How to make a shrub garden for wildlife

How to make a shrub garden for wildlife

Woody shrubs and climbers provide food for wildlife - berries, fruits, seeds, nuts leaves and nectar-rich flowers.

Plus they offer shelter and breeding places, particularly for nesting birds and hibernating insects. They are also good hunting grounds for predators seeking insects and other invertebrates. They make natural wind breaks, which is particularly important for insects such as butterflies. They provide areas of shade and cover, in which animals can safely move around the garden, and also boost the variety of habitats in the garden.

It’s likely that many of your shrubs and climbers are non-native or cultivated, but while there’s no question that native plants support a wider range of biodiversity, many non-natives perform very well indeed, especially in producing winter berries and nectar-rich flowers, as well as evergreen foliage to provide cover in the winter. Remember, variety is the spice of wildlife!

In your garden


  • Fruiting shrubs like hawthorn, holly, pyracantha and cotoneaster provide a welcome meal and shelter for winter migrating birds. When the winter weather is at its worst many birds normally only found in the countryside will move into gardens for shelter and food.
  • Provide year-round sustenance for insects by growing shrubs that flower at various stages of the year (early spring is key for many insects) and many of these will double their value by producing berries later on:Spring: flowering currant, Berberis, Forsythia, guelder rose.
  • Spring: flowering currant, Berberis, Forsythia, guelder rose.
  • Summer: Hebe, lavender, honeysuckle, elder
  • Autumn: Buddleja, heather, Hypericum, Fatsia
  • Winter: Mahonia, ivy, witch hazel, Sarcococca
  • Growing climbing plants up walls or fences will create similar environments to hedges and greatly improve the boundary for wildlife. Evergreen shrubs allow birds and insects a year-round home and protection from predators, especially if they are thorny like Berberis and Pyracantha or particularly dense like holly and yew.


  • The best time for planting shrubs is between November and March, but avoid waterlogged or frozen ground. Keep the base of plants free from weeds with a thick mulch of leaf mould or compost until they are established.
  • While it’s important when setting out new shrubs to leave enough room for them to develop, equally it’s good to maintain some overlap to establish a wildlife ‘corridor’, which provides cover for creatures to move about, preferably over long distances.
  • Watch out for the robins while you’re planting, they’ll be very friendly!


  • Delay the traditional autumn tidy up until spring. The plant and leaf-litter provide myriad places for invertebrates to over-winter.
  • Leave some non-diseased shrub prunings out of sight around the base of the shrubs. When clearing fallen leaves from the grass, place some directly under shrubs and in borders.
  • Weeding during the first couple of years while the shrub is settling in is helpful but reduce the need for this by mulching, which will also help retain soil moisture. Continual soil disturbance will encourage buried weed seeds to emerge, so keep weeding to a minimum.
  • Some shrubs will need pruning after a few years, refer to the links below for more information.
  • Avoid using chemical fertilisers and pesticides – definitely not wildlife-friendly!

Top tips

  • When planting for nectar, avoid double flowers or sterile varieties which limit the feeding opportunities for insects.
  • Make sure that any plants you select are suitable for your garden conditions. Get an idea of what will work by seeing what looks healthy in your neighbourhood.

Suggested plants

  • Berberis darwinii
  • Buxus sempervirens (Box)
  • Escallonia
  • Hebe
  • Ligustrum vulgare (Privet)
  • Mahonia aquifolium
  • Pyracantha (Firethorn)
  • Skimmia japonica