Attracting Wildlife through Landscape : Tampa Landscaping and Tree Planting

Planting and maintaining plants, trees and lawn in Tampa

The Below snippet is an excellent article on attracting wildlife through landscape from the Book “Gardening and Landscaping in Central Florida” By Maryls Bells. its a very good read with practical approach for anyone trying to have an impressive landscape and attact wildlife through the trees and plants that we plant in our backyard. This books gives you a clear instructions as to what you need to do if you face problems with pests and diseases, what precautions one can take and how you can control them. This is a must read book for anyone looking to maintain their backyard and grow fruiting plants and attract wildlife.


The goal is to preserve and protect Florida’s diverse wildlife population by providing food, water and cover and, to the greatest extent possible, avoid the use of toxic substances which could harm them.

The Reality

Too often vast expanses of land are stripped of natural vegetation in preparation for development causing native wildlife to search for new habitats. The native habitats are the replaced by well manicured lawns, exotic plants and chemically cared for landscapes.  When chemicals are used, the food of bees, butterflies and many birds is frequently made toxic.  Similarly, lizards, frogs, spiders, and other creatures which help control the bug population are often killed by aggressive efforts to rid our environment of “pests”. Individual homeowner decisions can make an important difference in the survival of individual wildlife such as butterflies, lizards and geckos.  Community decisions can make a difference in the survival of the species.

The Florida Friendly Response

To attract or maintain wildlife, you need to provide food, water, and cover where they can have nesting places or a place to raise their young, and places to hide.  They also need food which has not been treated with chemicals, and freedom from harassment from pet.  The individual species have specific preferences which should be taken into consideration in trying to attract them.  More information on how to support wildlife can be obtained through the University of Florida Country Extension Offices.  Specific information about birds is available from the Audubon society.  Information about creating a butterfly Garden is included in the SPECIAL INTEREST GARDENING chapter. On a community level, individuals can encourage governmental officials, developer, homeowner associations and condominium boards to set aside preserves, conservation corridors, or sanctuaries for wildlife when additional development is being planned.  Suggestions for individual homeowners are:

  • Leave as much of the existing native habitats as possible on the property. If the native vegetation has already been removed, consider adding native plants back into the landscape. The lists of plants in previous chapters indicate those which are native to this area.
  • Select plants that offer wildlife food or shelter. For food, look for plants with berries, flowers, seeds, fruits, nuts and / or acorns.  Plants that provide cover could be trees, understory plants, and ornamental grasses.
  • Provide water. If your property does not already have water sources, and a birdbath or small pond. Keep the water moving or add fish which eat mosquito larvae, or replace the water every couple of days to avoid problems with mosquitoes.  Both birdbaths and ponds should be wide and shallow.
  • Provide nesting places and perches. If possible, leave a few “snags” (dead trees) to provide perches nesting places, ad sources for insects.  Add bird, bat and toad houses.
  • Leave seed pods on plants through winter if it is something wildlife can eat.


The goal is to let nature’s food chain system take care of yard pests and to intervene only when the “bad” are overwhelming the “good’’, and then to use the least toxic methods possible.

The Reality

Too often homeowners have zero tolerance for all bugs, snakes and other “critters” Which may, in fact, be helping to control the creatures capable of doing lasting damage to them, the landscape or environment.  Because of that attitude, they take aggressive action to get rid them which may also result in annihilating the “good guys.”

The Florida Friendly Response

Because most creatures have a purpose and their places in the food chain, your challenge is to determine which few are capable of causing harm to you and your property.  Only 1/10 of 1% are actually harmful, while a large percentage are helping to control the insects that may do lasting damage.  More about how to distinguish the “beneficial” from the bad bugs is provided in the next chapter WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE ARE PROBLEMS.

The presence of creatures in your yard usually suggests that they are finding food, water or cover there.  IF you do not want them remove the source whether it be food, water or cover.  Also find out what they eat to get tips on what else is going on in your environment.  For example, armadillos dig up your yard lawn than the holes caused by armadillos.  Seeing snakes may suggest that they are finding food of interest to them (mice, rats, or other small animals).  In most cases except for armadillos, if the food supply is removed, the other critters will move on as well.

Monitoring the balance between the good and the bad is called “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM). Although the process for IPM is outlined in the WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE ARE PROBLEMS chapter relating to Bug Management, the general concepts are too:

  • Know which “key plants” will attract which “key pests” thereby helping to identify the pests and serving as a marker alerting you to their presence.
  • When detected and identified, use the least toxic method possible and proceed to more aggressive steps if that is not effective. For example, start with physically removing the snake, mole, or raccoon from the property (by trapping, etc.). Or selectively prune the damage portion of the plant, and handpick and dispose of unwanted critters such as caterpillars. If that does not work, (if insects are the problems) try spraying them off with water.  Proceed to the use of biological pesticides such as insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils ad Bacillus thuringicnsis which will be less harmful to the “beneficial.”  If they do not work, consider the use chemicals products, but follow the directions and consider the implication for you, your pets, the “beneficial,” the water table, and the larger environment.
  • If using a professional service to take care of fertilizing and pest control, select the company which is promoting its knowledge of pests and which scouts to look for problems before treating with the most targeted, least toxic method which is effective and available. You should be prepared to p ay the service operators for their knowledge and not necessarily for a spray of whatever is on the tank that day.  Often landscape maintenance companies are reacting to their customer requests for a “bugless” yard and over treat.  Ask them to avoid using multipurpose pesticide treatment which could be harmful to the beneficial insects, birds, lizards, frogs, butterflies, bees, and other critters which you want in your yard.  The section “Failure to Thrive: From Diagnosis to Remedy” in Chapter 9 includes information on disease as well as pest problems.  The next section in this chapter on “Turf Management” highlights information about likely pests and disease found in lawns.


The goal is turn waste into productive use and reduces your landscape waste disposal costs.

The Reality

Too often grass clippings, pine needles, weeds, leaves, and cuttings from pruning are bagged and sent to the “dump,” instead of being composted. Those nutrients could be enriching the soil. In addition, money is spent on waste management, soil amendments, and fertilizers when yard waste could be doing the job, for free.

The Florida Friendly Response

  • Make your own mulch. Combine grass clippings, plant cuttings, leaves, and pine needles to make instant mulch. (Run a lawn mower over leaves to shred, and use a chipper for woody twigs and stems).
  • Unless diseased, leaves, weeds, and cuttings can be left in place to decompose and add nutrients to the soil. Larger pieces should be cut up to decompose more readily.
  • Create “black gold” or compost by combining grass clippings, kitchen wastes (except animal products, oil or grease), cuttings, and other yard wastes into a composting system. Information about how to compost is included in most gardening books but the principle is that water and oxygen mixed with “green” (items high in nitrogen such as grass clippings, and kitchen wastes) will mix with “brown” (leaves, twigs) to create heat which kills weed seeds and pathogens and creates compost. For those in communities where a composting bin is impractical, there are inconspicuous plastic structures which resemble pool equipment. To successfully compost, the composter must be least 3x3x3 feet.


The goal is to capture water on site and to protect the waterfront from runoff containing chemicals which could cause harm.

The Reality

A big environmental issue is stormwater runoff. Even those who do not live on water property may be contributing to pollution of lakes and streams. Rainwater not captured at the point where it falls is frequently washed across driveways, parking lots and other paved surfaces into storm drains, picking up pollutants along the way (such as pesticides, fertilizer, petroleum products) which ultimately end up in stream and lakes. Septic systems also add nitrogen to ground and surface water sources, further contributing to the magnitude of the problem. Excess nitrogen or phosphorus stimulate algae “blooms” which can smother aquatic plants causing reduced oxygen levels insufficient to support fish. Decaying dead fish can quickly affect recreational and environmental values of the lake being diminished, at least until the algae levels are reduced and the dead fish removed. In the longer term, there are more serious environmental implications. Chemical from pesticides and other household uses have similarly serious consequences on fish, birds, and other wildlife. Although the issues need to be addressed at many levels, the daily practices and decisions of homeowners can significantly affect our environment, both positively and negatively.

The Florida Friendly Response

Keep rainwater on your property and prevent erosion of soil and runoff of nutrients by:

  • Capturing rainwater by installing cisterns of holding tanks under downspouts or directing downspouts into areas where it will be absorbed into the soil. Prevent as much water and debris as possible from getting into storm drains, and never deliberately put anything into storm drains.
  • Using permeable surfaces (for “hardscapes”) rather than nonporous ones so that the water can seep through to soil.
  • Creating swales or terracing to slow the flow of water and prevent erosion.
  • Adding fine grained mulch to help hold soil in place.
  • For those on the waterfront, consulting with the Florida Sea Grant Maritime Extension Agent and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on what can or should be done to protect the waterfront.
  • For areas bordering the water, create a three-foot-wide zone between the turf and the water where there will be no fertilizing of mowing. Instead, plant soil holding plants (such as ornamental grasses) as a border to slow down water and filter nutrients and pollutants before it goes into lakes, ponds or other water sources.
  • If you have a septic system, do not plant trees or shrubbery over the drain fields and have it professionally inspected every 2-3 years. Do not put yeast or bacteria into the septic tank and also do not put grease or fruit peelings into the garbage disposal.

In summary, following these Florida friendly principles and the tips suggested will reduce maintenance costs and effort while also doing your part to help protect and rebuild the environment around you. By this time, it is likely that you have a heightened appreciation of the natural beauty around you and an attitude which recognizes the splendour of nature, even when it is imperfect, as it is in this agapanthus blossom which has passed its prime and the half spent rose which was pictured at the beginning of the chapter. The next section gives specific information on how to manage turf in the most environmentally friendly manner.

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