The best habitat for native wildlife in your backyard is one with native plants in it. Native plants and wildlife are those that exist naturally in a given area and have not been introduced by humans. Native plants and animals often have complex interrelationships that have evolved over the course of thousands of years. They are both extremely well-adapted to the natural environmental conditions in their native region and their activities often play a role in shaping and/or maintaining the ecosystem.
Unfortunately when a piece of land is developed by humans, most of the native vegetation is removed and replaced with non-native grasses, trees and ornamental shrubs. When invasive, non-native plants become established in an area, species diversity is greatly reduced.
Native plant benefits for wildlife
A diverse and healthy plant community is the key to maintaining a diverse and healthy wildlife population. The best way to improve your yard's appeal to and help native wildlife is to remove non-native and especially invasive plants, and replace them with a variety of native plants suitable to your area's soil and water conditions. Native plants are better in the long run at providing the food, shelter and diversity wildlife species need to thrive in their environment.
Native plant benefits for you
Native plants are not only beneficial to native wildlife but to property owners as well. Native plants are already well adapted to the local climate so they tend to be hardier and require much less care than non-native plants. Landscaping your yard with native plants can reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental watering, mowing and other yard care-related chores. In addition, many native plants are just as aesthetically appealing as their non-native alternatives.
Non-native and invasive plants
In addition to non-native plants that are intentionally planted in an area, there are many species of “noxious weeds” or “invasives” plants that readily spread on their own when an area is developed. These aggressively spreading plants often grow so quickly that they choke out all other vegetation. While many of these plants do provide some benefit to wildlife, they have different qualities than the native plants that they replace and may not be suitable to support native wild animals.
Finding Native Plants
Native plants may be hard to find at your typical big-box nursery. Check with smaller nurseries in your area and check out the resources listed below to learn more about non-native plants:
The Washington Native Plant Society
Has general information and articles about native plants in our area
Washington State University North West Plants Database
This site contains a database of plants commonly found in the Pacific Northwest and will tell you general information about the plant as well as if they are native, what their wildlife value is and if they are poisonous.
King County Northwest Native Plant Landscaping Guide
This site contains tools that help you create a native plant list for your yard, make landscaping plans or just learn more about the native plants of the Pacific Northwest.
Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board
This is an informative site with a wealth of information on Washington State weed laws and weed classification. It also includes a section with a weed identification guide and a page of links to county noxious weed control boards.
Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Press
Written by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Russel Link, this book contains all the information you need to turn your yard into ideal habitat for native wildlife. Available at major bookstores or directly from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.