When choosing the best small trees for wildlife in your yard or garden, there are a few things to consider. Remember that wildlife comes whether you want it to or not. Many times, you may not see the wildlife in landscaped spaces but will be left with the evidence of their visits—flowers nipped in the bud, raided bird feeders, holes in your lawn, and more.
Depending on where you live, in an urban community or rural setting, some common animals can cause damage to your lawn, plantings, and structures. Large animals such as deer, and even bear, are downright destructive.
Using plantings like small trees for wildlife to create an inviting habitat and provide natural food sources (instead of feeding the animals), helps maintain a naturally balanced ecosystem.
Of course, you want to attract beneficial wildlife and deter marauders and vandals. Fences offer the best protection, but perimeter plantings like thick hedges and flower borders of marigold, mint, or other naturally repellent plants can also discourage unwanted wildlife from coming into your yard or garden.
Generally speaking, desired backyard wildlife includes birds, butterflies, and perhaps small animals such as rabbits, squirrels, or chipmunks—though, you’ll want to keep them away from vegetables, flower bulbs, and sapling trees with tender branches.
One important wildlife visitor you don’t want to keep out (even if you could) is the honeybee. We all know how important this pollinator is to the food-growing industry, but it’s equally important in our yards and gardens. We can help protect this at-risk species by offering plenty of blossoming flowers, shrubs, and trees.
Let’s take a look at the types of wildlife that often frequent landscaped areas.
Virtually all backyard wildlife is both prey and predator. The most familiar—and often least thought of as predatory—are birds. They’re also some of the most beneficial visitors to your yard and garden landscape. Birds that frequent both urban and rural tracts, such as robins, grosbeaks, warblers, sparrows, swallows, wrens, flycatchers, and more, annually consume more than 400 million tons of bugs and insects worldwide. That’s a lot of bugs not crawling, buzzing, biting, or bothering us or our gardens.
Honeybees may take center stage as the star of pollinating insects, but there are others, such as butterflies and dragonflies, that also contribute to overall pollination. Planting small flowering trees attracts these colorful and fascinating insects that are a delight to watch.
Doing Double Duty
The hummingbird, a welcome and most actively wooed backyard visitor, is both a pollinator and a voracious insect predator. The lightning-fast hummer can be spotted catching tiny flying insects on the wing, much as a hawk captures prey in flight.
Fortunately, many of these beneficial wildlife visitors are attracted by the same types of plantings. You can entice many of them into your outdoor spaces by including the best small trees for wildlife in your landscape design. Here are our picks:
The eastern redbud is one of the first trees to bloom in spring, thereby attracting pollinators like butterflies, including the silvery blue, zebra swallowtail, and dreamy duskywing. This tree’s rosy pink flowers add beauty to your spring landscape. The small seed pods that appear in late summer and fall aren’t a significant food supply for birds. However, they’ll attract some species, such as chickadees and wrens.
With a height of approximately 30 feet at maturity and an equal branch spread, the redbud provides shade cover through summer and into fall. Don’t let the name fool you. With hardiness for zones 4 through 9, this tree thrives in nearly every region of the country, including the Pacific Northwest.
Plant this small tree for wildlife to enjoy. It’s also one of the most popular landscape trees in the country.
With its burst of spring blossoms, the dogwood attracts pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds in the spring. The glossy red fruit ripens in the fall, providing a significant source of food for many varieties of birds—waxwings and cardinals are especially fond of the dogwood fruit. Mature height is approximately 25 feet tall with a similar branch spread and a rounded canopy.
The bright orange berries of the mountain ash not only add vibrant color to the fall and winter landscape, the sour-tasting fruit is a primary food source for overwintering birds, including waxwings, cardinals, finches, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows, and grosbeaks. Migrating birds, such as robins, thrashers, catbirds, orioles, and bluebirds, will sometimes dine on these berries before heading south.
Squirrel, rabbit, bear, moose, and white-tailed deer also enjoy dining on the berries of the mountain ash tree.
Apple and Crabapple
If you want to share the bounty with your wildlife friends, an apple or crabapple tree is the way to go. Once again, the early blossoms will attract pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds, and the fruit attracts many varieties of birds and animals.
Be aware that apples also provide a tasty meal for rodents—including mice, gophers, squirrels, chipmunks, porcupine, beaver, and many more of this largest order of mammals. Raccoons, wild turkey, deer, and bear may stop by for a bite too. Rabbits enjoy dining at the apple tree, but more often, they munch on tender branches and leaves within reach.
The tiny white blossoms of the chokecherry, clustered in a slender catkin about two inches in length, attract many pollinators. The small fruit turns deep red when ripe and is a favorite of a variety of birds. The leaves of the chokecherry provide a food source for butterfly larvae, making the tree a haven for butterflies of many colors and sizes.
When cultivated, the chokecherry grows to an average height of 20 to 25 feet. However, its natural thicket-forming habit also suits a hedgerow planting, providing a perimeter barrier to larger animals, while the fruit offers a tasty and filling meal that just might keep them out of your yard.
Whichever trees you decide to plant, to keep them healthy and welcoming smaller wildlife to your yard, you’ll need to take good care of them. Good soil and watering will help them grow strong, and proper pruning will keep them producing flowers in the spring and fruit in the summer, fall, and winter. Need a little help? Certified arborists, like those at Mr. Tree, can offer expert advice and services to keep your yard a wildlife haven.