Earlier this year, I started researching bee houses and pollinator gardening. That quickly led to a larger obsession with creating a wildlife habitat for all sorts of animals in my yard.
Now I’m sharing some of the best books I read about wildlife habitat gardening. They all work together to illustrate the need for habitats and the actionable steps you can take at home.
Even if your yard (or balcony) seems small, it might be the world to a little monarch caterpillar.
Note: This article contains affiliate links. See my disclosures for details.
Wildlife Habitat Gardening Books
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard
“If conservation is to happen, it must happen largely on private property, but not just on farms and ranches; it must include all types of private property, from the smallest city lot to the largest corporate landscape.”– Douglas W. Tallamy
Nearly everything I read about backyard habitats and conservation pointed back to Douglas W. Tallamy. He is an entomologist, ecologist and conservationist who has written and co-authored four books about gardening for wildlife.
Nature’s Best Hope is an excellent book to read for an introduction to backyard habitats. (Although he is quick to point out that the front yard is a perfectly good place for habitats, too.)
Tallamy discusses his research about insects and birds, and how the members of an ecosystem rely on each other.
Not all plants are created equal. He explains that some plants do the lion’s share of supporting the most species. The oak, for instance, is one of the best trees you can plant because of the vast amount of caterpillars it supports.
“If you think of a plant as a bird feeder, which is exactly what it is, then in most regions, the oak makes the most food.”– Douglas W. Tallamy
You may also like The Nature of Oaks, another one of Tallamy’s books.
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
“Converting lawn to trees or garden would not only save us some money and create much needed food and habitat for our wildlife, but it would also have the twofold benefit of producing less and absorbing more carbon dioxide: a win-win endeavor.”– Douglas W. Tallamy
Bringing Nature Home was the first Tallamy book I read. It offers another good introduction to conservation and biodiversity. Much of the book is dedicated to describing the different kinds of insects living in your yard, to help you understand them and keep them around.
Tallamy also brings up his suggestion of reducing America’s lawns, a topic that is repeated in Nature’s Best Hope, where he points out that we have more acreage devoted to lawns than to national parks.
In other words, there’s a lot of room for more habitats!
Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies
“Four factors — the loss and fragmentation of habitat, the degradation of remaining habitat, pesticide poisoning, and the spread of diseases and parasites — account for most of the declines in populations of bees and other pollinators.”– The Xerces Society
If you know what is hurting pollinators, then you can find ways to help them, and The Xerces Society does just that as a nonprofit protecting invertebrates. Attracting Native Pollinators is one of several books they have published to help you create a wildlife habitat.
They share an overview of the common types of pollinators and bee families in North America, and they explain how to recognize, protect and create habitats for them.
“Under natural conditions, butterflies that overwinter as adults are likely to take shelter in tree cavities, under logs, behind loose bark, under rocks, or within evergreen foliage.– The Xerces Society
Pollinators need a lot of nectar- and pollen-producing flowers, especially native ones. So The Xerces Society shares lists of the top pollinator plants for each region and season in the US.
“To provide a continuous food supply, choose at least three different pollinator plants within each of the three blooming periods: spring, summer, and fall.”– The Xerces Society
Some of the content in Attracting Native Pollinators might be less relevant for most homeowners, with conservation ideas for farms, schools and other government or commercial properties. On the other hand, you might be inspired to bring habitat gardening suggestions to your next town hall meeting.
100 Plants to Feed the Bees: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive
“Many sunflower species and horticultural varieties are available, and all attract a tremendous diversity of insects, including bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and pollen-feeding soldier beetles.”– The Xerces Society
For the bee-obsessed, this book offers profiles of the best plants for these powerful pollinators in the US and Canada.
100 Plants to Feed the Bees describes each plant along with photos and a map of the regions where the plant will thrive. There are also icons showing other pollinators that benefit from the plant, like hummingbirds, moths or butterflies.
It’s a quick read with lots of plant eye candy to inspire new flowers for your habitat.
100 Plants to Feed the Monarch: Create a Healthy Habitat to Sustain North America’s Most Beloved Butterfly
“The loss of milkweed is one of the most significant forces driving the plunge in monarch numbers.”– The Xerces Society
In 100 Plants to Feed the Monarch, the Xerces Society offers even more plant profiles, this time for the monarch butterflies.
There’s a quick introduction to the lives of monarchs and their habitat needs, followed by a look at the many types of milkweeds, their most important habitat plant.
Milkweeds are vital, since they are the only thing monarch caterpillars will eat. The adult butterflies also enjoy other nectar-producing plants, trees and shrubs, and this book describes some of the best ones.
“For monarchs, fall-blooming plants such as goldenrods and asters are especially important, fueling the journey to overwintering sites and the long rest period ahead. Conversely, early-blooming plants such as penstemons provide a much-needed spring jolt of sugary energy as monarchs seek out newly emerging milkweeds.”– The Xerces Society
I also just started reading The Xerces Society’s Gardening for Butterflies book. It offers additional habitat suggestions and plants for many different butterflies, as well as a chapter about moths.
Real Gardens Grow Natives: Design, Plant, and Enjoy a Healthy Northwest Garden
“The greatest joy from gardening may now come not just from plants’ beauty and their arrangement, but from the life they provide for—the fluttering butterflies and hardworking native bees, those nests of hatchling birds awaiting their next feeding, all of which have a right to exist and an intrinsic worth apart from any usefulness to humans.”– Eileen M. Stark
Real Gardens Grow Natives is especially helpful for habitat gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. The main message is that for native wildlife to thrive, they need more of the native plants they evolved with.
Ecological landscape designer Eileen M. Stark explains why conservation is so urgent, how to start setting up your habitat, and how to choose and propagate more plants. Then she dives into descriptions of some of the best plants, trees and shrubs for Pacific Northwest wildlife.
You’ll find garden inspiration for different sun, shade and water levels, as well as companion planting suggestions.
Something as simple as leaving twigs or fallen branches in the corner of the yard can create an insect hotel.
“Research continues to stress the critical importance of decaying wood to biodiversity, so the next time you have logs, branches, twigs, or a dying tree, don’t discard them.” – Eileen M. Stark
Stark is also a nature photographer, and you can see her beautiful photos in the book and on her website.
The Bee-Friendly Garden
“Across the nation, in cities and suburban areas, our gardens can serve as viable habitats for bees and delight us as well.”– Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn
The Bee-Friendly Garden was immensely helpful to me when I was researching best practices for bee habitats. It covers all the basics, like types of bees and the flowers they love.
There are lots of inspiring photos of beautiful gardens in regions throughout the US. You’ll get specific flower recommendations and see how plants can complement each other to create spaces suited for humans as well as bees.
You’ll also learn how to create bee nesting blocks and recognize other nest sites in cavities or the ground.
Plus in the back of the book, there are regional plant lists including annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that will support the bees in your part of the US.
Even a vegetable garden can be the perfect buffet for our bee friends.
“Vegetable gardens are an ideal place to include bee-friendly plants. Many of our food plants require bee pollination, including squash, melons, cucumbers, fruit, and some nuts such as almonds.”– Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn
Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife
“You will have the most success in attracting a wide variety of wildlife to your yard or garden if you provide a mix of plants that together provide food throughout the year in all four seasons. This will ensure a steady availability of nectar, fruits, nuts, seeds, foliage, pollen, sap, and prey species throughout the year.”– David Mizejewski
Did you know you can certify your wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and get a sign for your yard? This book walks you through each of the certification categories, with chapters on food, water, shelter, places to raise young, and sustainable gardening practices.
Naturalist David Mizejewski shares bird bath inspiration, brush pile ideas, and simple DIYs like wildlife “cookies” and pinecone feeders.
There are ideas for supporting many different types of wildlife, like screech owls, red foxes and cavity-nesting wood ducks.
I love the underlying message of hope in this book. By taking simple steps, there’s still a lot we can do to help endangered animals.
“It is easy to feel as if there is no hope for wildlife in our modern world of asphalt, smog, and traffic. But there is hope. You can choose to create a garden or landscape that helps restore habitat for local wildlife and the ecological balance. You can surround yourself with beautiful native plants that will attract an amazing array of birds, butterflies and other backyard wildlife for you to enjoy, right outside your window, every day.”– David Mizejewski
Creating Your Wildlife Habitat
You may want to start by removing invasive plants that crowd out beneficial native plants. Consider scaling down your lawn. And then comes the fun part of adding beneficial plants and habitat features!
Here are some resources to get you started.
- Remove English ivy and other invasive plants with solarization
- Kill vinca (or your lawn) with cardboard and thick mulch
- Learn how to support pollinators in your garden
- Welcome monarch butterflies to your garden
- Create a modern bee bath