Five native trees to plant to attract backyard wildlife

Image_Forestry_chickadeeRedbud

To see Michigan nature up close, you can lace up your boots and head outside, or you can invite wildlife to visit at home! Observing backyard wildlife can be a great way to learn about plants and animals just a window away. Jumpstart a connection to nature  by planting a native tree.

Trees native to Michigan are easy to care for and provide many benefits to wildlife including food and shelter. While landscape trees from other parts of the world may be pretty, they don't provide as many ecological benefits as native trees. This can make a big difference to chickadee parents, who can feed a clutch of chicks a whopping nine thousand caterpillars before they fly the nest.

Spring and fall are the best times of the year to plant trees. Visit ArborDay.org for tree planting guidelines.

Here are some of our picks for native trees that wildlife will flock to:  

A blooming redbud tree with pink flowers

1. Eastern Redbud

The Eastern Redbud is known for its striking profusion of tiny, pink flowers that bloom in early spring, followed by heart-shaped leaves. These flowers are a nectar source for bees and butterflies when other plants are still dormant. The redbud tree hosts many species of butterfly larvae, and its buds and brown seed pods are enjoyed by songbirds, small mammals and game birds like bobwhite quail. The redbud reaches 15 to 30 feet tall with a spreading crown. Plant redbuds in full or partial sun.
 

A bee on a white elderberry flower

2. American elderberry

American elderberries are a complete package for wildlife, providing nectar-rich flowers, juicy purple fruit and shelter from predators. This fast-growing small tree or large shrub ranges from 5 to 12 feet tall and creates a thicket for birds to nest in. Cream-colored clusters of star-shaped flowers open in early summer, benefiting bees and butterflies, followed by glossy purple berries birds and mammals can enjoy. People can also eat the "superfruit" berries - try using them in baked goods, jellies and pies. Elderberry trees tolerate many soil conditions.
 

A squirrel perches on a log with an acorn

3. White oak

Attract whitetail deer, birds and small mammals by planting a white oak tree. This majestic shade tree grows in a wide, spreading shape and reaches 50 to 80 feet tall. They are slow growing but reward homeowners with spectacular burgundy and red fall color. Oaks produce acorns that are a staple wildlife food in fall and winter; they can make up 25% of a deer's diet in fall. The larvae of some moths also rely on acorns. The larvae grow within the shell and eat the nut before emerging as adults.

 

The ripe blue berries of a serviceberry tree

4. Serviceberry (Juneberry)

This tree has many names - serviceberry, juneberry and saskatoon - but whatever you call it, it's a wildlife favorite and an attractive small tree, reaching 15 to 25 feet tall. These hardy trees produce white blooms in early spring, providing nectar for bees and butterflies. Blueberry-like fruit enjoyed by people, birds and mammals ripen in early summer, and the fall season ends with vibrant red and gold leaves.

 

A cedar waxwing in the snow with berries

5. Mountain ash

Invite cedar waxwings and thrushes to visit by planting a mountain ash. Mountain ashes grow showy white flowers vital for pollinators in spring that turn into bright red-orange fruits in fall. These are an important winter food source for birds and small mammals. The cold-hardy mountain ash grows in zones 2-5 and produces beautiful yellow, orange and reddish-purple fall color on its feather-shaped leaves. It grows 10 to 30 feet tall and is not affected by the invasive emerald ash borer.