Despite their ‘spooky’ reputation, bats can be a surprising asset to your outdoor living space. Just about every type of bat in Canada is insectivorous. They are incredibly efficient hunters; most can eat up to 50% of their body weight in insects in a single night! If you have a mosquito problem during summer nights when you are trying to entertain friends and family outside, consider that the Little Brown Bat (the most common bat in Canada) can eat several hundred mosquitoes in one hour. Many insects have the ability to detect bats even at great distances; in many cases the mere presence of a bat will reduce the number of mosquitoes, moths, and beetles in your yard even if the bat isn’t actively hunting.

Don’t be afraid of bats! Contrary to popular belief, bats are incredibly skilled navigators, using both echolocation and excellent maneuverability to move almost invisibly around your yard in the early morning and late evening. Bats aren’t interested in interacting with humans at all.

Attracting Bats
Like most creatures, bats require food, water, and shelter. Having a fairly large source of fresh water is important for bats not only as a drinking area but also because wet, marshy areas are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other delicious insects. If you have a pond or stream in your yard already, you’re already in great shape. If you have a drainage issue at the back of your property, it will actually be a blessing for bats.

Arguably the hardest thing to provide for a bat is shelter. A great way to create this shelter is to construct a bat house. This document does not delve into great detail on bat houses, but if you’re keen on creating a backyard sanctuary for bats, there are some excellent online resources on how to build and situate them, including this one from Ottawa’s Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Plant Choices
Your plant selection can also help to increase the frequency of bat visits. The idea when choosing plants for a bat-friendly garden is to increase the incidence of insects that are active in the evening hours, thereby encouraging bats to hunt in your area. It’s also important to ensure that your garden has something to offer these insects spring through fall, not just during the summer.

  • Native or near-native plants are far superior to extensively hybridized plants for this purpose; native plants are often more floriferous, larger, and provide more nectar and pollen than their more refined counterparts
  • Flowers that are pale yellow or white (such as evening primrose) show up in the evening hours, making them ideal for attracting moths
  • Plants with single, large flowers often have higher concentrations of pollen and nectar
  • Some plants in the carrot or daisy families have flowers that are flat and easy for insects to land on

Avoid Insecticides
It should go without saying that using insecticides to reduce the insect population in your yard is counterproductive. Consider bats your natural alternative to insecticides.

Other Bat-Friendly Considerations
A few final thoughts to create a bat-friendly garden:

    • Hedges, treelines, or other natural borders greatly increase a bat’s ability to navigate your yard at night
    • If you have an existing pond, be aware that fish often eat insect larvae on the surface of the water, making this an inadequate source of food for bats
    • If you have an outdoor cat, try and bring it inside for the night about half an hour before sunset, especially during the summer months when many bats are rearing their young; this will allow bats to emerge from their roosts at dusk and return at dawn undisturbed
    • A compost heap in a hidden corner of your yard will not only provide compost for your garden but will also attract a variety of insects that will become food for bats; rotting logs are especially useful as they attract beetles which are popular fare for bats

Western bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate over the last decade in large part due to something referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The underlying causes of this disorder are subject to much debate, but some of the common suggestions are habitat loss, harmful pesticides, diseases and pests, and climate change. In Ontario alone, bees are the most common pollinator and are responsible for just under $900 million in agricultural crop sales each year, or about 13% of Ontario’s total annual crop value. Last winter, the winter mortality rate for bees was 58%, which when compared to the rate considered acceptable and sustainable by beekeepers – 15% — suggests a serious crisis. Opening up our gardens as a safe habitat and feeding area for bees is in everyone’s best interests.

Stay Away From Systemics
The easiest way to help bees is to avoid systemic insecticides, most notably neonicotinoids. By definition, systemic insecticides remain in plant material and soils for extended periods of time, causing harm to multiple generations of insects, not just one. If we have plants in our garden struggling with a pest issue, it’s important to resist the temptation to borrow these products from a friend or neighbor. The government of Ontario has made it easier to resist this temptation by banning public sales of virtually all systemics.

Use Plants That Attract Bees
There are a lot of plants that attract bees, but some are more effective at providing food than others. It is important to ensure that you have flowers in your garden that bloom at different times to guarantee a stable food supply throughout the year. Generally, bees are attracted to blues, purples, violets, whites, and yellows. Native plants will attract native bees while more exotic varieties will attract honeybees.

It’s also important to note that overly hybridized plants may be of almost no use to bees. Many of these plants are sterile and are chosen for their visual appeal to humans, but do nothing for our apian friends. Choose heirloom or native varieties instead.

Use a diverse array of flower shapes and sizes to appeal to the broadest variety of bees. Different bee species have different tongue lengths and may not be able to feed on the pollen and nectar of certain plants if they can’t reach it! Below you will find a list of some plants that act as good food sources for bees.

Botanical Name Common Name Flowering Time
Achillea species Yarrow Mid-season
Aster species Aster Late
Centaurea species Cornflower Late
Cosmos species Cosmos (annual) Late
Cotoneaster species Cotoneaster Early
Crocus species Crocus (bulb) Early
Dahlia species Dahlia Mid-season
Digitalis species Foxglove Early
Echinacea species Coneflower Mid-season
Lavandula species Lavender Mid-season
Nepeta species Catnip Mid-season
Primula species Primrose Early
Rubus species Blackberry/Raspberry Mid-season
Salix species Willow Early
Sedum species Stonecrop Late
Solidago species Goldenrod Late
Vaccinium species Blueberry Early

Bee Baths
Bees and many other beneficial insects need water from a shallow source but cannot land directly in them hurting themselves. Try placing stones in your water vessel in such a way that when you fill it, the rocks become little “islands” upon which bees can safely land. Place the water at ground level in your garden where possible.

Bee Houses
If you’re really keen on increasing the bee population in your garden, consider constructing a bee house. There are countless different types of houses you can make depending on what type of bee you wish to attract (some bees nest in the ground, others in trees, and so on). The construction of such houses is beyond the scope of this document, but you can find a plethora of excellent resources online with thorough instructions and helpful advice. Though bees (especially honeybees and bumblebees) are completely harmless, if you end up constructing a bee house it’s a good idea to let visiting friends and neighbours (especially those with small children) know about it, especially if they are at all allergic to bee stings.

Designing a garden that maximizes the quantity and variety of birds that arrive in your yard is very straightforward, and incredibly rewarding. This document will provide you with tips on how to best use plants to meet the needs of birds throughout the year.

Food and Shelter
Attracting birds to your yard isn’t just about food: birds also need trees and shrubs where they can find shelter from the elements and potential predators, as well as an easily accessible source of water. Many of the birds that inhabit southwestern Ontario have a preferred tree or food source, too. If there’s room in the garden for medium or large conifers, they provide important winter shelter for many birds. Consider leaving the seed heads on perennials like Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), as these are an alternate food source for many birds in the winter.

Providing Water
A bird bath is the easiest way to provide water for your avian visitors. The water should be changed every few days during the summer largely to prevent it from becoming a breeding area for mosquitoes. In the winter, it can be trickier to maintain fresh water since it is liable to freeze quickly. Consider using two containers of water; keep one inside and each morning you can switch out the frozen outdoor one for the indoor thawed one. You can also purchase bird bath de-icers (available at some hardware stores). In any season, try to keep your water source a good distance away from dense hedges or shrubs – birds will avoid these areas, suspecting that predators are hiding nearby.

Keep Dead Plants Around
Believe it or not, old and dead trees and shrubs are often used by birds for shelter and as a place to raise their young. Many of the insects that feed on rotting plant material are also a food source for birds.

Less Lawn
Large sprawling lawn areas offer no benefit to birds and little to other wildlife. If you are committed to increasing the frequency of bird visits, consider reducing the size of your lawn, perhaps to dig out new planting beds and add even more bird-friendly plants (then there’s less lawn to mow, too!).

Avoid Insecticides
Unless you have a serious insect problem that threatens your plants, avoid using insecticides; many birds will eat insects as well as berries and nuts. Insects are an important food source for many younger birds.

Below you’ll find a list of bird-friendly shrubs and the birds that are attracted to them. Note that this is not a complete list, just a selection!

Botanical Name Common Name Assets Birds Attracted
Amelanchier species Serviceberry Food/Shelter Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Cardinals, Vireos, Tanagers, Grosbeaks, Orioles, Towhees
Aronia melanocarpa Black Chokeberry Food Mockingbirds,Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Kingbirds, Western Kingbirds, Catbirds, Robins, Jays
Berberis thunbergii Japanese Barberry Food Ruffled Grouses, Northern Bobwhites, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Northern Mockingbirds, Grey Catbirds, Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Cardinals, Dark-eyed Juncos, Sparrows
Callicarpa species Beautyberry Food Quail, Mockingbirds, Robins, Towhees, Brown Thatchers, Cardinals, Cedar Waxwings, Thrushes, upwards of 30 other species of birds
Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud Food/Shelter Hummingbirds, Chickadees, Goldfinches, Juncos
Cornus species Dogwood Food/Shelter Upwards of 90 species of birds
Ilex species Evergreen Holly Food/Shelter Robins, Bluebirds, Thrushes, Catbirds, Cardinals, Waxwings, upwards of 20 more species
Ilex species Winterberry Food Waxwings, Catbirds, Bluebirds, Robins, Hermit Thrushes, Mockingbirds, upwards of 20 more species
Mahonia aquifolium Oregon Grape Holly Food Robins, Waxwings, Juncos, Towhees, Sparrows
Picea pungens Colorado Spruce Shelter Finches, Chickadees, Juncos
Pinus species Pine Shelter Countless species
Prunus avium Sweet Cherry Food Countless species; ,i>Prunus avium literally means ‘Bird Cherry’
Sambucus nigra Elderberry Food/Shelter Countless species
Thuja occidentalis Arborvitae Shelter Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Robins, Finches, Common Redpolls, Juncos

Butterfly gardens have exploded in popularity in recent years, and with good reason: butterflies are some of the most attractive insects to have around the yard. Truth be told, many butterflies have lost their habitat due to human activity; a butterfly garden is an incredibly easy way to give something back to them!

Major Considerations
There are two categories of plants you need to work into any successful butterfly garden: first, you need some “sacrificial” plants that are attractive to caterpillars as food; second, you need some plants that are attractive to adult butterflies. You’ll need a good balance of both categories, or butterflies will visit your garden very infrequently. Remember too that specific plants are favoured by specific caterpillars; if you have a desire for a particular type of butterfly, ensure you’ve planted the right choices.

The vast majority of plants that fall into these two categories require full sun (at least 6 hours of direct light every day), so make sure you’ve designated a sunny area. Some shelter from excessive wind is also ideal, though not completely crucial.

Planning Your Garden
Below you’ll find a few helpful tips to guide you through the planning process:

  • Plant in casual mass displays. Butterflies are more likely to notice large swaths of bright flowers than smaller scattered clusters
  • Flowers that point upward or whose nectar is very accessible are easier for butterflies to take advantage of
  • Butterflies need drinking water but tend to avoid ponds or other deep water sources because some of their natural predators lurk in these areas. Consider using a shallow saucer filled with wet sand or soil as a drinking station
  • Alternatively, fill a section of your garden with moisture-loving plants and soak it with reckless abandon – the butterflies will be more than happy to drink up the extra water
  • If you’re concerned that your garden will look like Swiss cheese once the caterpillars have had their fill, consider strategically hiding your food plants behind plants that are not eaten so the damage isn’t plain to see
  • Focus on brightly-coloured, nectar-providing plants to attract adults

Suitable Plants
Below you’ll find a list of the preferred food plants for some common Southern Ontarian caterpillars as well as a list of plants that are most attractive to adults. Note: these are not complete lists – there are thousands of different butterflies!

Good Caterpillar Food Plants

Butterfly Plants
Black Swallowtail Angelica, anise, dill, fennel, parsley
Cabbage White Cabbage, radish, plants in the mustard family
Eastern-Tailed Blue Red and white clover
Great Spangled Fritillary Violets
Monarch Butterflybush/Milkweed
Mourning Cloak Elm, poplar, wild rose, willow
Northern Crescent Asters
Orange/Clouded Sulphur Alfalfa, clover, various legumes
Summer Azure Dogwood, New Jersey tea, wild cherry
White Admiral Aspen, birch, oak, poplar, willow

Good Adult Food Plants

Botanical Name Common Name
Achillea species Yarrow
Agastache species Anise-Hyssop
Asclepias tuberosa Butterflyweed
Aster species Aster
Buddleia species Butterflybush
Ceanothus species New Jersey Tea
Clethra alnifolia Summersweet
Coreopsis species Tickseed
Echinacea purpurea Coneflower
Itea virginica Sweetspire
Lantana species Lantana (annual)
Lavandula species Lavender
Lindera benzoin Spicebush
Lonicera species Honeysuckle (vine)
Monarda species Beebalm
Phlox paniculata Garden Phlox
Rudbeckia species Black-Eyed Susan
Salvia species Salvia
Syringa species Lilac
Zinnia species Zinnia (annual)