Build a Backyard Habitat

Native Joe-Pye weed flowers provide food for all kinds of pollinators.

Design your yard to support local, native biodiversity, to feed and shelter small wildlife, and to enjoy nature, close-up, year-round.

Planting Guidance: Go Native

Grow a variety of native plants in your yard to attract and sustain a variety of wildlife, year-round. Incorporating native species means less maintenance is necessary to sustain your plants as they have had thousands of years to adapt to local conditions.

Aim to plant a variety of native and diverse species of wildflowers, shrubs, trees, grasses, and vines – especially those native-to-New England and adapted to the growing conditions of your yard.

Choose plants according to:

  • how much light the plants will receive in your yard,
  • how much moisture there is in your soil,
  • what sort of soil you have – the pH, whether it’s sandy, or clay-rich, etc.

And consider species that:

  • vary in height, fruit, flowers, leaves, etc.,
  • provide nutritious berries to sustain wildlife over fall and winter,
  • have flowers whose pollen and nectar attract species during the spring and summer,
  • produce sap, leaves, buds or even bark that wildlife will use, and
  • attract prey species (e.g., think birds eating the insects drawn to pollinate flowers).

View list of drought-tolerant plants for Massachusetts landscapes.

Praying mantis. Tim Santimore/Photolibrary/Getty ImagesLimit Pesticides: Not all Bugs are Bad!

Rather than going straight for the chemicals, try these options instead:

  • Incorporate a variety of native plants into your yard and garden to attract a variety of insects and their predators (i.e., insects and songbirds),
  • Remove individual pests by hand, if possible (you can use garden gloves).
  • Accept that you are sharing your plants with insects (and some potential visual evidence).
  • Research organic solutions, such as spices, salts and oils.

View list of top 10 beneficial garden bugs.

Take Care of Backyard Water Resources

Maintaining a buffer strip (a vegetated, non-mowed area) around any waterbody in your yard is a handy way to keep your environment healthy and help to support fish, wildlife and plants.. Leave a buffer strip as wide as possible (the wider, the better).

The swathe of diverse plants in a buffer strip will:

  • Provide wildlife habitat. A buffer strip provides habitat for small wildlife, like meadow jumping mice, birds and butterflies. And, if it’s wide enough, the buffer strip even dissuades Canada geese from hanging around.
  • Slow down any water draining from your yard (e.g., “runoff”). This is significant because water that enters a waterbody at high speed can erode the banks. The eroded dirt then settles at the bottom of the stream, potentially killing fish eggs. When the dirt is still being carried in the water, it reduces visibility for aquatic animals.
  • Enable runoff to filter into the ground, before entering a stream or pond. This process will remove some pollutants from the water, such as chemicals you’ve used on your yard – like fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, or your sidewalk or driveway (e.g., ice-melt). These pollutants can degrade aquatic habitat and injure aquatic wildlife.

Reconsider Your Use of Lawn Fertilizer

Fertilizers—nitrogen and phosphorus—are good for plants but not for water quality. In ponds, streams and rivers, fertilizers are pollutants that harm fish and wildlife, can cause smelly algae blooms, and can even affect drinking water.

Of those who fertilize, a mere 10-20% get a soil test to understand their exact lawn needs. (CWP 1999).  Save hundreds on wasted fertilizer with an inexpensive soil test from the UMass Amherst’s Soil Testing Lab. It gives you scientific fertilizer recommendations for your unique lawn.

Instead of applying chemical fertilizers:

  • Use a mulching mower. Processed by your lawn-mower, cut grass and fallen leaves become a “green fertilizer” and nourish your lawn. Chemical fertilizers, on the other hand, often deliver too much phosphorous to your lawn. Also, chemicals may migrate; with a rainstorm, they can drain into nearby streams, ponds, and wetlands. They also can enter the groundwater and local wells, and hurt people’s health and the health of wildlife.
  • Plant nitrogen-fixing plants like clover or peas, in your garden. Because these plants harvest and store nitrogen, when they die, they release nitrogen into the soil. Your other garden plants will use the nitrogen to help themselves grow.
  • Create & apply compost, using your vegetable scraps and coffee grounds from the kitchen. Apply the compost to your garden; it will provide nutrients for your plants.

Learn more about healthy lawn care at

Control Invasive Species


Each of us can help to control and reduce the spread of exotic, invasive species, and thereby help to protect native biodiversity, habitat, and ecosystems.

  • After you go for a walk, drive, bike or boat ride through areas infested with exotic, invasive species, make an effort to clean your clothing (including shoes) and equipment before entering other areas. Avoid spreading the seeds of exotic, invasive plants.
  • Plant native plants in your yard, and encourage your neighbors, friends, and family to do the same. These plants will provide habitat and food for native species. They also will grow easily, as these species adapted to local conditions over many thousands of years.
  • Learn to identify and control exotic, invasive plants, and then remove and properly dispose of any you find growing in your yard or neighborhood. Your efforts will help to prevent these plants from spreading elsewhere.
  • Learn about and participate in exotic, invasive species control projects and ecological restoration projects around the region. Contact your local conservation group, conservation commission, conservation agent, or land trust to get involved.

Learn more.