apr-Jun

Provides nectar for butterflies and beneficial insects

Partridgeberry

(Mitchella repens)

Y

May-Jul/

Jul-Dec

Groundcover that provides berries for birds and small mammals

Purple Coneflower

(Echinacea purpureum)

Y

Jul-Aug

Provides nectar for pollinators as well as seeds for birds

Stonecrops

(Sedum spp.)

Y/N

 

Provides good groundcover and some varieties are used by butterflies

Wild Columbine

(Aquilegia canadensis)

Y

Apr-Jul

Great for butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects


Winterberry holly provides a winter-long berry source for wildlife

Shrubs

Species

Native?

Flower/Fruit

Benefits

Blueberries

(Vaccinium spp.)

Y/N

 

Provide berry source for birds as well as nectar source for butterflies and bees

Coralberry

(Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)

Y

Apr-Jun

Provides cover, nectar for insects, berries for songbirds and leaves for moths

Dogwoods

(Cornus spp.)

Y/N

 

Provides cover and berries for birds and small mammals

Elderberry

(Sambucus canadensis)

Y

May

Jun-Jul

Fragrant flowers and berries important for songbirds and small mammals

Hydrangea

(Hydrangea spp.)

Y/N

Jun-Aug

Provides cover and food for pollinators

Inkberry

(Ilex glabra)

Y

May-Jun/

Sep-Mar

Provides cover and berries for songbirds and small mammals; need a male and female for berries

Juniper (dwarf varieties)

N

 

Provides year-round shelter

Rhododendron

(Rhododendron maximum)

Y

May-Aug

Sep-Nov

Provides year-round shelter for wildlife

Virginia Sweetspire

(Itea virginica)

Y

Jun-Jul/

Aug-Mar

Provides nectar for beneficial insects and fruit for songbirds and small mammals

Winterberry

(Ilex verticillata)

Y

Jun-Jul/

Aug-Feb

Provides cover and berries for songbirds and small mammals; need a male and female for berries

Yew

(Taxus canadensis)

Y

Mar-May/

Jul-Sep

Provides cover and berries for songbirds


Small Trees

Species

Native?

Flower/Fruit

Benefits

American holly

(Ilex opaca)

Y

May-Jun

Provides year-round cover and berries for songbirds

Fire Cherry

(Prunus pensylvanica)

Y

May/

Jul-Sep

High wildlife value for birds and mammals

Fringetree

(Chionanthus virginicus)

Y

May-Jun/

Sep-Oct

Fragrant flowers and attractive to songbirds

Mountain Ash

(Sorbus americana)

Y

May-Jul/

Aug-Dec

High wildlife value for songbirds and small mammals

Paw-paw

(Asimina triloba)

Y

Apr-Jun/

Aug-Sep

Produces edible fruits favored by birds, mammals and people

Serviceberry

(Amelanchier arborea)

Y

Mar-May/

May-Jun

Used by 58 species of wildlife in MD; berries are edible to songbirds, mammals and people


Trumpet Creeper is often visited by Hummingbirds

Vines

Species

Native?

Flower/Fruit

Benefits

Bittersweet

(Celastrus scandens)

Y

May-Jun/

 Sept-Dec

Provides fruits, buds and leaves. Excellent winter food for birds. Oriental bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) is invasive.

Passionflower

(Passiflora incarnata)

Y

Jun-Sep/

Sep-Oct

Great for butterflies and provides edible fruits

Trumpet Creeper

(Campsis radicans)

Y

Jul-Sep/

Aug-Mar

Great for butterflies and hummingbirds

Trumpet Honeysuckle

(Lonicera sempervirens)

Y

Apr-Oct/

Aug-Mar

Excellent plant for hummingbirds and provides berries for songbirds

Virgin’s Bower

(Clematis virginiana)

Y

Jul-Sept/

Aug-Nov

Fragrant flowers

Wild Grape

(Vitis spp.)

Y/N

 

Provides berries for wildlife

Acknowledgements:

  • Wild Oats photo by Gene Cooley
  • Black swallowtail caterpillar photo by Lynn Davidson
  • Fringetree photo by R. H. Wiegand
  • All other photos by Kerry Wixted

For Additional Information, Please Contact:

Kerry Wixted
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Ave, E-1
Annapolis, MD 21401
kerry.wixted@maryland.gov
Phone: 410-260-8566
Fax: 410-260-8596

We want to hear from you!

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Write to Me!

Kerry Wixted
Natural Resources Biologist II
Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service
MD Dept of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave., E-1
Annapolis MD  21401

phone: 410-260-8566
fax: 410-260-8596
e-mail: kerry.wixted@maryland.gov

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