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Rebuilding habitat with native plants and brush piles

-Leanh Ta

Urban development causes the loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat. Home gardens in the
city can help rebuild those habitats by creating passageways for wildlife movement and
recreating areas they need to feed, rest, nest, and survive. Your garden can serve as a habitat for
wildlife by providing four elements: food, water, shelter and space. Building these elements can
be low effort, low maintenance, economic, and add beauty into your garden.
Incorporating native plants and brush piles into your garden are two great ways to add elements
of wildlife habitat back into the environment. Native plants are habitat-building workhorses that
provide food, shelter and nesting space for wildlife. They are best adapted to our local climate
and build deep roots that aid soil in retaining water and reducing stormwater runoff. Brush piles
built from tree limbs and leaves divert yard waste from going to the landfill. These structures
attract bugs to aid in their decomposition which is excellent food for birds and other forms of
wildlife. Small caverns created by overlapping branches create safe pockets for wildlife to hide
from predators or shelter from the rain.
Abundant sources of food are essential for wildlife habitat. This can be in the form of foliage,
berries, nectar from flowers, and attracting bugs.
Sites of shelter in a garden protect wildlife from predators, provide spots for animals to rest,
and can help birds to nest their young.
Does your garden already have food, water, shelter, and space, the 4 elements of habitat?
Apply to certify your garden through the Washington Habitat at Home program!

Use native plants
Create food for wildlife
Natives can be attractive foods for multitudes of insects that are beneficial to soil and
decomposition. These bugs are amazing sources of food for important birds in our local habitats.
Some natives produce berries which attract birds. Other natives produce flowers that contain
important nectar for pollinators that are helping other plants in your garden thrive!
Create shelter for wildlife
Multilayering natives at different heights will create an environment that resembles natural
habitats. Animals will be able to hide from predators or have safe places to nest and feed their
young.
Natives benefit you by:
 Aiding watershed conservation and soil’s water retention
 Being well adapted to local climate and being easy to establish and grow
 Requiring less maintenance (pruning, cleanup, less pests)

Build a brush pile
Consider incorporating a brush pile into your garden to benefit both your well-being and wildlife
habitat! They can be built by layering wood and leaf debris produced by the trees and shrubs
already found in your garden.

Create food for wildlife
Decomposers are attracted to the decaying wood and leaves that make up a brush pile. These
bugs are great sources of nutrition for birds and mammals, especially nesting birds that need
high-protein food.

Create shelter for wildlife
Animals use brush piles to shelter from weather, escape predators, nest their young, and rest.
Layered branches create various pockets where animals can safely move to eat or rest.
Brush piles benefit you by:
 Diverting woody and leafy material from going to yard waste
 Adding nutrients back into the soil

Choosing native plants for your garden
Questions to consider in your garden:
1. Do I want my native plants to accomplish a particular goal like providing privacy,
structure or ground coverage?
2. What is the size of my planting site? Am I okay with a shrub that will grow 5x its size in
5 years or do I need something that stays small?
3. How much sun does my planting site receive? How does this change in the spring vs.
winter?
4. What are my soil conditions? Will I need irrigation for the summer?
5. Is there a time of year my garden could use more color and attraction?

Essential Gardeners recommends the following list of plants that are commonly available at our
local nurseries. These choices consider eventual size, sun or shade preference, ease of growth,
water needs, and purpose in an urban garden setting. Use the questions and plant descriptions
below to decide which natives will work best in your garden.

Pacific wax myrtle
Morella californica
 Small to large evergreen shrub
 Easy to prune to preference, can provide excellent screening for privacy
 White flowers in spring, dark purple berries in fall, attracting pollinators and birds

Red flowering currant
Ribes sanguineum
 Small to medium deciduous shrub
 Drought tolerant
 Blooms provide showy pink display in spring
 Hummingbird magnet

Red-twig dogwood
Cornus sericea
 Deciduous Showy red bark provides winter interest
 Attracts bird with berries
 Flowers attract pollinators

Salal
Gaultheria
 Evergreen small to medium shrub
 Does well in variable growing conditions
 Produces flowers and fruit, attracting birds

Snowberry
Symphoricarpos albus
 Deciduous small to large shrub, forms thicket
 Persistent white berries through winter
 Excellent for erosion control
 Vigorous spreading

Oregon grape
Mahonia
 Small to medium evergreen shrub
 Yellow flowers in spring, blue-black berries in winter
 Attracts birds and pollinators

Ferns (various)
 Native ferns be evergreen or deciduous
 Various sizes suit many garden scapes
 Common native types include maidenhair, deer, sword, and lady

Kinnikinnick
Arctostaphylos

 Evergreen groundcover
 Drought tolerant, does well in full sun and poor soil conditions
 White-pink flowers in spring, red berries in late summer, attracts birds

Beach strawberry
Fragaria chiloensis
 Evergreen ground cover
 Aids erosion control
 White flowers in spring eventually turn into bright red fruit in summer attracting
pollinators and birds

Inside-out flower
Vancouveria
 Semi-evergreen ground cover
 Self-spreading
 Does well in part sun to full shade
 White flowers attract pollinators

Wild ginger
Asarum caudatum
 Semi-evergreen ground cover
 Fragrant leaves and roots
 Does well in partial to full shade
 Unique blooms in spring

Serviceberry
Amelanchier alnifolia
 Deciduous small tree
 Spring blooms, early summer berries
 Attracts birds, hummingbirds, pollinators

Vine maple
Acer circinatum
 Deciduous small tree
 Showy bark, attractive fall foliage
 Flowers attract pollinators

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