There are four elements to perfect wildscape

January 28, 2010

by Beth Ellis,
Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener

Editor's note:  This is the Part II of a two-part series on wildscapes.  Beth Ellis provides steps on planning a wildscape from her work with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Photo by Contributed photo by Meredith O'Reilly
Steps in the form of stones or pots placed below the water line provide not only secure footing, but also protection from drowning for wildlife and small pets. They are a must if your pond has steep sides.
Contributed photo by Meredith O'Reilly
Colorful beds attractive to both wildlife and humans are the result of evaluating existing resources, space, desired wildlife (and their needs) along with maintenance requirements. The use of native plants not only provides natural surroundings but also requires less maintenance.
Last week, we discussed wildscaping basics, without really touching on landscape planning.

To be honest, that's one of the great things about wildscapes - they can be as simple as a few potted flowers on a sunny balcony, as complex as a whole-yard landscape or just about anything in between.

But like everything else in this world, a truly successful wildscape requires a bit of planning before actually putting spade to dirt.

So whether large or small, simple or complex, the key to wildscape success revolves around identifying existing resources, available space, the types of critters you want to attract and maintenance requirements.

Basing your plan on these four elements will allow you to create the perfect wildlife haven right in your own yard.


*Resources - Start by jotting down all the existing features on your property. Include trees, shrubs, flowers, low or brushy areas, rock piles, etc.

Take a hard look around, because you just might end up experiencing one of those wonderful "Ah Ha!" moments.

For example, with a little TLC that mass of native brush out back that you've been meaning to chop down can in fact become a popular hangout for songbirds.

And that annoying low area out front might be the perfect place for a bog garden. So use fresh eyes and take a good look around - you may discover an incipient wildscape or two hiding right under your nose.

*Space - OK, you've got your list of resources. Now it's time to create a map.

Grab a tape measure, a partner, graph paper and pencil, and start drawing. Include permanent features like structures, hardscapes, and water and power lines. Leave out flowerbeds, trees and shrubs for now - just concentrate on the stuff that can't or won't be moved.

And don't forget to label view sheds (street view, back porch view, etc) and use areas (utility, private, play, public). Make extra copies for doodling on later.

*Wildlife - Now start another list. Identify the wildlife you want to attract, and write down their food, water and shelter needs.

What do they need to be happy? For instance, songbirds need seeds, berries, a water source, and trees and shrubs for shelter and nesting.

Butterflies need flowers, caterpillar host plants and sunshine in areas that aren't windy.

Toads, frogs and lizards need cozy hidey holes provided by leaf litter and brush and rock piles, and they need moisture and soft soil for digging.

*Maintenance - You will be happy to know that wildscaping means less work for you.

Whenever possible, opt to use native plants - they generally require less water, are hardier, more heat-tolerant, and provide greater nutritional benefits for wildlife than do non-natives.

They are also more resistant to pests and disease. For many of us, this last bit means we must retrain our thinking about pest control.

Since wildscapes are intended to draw wildlife, it's best to avoid pesticides if at all possible. However, if a situation arises when you feel pesticides simply must be used, then Integrated Pest Management is the method of choice.

Essentially, IPM advocates usage of pesticides only when an infestation is severe and stopping use as soon as the problem is under control.

IPM prevents pests from building up a generational tolerance to pesticides, and it limits pesticide exposure to beneficial insects, non-target wildlife, and oh yes - us humans.


OK. You've now got two lists, several copies of your map, and you know about reduced maintenance and the benefits of IPM. Now it's time to develop your plan.

Begin by comparing your list of existing resources with the list detailing the needs of the wildlife you want to attract.

The comparison will reveal what you've already got and what must be added. Grab a copy of your map and start doodling.

Referring to your lists, play with different layouts and locations until you find a spot in your yard that works best. Include existing vegetation and features you plan to keep and exclude what will be removed.

Add in the new stuff - flowerbeds, shrubs, trees, hardscaping, ponds, rock piles, trellises, whatever.

Double check view sheds and use areas to make sure everything meshes.

Give weight to natives over non-natives when adding new plants, and remember to group them according to their needs and to the needs of the wildlife you hope to attract.

Double check that food, water, and shelter needs are balanced. Add a supplemental feeder or two if you wish, but it's not really necessary since ideally your wildscape will provide just about everything wildlife visitors will need.


Last, but not least, remember that you don't have to create your wildscape all at once - if you've got an ambitious plan, its OK to start small and build in phases.

Or start small and stay small - either way, wildlife will love it - and so will you.
Careful planning and layout could result in a low area in your landscape becoming a wildscape pond or bog garden. A recycled hot tub could make a great base for a backyard pond.
Careful layout and planning are necessary in planning a wildscape before putting spade to dirt.
Identify existing resources.
Determine available space.
Decide on wildlife you want to attract.
Know maintenance requirements.


Look for more information in future issues of The Gardeners' Dirt.
Lunch and Learn with the Masters - Second and fourth Mondays, February-April
Spring Fever Symposium - March 6
Spring Plant Sale - March 20
(Projected) Pavilion opening - by March 31
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at