Arizona Game and FIsh Department - Managing Today for Wildlife Tomorrow: Arizona Game and Fish Department

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The Wildlife-friendly Garden

Whether you are making an existing yard more wildlife-friendly or planting a new garden from scratch, guarantee success by following the simple guidelines on this page. We also provide a plant list and descriptions for your planning purposes.

The basic needs of all animals are food, water and shelter arranged so the animal can safely get to them when necessary.

Food: Birds, mammals and reptiles eat seeds, fruit, insects and nectar. Consider including a range of plants to provide a variety of food types. Keep in mind that attracting prey mammals like rabbits may in turn bring their predators, so it is best to invite these animals to areas away from the home and walkways or patios.

Food Water  

Water: It attracts desert animals and birds. Place water in an open area, preferably where people can observe animals without disturbing them. If predators (such as cats) and javelina are excluded from the area, then provide water on the ground, with perches nearby for birds. If the area is open to predators, then move the water up beyond their reach. Remember to change water at least every two days; watch out for still water in which mosquitoes could breed; and remove algae with a scrub brush rather than chemicals. Let the basin dry in the sun between fillings to prevent diseases from spreading.

Shelter: The landscape must provide plenty of escape cover if quail, lizards, ground squirrels and other small animals are to survive. The natural, mounded shape of most desert shrubs allows prey to disappear from sight as soon as it reaches the bush. It also makes it difficult for a larger predator to follow. Keep in mind that dense brush can also provide cover for predators and rattlesnakes, so place these away from areas where people walk or children play.

Variety: Some birds perch high in the treetops, while others forage under shrubs. When planning a diverse landscape, choose plants that will grow to different heights. By varying the height of plants provided, a landscape provides nesting, roosting and preening opportunities for more types of birds.

Plant choice: Hundreds of plants from other dry regions of the planet are sold in Arizona nurseries and home stores.


Plant Choice Variety


Unfortunately, some have escaped from managed landscapes to invade Arizona’s natural areas. These pests grow and spread aggressively, crowding out native plants and competing for limited resources. Some of these invasive plants, like fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare), fuel desert fires. When purchasing plants, it's perfectly all right to ask whether the plant is native to your area. For more information, consult the Arizona Native Plant Society’s information page about invasive non-native landscape plants,


Gravel: Gravel is a popular mulch. However, if it is deep enough to provide effective weed control, crawling insects can use it to escape from birds and lizards. Seeds tend to fall down
into the crevices and out
of the reach of birds.
Limiting gravel to selected open spaces is a big help
to wildlife.

Wildlife-friendly maintenance:

  • Allow plants to go to seed. Avoid trimming off flowers and berries.
  • Be tolerant of insects. They are an important wildlife food source, especially for birds and lizards.
  • Use organic gardening methods and non-toxic pest and weed control. For ideas, see Audubon’s Healthier Choices program.
  • Avoid using poisons or sticky traps to remove rodents, insects or other pests.  Poisons can affect predators like hawks, owls and bobcats, and sticky traps can catch birds and other unintended victims.
  • Let the lower branches of shrubs extend to the ground as escape cover for small animals. Near walkways, however, keep shrubs trimmed up so you can see rattlesnakes.
  • Leave fallen leaves and mesquite pods on the ground to create a natural mulch and provide habitat for insects.  Birds will dig through the mulch and eat the insects.


Landscaping Information
- Landscaping Home
- The Wildlife-friendly Garden
- Trees
- Tall Shrubs
- Small Shrubs
- Cacti and Succulents
- Flowers and Grasses
- Plant List for Planning
- Reading List
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Related Information
- Living with Urban Wildlife
External Resources [More]
- Desert Botanical Garden
- Arizona Native Plant Society’s Invasive non-native landscape plants information
- Arizona Municipal Water Users Association information about conserving water while landscaping
- Tucson Botanical Gardens
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