Attract Nocturnal Creatures to the Garden

These critters love the night life. Use these tips to draw them to your garden.
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How lucky I was to have this hummingbird moth visit my spider flowers!

HGTVGardens community member Patty Louise captured this gorgeous image of a hummingbird moth feeding on her spider flowers.

HGTVGardens community member Patty Louise captured this gorgeous image of a hummingbird moth feeding on her spider flowers.

Now that spring is here for much of the country, and the days are growing milder and longer, you can enjoy your garden even more by welcoming some wild visitors. Many shy creatures will come out at night, and that’s a great opportunity to see them. 

Birds appreciate a feeder stocked with tasty seeds, of course, but there are many other creatures you can attract. On quiet evenings, I sometimes see deer tiptoeing through the woods behind my home, headed to our little creek. I’ve even gone out very early in the morning to find them snacking on baskets of impatiens I’d hung from the trees in my yard —they didn’t even have to bow their heads to make a buffet out of my flowers! 

I can’t say I was happy to see my baskets become their breakfast, but the deer ran away in a heartbeat when they saw me. Still, the loss of a few flowers seemed worth it, to see something so wild and beautiful.  (I know, I know. Other gardeners tell me I wouldn’t have such a romantic take on this if I’d gone outside and found an entire bed of hostas or garden vegetables demolished. Although I have a few acres of land, I’m surrounded by other houses, so I don’t get raided nearly as badly as gardeners in more rural areas.)

Fortunately, lots of other garden guests are just as beautiful, but not as hungry. To attract handsome nocturnal moths, plant a mix of native plants, night-blooming plants and wildflowers. Moths seem especially drawn to white or light yellow flowers, and those with strong fragrances, like honeysuckle, evening primrose, four o’clocks, jasmine and night-scented stock. 

Luna moths will sometimes stop to rest on the bark of trees in your yard, where you can spot them by their sea-green color and long “tails.” They eat only in their caterpillar form, dining on the leaves of hickories, sweet gums, white oaks, red maples, willows and other trees. Give them an inviting habitat by leaving some leaf litter on the ground. It will help protect them in the winter, when they’re in their pupa and cocoon stages. 

And while you might think you only want “pretty” wildlife in your yard, let’s face it—frogs and toads deserve a welcome mat, too. They’ll reward you by gobbling up loads of garden pests, like grasshoppers, crickets, armyworms, and slugs. I like the chorus of sounds they bring to my garden too, with their peeps and honks, and chirps and trills. On warm, rainy nights, I can hear the music of spring peepers from our woods; their voices sound like the jingling of hundreds of tiny bells.

You can make a “toad abode” by knocking a small opening in the side of a clay flowerpot and turning it upside down in your garden. Some garden centers also sell them, ready-made. I’ve yet to see a toad actually take up residence in mine, but it seems a friendly thing to offer, in case any homeless toads happen by.

If you’ve got a pond or other water feature, you’ll probably have frogs without even trying. They love aquatic plants and grasses around the perimeter of ponds, while toads are content with a pile of loose rocks or a hollow log or two.
Opening your garden to wildlife usually means you’ll have to resist the urge to keep everything neat and tidy. Wild creatures want and need shelter and protected places to live, as well as a garden that’s filled with the foods they eat and the water or nectar they drink. 

Think of it this way: letting your garden go just a little bit wild means you won’t have to work as hard, but you’ll enjoy it more when you share it with beautiful, beneficial creatures.

Go Wild for Wildlife

Try these tips for inviting butterflies, toads, and other creatures to your yard and garden:

  • When your flowers finish blooming, leave some of them to dry and produce seeds. Birds will feast on them, especially when natural foods become scarce in the fall and winter. Coneflowers, for example, are irresistible to goldfinches when the flower heads are studded with seeds.
  • Put a few bamboo stakes or branching twigs into your pond or water feature, so dragonflies will have a place to land. Dragonflies will also perch on willowy or arching plants and grasses in or around the water.
  • Move your lawn chair a little distance away from your garden, or use binoculars when you’re looking for wild visitors. Many will be too shy to approach if they see you.
  • Avoid using pesticides or other chemicals. Don’t use snail bait or bug zappers, either.
  • Put a few flat rocks or pavers in a sunny spot, so butterflies can stop to bask. Some butterflies will visit a shallow tray of rotting fruit; just be sure to clean it up later, so it won’t attract unwanted bugs or other creatures.
  • Keep birdbaths clean and filled with fresh water. Many animals, birds, and insects will visit for a drink.
  • Try sitting and watching quietly the next time you run a sprinkler in your garden. Hummingbirds will sometimes zip through the water, as if they’re grabbing a quick shower.

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