Our Top Species Picks for #BackyardBiodiversity

Outdoor spaces, when properly planned and planted, can be such a great resource! A well designed yard can act as an outdoor extension of your home, where your family can relax. It can also serve as vital habitat for local wildlife. Designing a wildlife-friendly yard is an easy way to improve our urban forest and promote local biodiversity.

Design Tips

Natural forests host a large number of different plant species from the forest floor to top of the canopy. Follow these easy design tips to recreate a similar environment in your yard:

1. Consider the conditions of your yard; pay close attention to the amount of sun exposure and soil type, as not all plants can grow and flourish in all conditions
2. Plant trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers to mimic the multi-height nature of a natural forest
3. Plant in clusters to maximize shelter options, food sources and habitat
4. Consider wildlife safety in your yard design and care; for example, use only organic and non-toxic pest control


Top Five Shrubs




American hazelnut


Valuable to wildlife as a late season food source. The nut of this shrub has a higher nutritional value than acorns and matures in the late summer or early fall and is enjoyed by local birds, like woodpeckers. Additionally, the male catkins (flowers) can persist into the winter, providing birds with an important winter food source.










Common ninebark


Valuable to wildlife as a varied food source. Late spring flower clusters attract a wide variety of pollinators which then attract insectivores, like birds and bats. Additionally, its distinctive fruits persist, providing seed-eating birds that over-winter here, like the cedar waxwing and the common sparrow, with an important winter food source.










Purple flowering raspberry


Valuable as wildlife habitat for its dense and low foliage that spreads vigorously. Small mammals and birds can shelter from the heat of the summer or hide from potential predators under this low shrub. Additionally, it produces fruits in the late fall to early autumn that attract many local birds. It is also a favourite among the native bumblebee.










Pussy willow


Valuable to wildlife as an early-season bloomer. It provides a much-needed early source of nectar for many pollinators, like bees and beetles, which then become a food source to local insectivores, such as birds and bats. Additionally, it’s a common nesting site for warblers and finches.










Red osier dogwood


Valuable to wildlife as a varied food source. It is a preferred browsing species for deer and small mammals, its berries are favoured by birds in the summer and act as a food source to pollinators in the spring. Also, its dense foliage is great shelter for mammals and birds and is used by the American goldfinch as a nesting site.






Top Five Trees




Bur oak


Valuable to wildlife as a varied food source. Its male catkins bloom in early spring and provide a much needed early-source of nectar to pollinators while their fuzzy acorns are consumed by a large variety of birds and mammals, including the blue jay which will collect the acorns for later consumption. Additionally, it is commonly used as a roosting and nesting site for local birds.









Grey dogwood


Valuable to wildlife as a food source. In the spring, it acts as a source of nectar for a wide variety of pollinators, including the Spring Azure butterfly. In the late summer and early autumn, its fruits are a food source to birds and small mammals.












Valuable to wildlife for its sweet, pulpy fruit that’s eaten by a variety of birds and mammals. It also provides habitat for a variety of local butterflies. It is the only host plant for the Hackberry Emperor butterfly and the food source for its larvae.










Paper birch


Valuable to wildlife as an important winter food source. Mammals and non-migratory birds rely on its fruits in late autumn and its easy-to-peel bark during the food-scarce winter months. It’s also used by cavity-nesting birds, like woodpeckers and chickadees.










White spruce


Valuable as wildlife habitat in the winter months. Its dense, bushy foliage provides excellent shelter to birds and small mammals from harsh winter conditions. Additionally, its seeds are a preferred food source for many local species, like the American red squirrel that likes to hoard the cones as a winter food source.







When planning your outdoor space, we encourage everyone to ensure you’re planting the right species for you and your property.  LEAF offers subsidized tree and shrub planting services which include a consultation with an ISA certified arborist. 

If you have a wildlife-friendly yard, consider getting it certified through the Canadian Wildlife Federation!


Daniela Serodio is the Marketing and Communications Intern at LEAF.


The #BackyardBiodiversity campaign is a partnership initiative with the Toronto Wildlife Centre and is supported by Ontario Power Generation.

LEAF offers a subsidized Backyard Tree Planting Program for private property.  The program is supported by The Town of Newmarket, The Regional Municipality of York, City of Toronto, Toronto Hydro, Oakvillegreen, Town of Ajax, and Ontario Power Generation. For details on how you can participate, visit http://yourleaf.org.