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Natural Landscaping, Shrubs in the Landscape

by James P. Engel, © 2003

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When I refer to wildlife, I mostly am thinking about passerine (perching) birds. Birds are the most populous and visible of backyard wildlife. They are highly mobile and are best able to take advantage of improvements to the residential landscape. Other wildlife like mammals both large and small will certainly benefit from natural landscaping but this will be directly correlated to the amount of land converted and the quality of habitat.

Shrubs are more important to the survival of more species of birds than any other vegetative type including full sized trees. The association between trees and birds is pervasive but few species of birds can survive solely in the tops of trees. Most species live on or near the ground and this is the most neglected component of the modern landscape and is most of need of being resurrected. The shrub layer provides everything that birds need to survive. The shrub layer provides cover, food and nesting sites.

The dense multi-stemmed growth pattern of shrubs provides critical habitat for birds. Shrubs provide an important sense of security from both ground and avian predators. Food is provided in the form of buds, tender leaves, foliage feeding insects, ground dwelling insects and fruit or seeds when in fruit.

If you have to make choices restricting how many plants to use I would choose shrubs over a tree or perennials. There are several good reasons for this. Shrubs offer a lot of wildlife and aesthetic benefits in a small package. Shrubs provide the best cover and habitat for the size of the plant, they grow rapidly and flower and fruit at a young age.

Obviously one shrub will not provide much habitat in a landscape. Look for areas where you can add shrubs. Think of the vertical landscaping and integrate shrubs under existing trees. Try connecting groups of shrubs together to create corridors of cover. Create hedges of mixed shrubs.

This page updated September 10, 2004