Evaluating and Creating a Plan

Evaluate Your Environment

If you're working with a bare lot or planning major landscape alterations

If you want to modify an existing landscape

Create a Backyard Habitat Plan

Evaluate Your Environment

First, walk around your property and make an inventory. Sketch a base map, as the following section describes, then outline a planting plan. Break your plan into a reasonable time schedule. Don't try to do everything at once - decide what you can do each year for the next five or so years. Think about your neighbors, too. Can you persuade them to share or at least tolerate your interest in attracting wildlife?

Step 1: Your base map should indicate your property's dimensions; the area covered by your house and other structures (garage, storage shed, pool, decks, patio, fences, sidewalks and driveway); and the location of underground water pipes and utilities (Call Sunshine (1-800-432-4770) 24 hours before you dig for cable and pipe information), septic tanks, irrigation lines, sprinkler heads, etc.

Step 2: On your base map, or on a transparent overlay, sketch areas of sun and shade. Notice how these shift during the day and throughout the year.

Also examine your soil. Is it primarily fill dirt, sand, sandy loam, clay, topsoil or other soil types? Sketch boundaries. How about soil moisture? Are there areas of poor drainage or erosion? Is your property affected by salt spray? If so, carefully choose plants for your design that are salt tolerant. For example, buttonwood and sea grape are two plants with high wildlife value that thrive in south Florida coastal environments. They are ideal choices for backyard habitats on properties close to the sea.

Step 3: Give some thought to your family's needs and uses for your property. What about pets? If cats and dogs are a big part of your life, your expectations for wildlife should be lower. Consider space requirements for work, play, entertainment, access and traffic patterns, trash collection, security and privacy. Think realistically about how much and what type of space you will need for each activity. Sketch these areas onto another overlay of your base map.

Step 4: Now list the most abundant trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants already growing in your yard. You may want to note their age, size, health, whether they are nonnative or native to your region, their value in energy conservation, and any special maintenance requirements.

Notice how the vegetation in your yard interacts with the physical characteristics of the site to form habitats. For example, even the smallest lot may have a dry sunny lawn growing on construction fill, and a cooler area shaded by a large tree, perhaps with a richer soil. Each existing habitat presents different opportunities and constraints in your overall plan. Take a look at natural plant communities around your area. Observe how plants of different height and form grow near one another. You'll want to use these proven successes as models for your own backyard habitat.

Step 5: Begin a list of the wildlife that visit your property. How well do each of your habitats provide food, water and cover for wildlife? Are there native seed-bearing plants available that produce fruit on a continuous basis? Does your present landscape provide adequate cover and safe travel corridors for small animals and birds? Mammals, especially, require connected shrub and hedgerows or larger wooded areas to move about.

Now that you have studied your property as a wildlife manager might, you are ready to prepare one drawing to guide your landscaping efforts in the years to come. The landscape drawing on at the bottom of this page shows one possible plan for a quarter-acre lot. You'll need to customize your property, however, by choosing plants that will thrive in your region of Florida. Decide whether you are planning major landscape alterations or simply modifying a reasonably acceptable backyard habitat.

Don't plan a clipped, artificial garden that will enslave you! With a backyard habitat, you are working with nature and watching natural processes take their courses. When planning your habitat, consult with a native plant nursery about appropriate planting distances. Your primary jobs will include pruning and pulling out some plants from time to time to give the garden more room to grow.


If you're working with a bare lot or planning major landscape alterations:

  1. Begin by framing your property with a backdrop of native trees. This will maximize wildlife benefits and screen you most effectively from neighboring properties. Plant a variety of species, some evergreen, some deciduous. They will simulate a forest canopy and provide nesting sites, protective cover and food for small mammals and birds. Plant deciduous trees on the west side of your house for summer shade.
  2. Create an understory by planting smaller flowering or orchard trees in clusters near the tall trees. Stagger the plants at recommended spacing intervals and avoid planting in lines or rows. When planting shrubby borders, mix several species of varying shape, height and density to create a greater selection of nest sites. Try to choose shrubs that fruit at different times of the year for a continuous food supply. You are introducing more food for butterflies and songbirds!
  3. Now surround the smaller trees with masses of shrubs, brambles or ground cover. These will provide protective cover areas for ground-feeding birds and mammals.
  4. Install plantings of shrubs and ground covers around the foundation of your home. Look into energy conservation considerations and be careful not to block special views.
  5. Lawns are very labor and energy intensive, but small areas are pleasant for play and circulation. When you identify areas for turfgrass, consider laying sod. Follow site preparation recommendations from your local Cooperative Extension Office for best results.


If you want to modify an existing landscape:

  1. Surround your lawn areas with beds of trees and shrubs. Plant small shrubs and ground covers around solitary trees. Design irregular borders for these beds to create more wildlife edge.
  2. Mulch your tree and shrub beds with leaf litter, lawn clippings, tree trimmings or chips. Melaleuca mulch is also very effective. They are a rich food source for ground foragers like towhees and thrushes, provide cover for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and also enrich your soil. Leave a few patches of bare soil for birds that "dust."
  3. If your yard is already filled with nonnative plant species, as is often the case in south Florida, proceed slowly. Ideally consider replacing these plants, especially if they are highly invasive species, with native species.  Invasive nonnatives such as Chinese tallow, Brazilian pepper (also known as Florida holly), melaleuca and Australian pine should be eliminated as soon as possible.


Create a Backyard Habitat Plan

A backyard habitat is really just a landscape designed with wildlife in mind. It will be most pleasing and successful when you have managed to combine the quality of wilderness with just enough cultivation to harmonize with your house and the people who inhabit it. Why not design and plan your landscape in an orderly fashion, just as landscape architects do?

This landscape plan includes an extremely high diversity of wildlife-attracting plants. Suggestions are provided for both north and south Florida below. In our Native Plants for Backyard Florida Habitats you w you will find information about many other valuable native plants.


North Florida

South Florida

Common Name Genus and Species Common Name Genus and Species
1. Pine Pinus spp. 1. Pine Pinus spp.
2. Red Mulberry Morus rubra 2. Red Mulberry Morus rubra
3. Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida 3. Wild Coffee Psychotria nervosa
4. Wax Myrtle Myrica inodora 4. Cocoplum Chrysobalanus icaco
5. Southern Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora 5. Paradise Simarouba glauca
6. Blueberry Vaccinium spp. 6. Blueberry Vaccinium spp.
7. Viburnum Viburnum spp. 7. Stopper Eugenia spp.
8. Cherry Laurel Prunus caroliniana 8. Florida Trema Trema micrantha
9. Red Maple Acer rubrum 9. Coffee Colubrina Colubrina arborescens
10. American Holly Ilex opaca 10. Geiger Tree Cordia sebestena
11. River Birch Betula nigra 11. Necklace Pod Sophora tomentosa
12. Fringe Tree Chionanthus pygmaeus 12. Sea Grape Coccoloba uvifera
13. Red Buckeye Aesculus pavia 13. Silver Palm Coccothrinax argentata
14. Black Gum Nyssa sylvatica biflora 14. Black Gum Nyssa sylvatica biflora
15. Hawthorne Crataegus spp. 15. Firebush Hamelia patens
16. Red Cedar Juniperus silicicola 16. Red Cedar Juniperus silicicola
17. Persimmon Diospyros virginiana 17. Persimmon Diospyros virginiana
18. Live Oak Quercus virginiana 18. Live Oak Quercus virginiana
19. Coral Bean Erythrina herbacea 19. Coral Bean Erythrina herbacea
20. Cabbage Palm Sabal palmetto 20. Thatch Palm Thrinax radiata
21. American Beautyberry Callicarpa americana 21. Blolly Guapira discolor
22. Elderberry Sambucus canadensis 22. Elderberry Sambucus canadensis
23. Pokeweed Phytolacca americana 23. Pokeweed Phytolacca americana
24. Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua 24. Gumbo-limbo Burseera simaruba
lawnref= Lawn
leaflittref= Leaf litter/ground cover
grasref= Native grasses/meadow area

FWC Facts:
Black bears originated in North America, and have been here at least 1.5 million years.

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