A Bohemian waxwing resting on a viburnum Plan now to add native plants to your yard next year to benefit birds like this Bohemian waxwing, shown here on a viburnum. Photo credit: Wisconsin DNR

MADISON, Wis. – Now is the time to start planning native landscaping to help birds, pollinators and other wildlife next year. 

Adding just a few native plants can not only help provide food and shelter for pollinators, birds and other wildlife but can increase your chances of watching wildlife. Rain gardens with specialized native wetland plants can also help handle stormwater on a property and help keep lakes, rivers and groundwater clean.

“Late fall and winter are a good time to get started planning for your native landscaping next year,” said Amy Staffen, a DNR conservation biologist who shares several tips for native landscaping she even practices in her yard

Visit the DNR’s Native Plants webpage for a step-by-step native landscaping guide, a video showing tips for landscaping through fall and winter and an expanded list of resources. 

“Planting seeds in later fall or winter, including on top of the snow, will help them have a higher germination rate come spring,” Staffen said. “Ordering native plants or seeds now will give you the greatest selection to help meet your landscaping goals.”

Staffen’s “Native Plants for Beginners” list and a plant list for birds from bird expert and DNR Conservation Biologist Ryan Brady are featured in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine’s winter issue, along with a list of plants for monarch butterflies by the Wisconsin Monarch Collaborative and Madison Audubon.

These colorful plant lists are available for download from DNR’s Native Plants webpage. Subscribing to the magazine now through Feb. 1, 2021, will deliver the guides right to your mailbox, where you’ll also find other great features such as recommendations for winter hikes and snowshoe trails.

The annual Field Notes publication is also included in the Winter issue. It is packed with short stories and photos of DNR Natural Heritage Conservation staff, partners and volunteers protecting endangered species and state natural areas.

Why Native Landscaping?

Native plants that evolved in Wisconsin have by far a greater ability to fuel life up the food chain than nonnative plants like ornamental trees and flowers, which are common in many yards. That’s because native plants have evolved along with the insects that eat them, and the insects are better able to digest the native plants.

Providing more native habitat for birds is particularly important. A landmark 2019 study by seven leading bird conservation organizations, including the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, confirmed a nearly 30% loss in the number of breeding birds in North America since 1970.

Other research has pointed to habitat loss and degradation as two key drivers of the declines. One study showed, for example, that East Coast suburban neighborhoods where less than 70% of native vegetation remains — and that means most neighborhoods — the birds do not have the insects and seeds they need to eat and are having trouble reproducing.

And it’s not just birds. Steep declines over the past 20 years in the eastern and western U.S. monarch butterfly populations and populations of many pollinators and other insects have put a premium on adding habitat to private land, which constitutes 85% of Wisconsin’s 34.8 million land acres. 

Learn more about why a growing number of Wisconsinites are digging into native landscaping in “All in to Boost Birds,” in the Fall 2020 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.