Oregon Native Plants - Part 3: Water, Cover and Nesting

Oregon Native Plants - Part 3: Water, Cover and Nesting

In the last blog we covered the basics of providing food for wildlife in your garden. We want to continue the conversation on how you can attract a wider variety of wild creatures to your Native Habitat garden by providing for their basic needs.


Water is essential, like humans, animals rely on water for hydration and bathing, or even as vital habitat itself. One of the simplest and most effective ways to provide water in your wildlife-friendly native garden is by incorporating a birdbath or a small fountain. Small flat stones in still water (i.e. a birdbath) will assist in creating a resting place for pollinators and other insects to perch so they too can drink from the birdbath. Bird baths do require some maintenance and cleaning, installing a basic timed drip irrigation system will help keep water fresh and will save you time.

Water settled in a rock Bird bath with rocks and water 
Rock with water | Birdbath with small flat stones


For a more comprehensive approach, consider integrating water features or small ponds into your garden design. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing and add ambiance to your garden, they provide hydration to wildlife and habitat for amphibians like the Pacific Tree Frogs. In rural settings, larger ponds or small wetlands can attract a broader range of creatures, including Herons, Ducks, Muskrats or even Oregon sensitive species such as Western Pond Turtles or Red-Legged Frogs.


In your garden, the well-being of songbirds, small mammals, and other wildlife depends on essential hiding spots to evade predators. Shrubs and trees in your yard are the first step towards this goal but we want to dive into it more than that. Catering to the diverse needs of various creatures you will want to strive for a garden with a multi-tiered canopy filled with native perennials, small and large shrubs, and at least one tree.  Wildlife are adapted, and feel secure among plants so in most cases providing full native plantings with several canopy layers is the preferred choice in your garden habitat. 

Brush pile for habitat Small rock pile for habitat  
Brush Pile | Rock pile for habitat

Are you just starting to create your habitat? For immediate cover while your native plants mature (or as a long term habitat practice), consider crafting brush piles using small branches and stems. These makeshift hideouts are especially helpful for ground-dwelling species. Alternatively, rock piles or stacked rock walls create nooks and crannies that can serve as hiding places. Keep in mind that in some areas this may be attractive to tunneling creatures like ground squirrels, although they are native, they may be undesirable in some gardens. By incorporating these cover solutions, you transform your garden into a haven where wildlife flourishes, contributing to the delicate tapestry of nature in your surroundings.


Have you seen nesting sites for wildlife in your trees and shrubs? Many native birds such as American Robins or Anna’s Hummingbirds nest in tree branches. Not all birds build this type of nest though and many require other nesting options. There is a full gamut of natural nesting opportunities for birds and pollinators, but they may not be possible for your yard or your situation. Artificial habitats offer a solution when natural options are less feasible. Consider building or purchasing bee hotels, birdhouses, or bat boxes to supplement the existing natural nesting opportunities in your yard. These purpose-built structures cater to specific needs, providing shelter and safety for various species. Keep in mind these structures require annual cleaning and maintenance. You can also craft your own bee hotel in a few minutes using trimmings from your yard and twine, bundling suitable stems together and placing them in a dry, sheltered location outside. This simple bee nesting option is biodegradable and can be composted after bees have emerged, making it maintenance free. These habitat elements can be seamlessly integrated into your garden's aesthetic.

When faced with the necessity of removing a tree/s from your garden, opt for a more ecologically mindful approach by preserving a snag (ideally 10ft+) which can yield significant benefits for local wildlife. These snags become critical nesting sites for a range of creatures for years after woodpeckers initially excavate them for their own nest. Over time as the wood begins to decompose, insects move in, providing an additional food source for birds. This approach transforms the act of tree removal into a positive contribution to the local ecosystem of which your garden is a part.

Robin on Snag Snag with nesting hole Snag with mushrooms growing on it Large Snags with habitat holes 
Snags for Habitat 


Did you know that approximately 70% of our native bees nest in the ground? To support these species in your garden it is important to think about creating dedicated nesting sites. How do you create a dedicated nesting spot? Find a space, ideally a sunny location close to native plantings, leave it sparsely planted and as bare soil (no mulching). Bigger areas will support more bees but will need extra weeding since it is unmulched. The remaining 30% of native bees predominantly nest in small cavities such as old beetle tunnels in dead wood such as snags or nurse logs. A significant portion also nest in stems with hollow or soft (pithy) centers. In your garden it is important to consider shrubs with suitable soft stems like Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) or Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) to create optimal nesting sites for specialized bees that require them. Trim back at least a few inches of the newest growth on these shrubs in late winter, bees will find their way in over the warm months that follow. Contrary to traditional pruning techniques you want to trim below a leaf node when creating bee habitat to open a nesting cavity. Native perennials such as Rough Canada Goldenrod (Solidago lepida var. salebrosa) and Douglas sagewort (Artemisia douglasiana) may also offer suitable stems for bees that require pithy stems for nesting. A diversity of perennials with hollow (and some pithy) stems of different sizes will support many species of bees. Leave flower stalks up for most of the winter to support other wildlife and start cutting them back in late winter-early spring and leave some stems at different lengths from 8-24 inches. Leaving them partially standing rather than cutting to the base is a huge step toward supporting stem-nesting bees in your garden. The stems will soon be hidden by new spring growth and should be left to break down naturally so as not to disturb nesting activity.

The Pithy stems of Thimble Berry Trimming trees and shrubs Stems left for bee habitat  
Trimming pithy stems for bee habitat, cut below stem nodes to ensure an open cavity.

By providing for as many of the basic needs of wildlife described in this blog post (and the last) you will encourage wildlife to spend more time in your garden or even make it their home. Instead of just a few creatures just passing through on the way to a better habitat they will spend time foraging, drinking, or even raising their cute little babies in the great habitat you have created for them. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series where we will dive deeper into how increasing density and diversity of native habitat plantings will bring both greater quantities and variety in wildlife species to your backyard habitat.