garden bird, blue great tit, perched on side of bird bath
(Image credit: Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images)

There are many reasons to have a wildlife garden in your backyard, even if your backyard is nothing more than a few container plantings on a balcony and some bird feeders. That said, if you are thinking about sharing your garden with wildlife, you should really know what the disadvantages of wildlife gardening are first. Let's explore both sides of the platform - the upsides and problems with wildlife gardening.

Wildlife Gardening Pros

(Nikki's viewpoint) The benefits of a wildlife garden abound and aren't just limited to the many birds and other wildlife critters that will no doubt visit or take up residence there but are just as beneficial to us too. Here's what you can expect:

Helps wildlife

Obviously, one of the biggest benefits is the fact that you're helping out local wildlife, as well as migrating birds when they pass through the area. By including a bird feeder or even just a few flowering plants, shrubs or fruiting trees, you are ensuring that there is food and shelter available. Larger gardens can go a step further by adding water sources, insect hotels, stumpery, etc.

Natural pest control

Your wildlife garden should welcome beneficial insects, which will, in turn, help maintain that delicate balance between good and bad organisms in the garden. This means there's no need for using chemicals to control pests. The good bugs will take care of that for you.

Low maintenance

A properly planned wildlife garden means less work for the gardener. In addition to beneficial insects providing natural pest control, well-chosen and installed native plantings will reduce your need to water or weed. These plants are well suited to your particular region and will pretty much care for themselves. And since it's okay to leave the wildlife garden a little unkempt, minimal pruning will be necessary, especially with the use of dwarf varieties.

Visually appealing

Even if you opt for a more natural look rather than crisp, clean lines and neat edges, wildlife gardens can be very attractive. Native plants look good in their own right but you can also add a variety of beautiful flowering plants and even include some fruits and veggies. Again, when well planned, you can design these gardens to provide year-round interest.

Brings you closer to nature

Of course, it's a no brainer that another of the wildlife gardening pros is the wildlife that it brings, which will provide a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with them and enjoy their antics. It's amazing to watch the butterflies flitting about or the squirrels playing. The sounds of the buzzing bees and chirping birds is a wonderful stress reducer. Just being near these small creatures draws you closer to nature in an enjoyable and relaxing way.

Wildlife Gardening Drawbacks

(Shelley's viewpoint) While becoming friendlier to the critters, you may be alienating your relationships with humankind. You may also be inviting unwelcome guests that you will find difficult to evict. And these are just a couple disadvantages of wildlife gardening. Here's why I believe it's a bad idea:

Stink-eye from neighbors

If you are encouraging wildlife into your garden, it is safe to say that the wildlife is not going to remain within the borders of your property. It will venture into adjoining properties and your neighbors may not share your love of wildlife gardening and be angered when their gardens get compromised by unwelcome visitors.

Your garden looks messy and unkempt. Some wildlife gardens could be described as overgrown "jungles" with downed logs, brush piles, leaf piles, tall grass, wildflower areas, weeds, etc. Many wildlife gardeners also do not clean up their garden in the fall, leaving it messy, in order to provide winter food and shelter for birds and animals. This will give you disapproving looks from your neighbors who have well-manicured lawns and gardens. You may even get an unwanted reputation in your neighborhood as a "lazy gardener" and nobody wants to be branded like that.

A visit from a code enforcement officer

Your wildlife garden has received some negative attention from your neighbors and passersby who have reported you and now city/town officials or your HOA is knocking on your door and citing you for a failure to properly maintain your property. This may be an embarrassing situation for you and now you have to prepare for battle and defend your wildlife gardening stance.

It can be expensive

Some wildlife gardeners get overzealous and purchase birdhouses, feeders, bird baths, nest boxes, insect hotels, water garden supplies, etc. to support their wildlife gardening habit. This adds up pretty quickly. Another unexpected expense might be fencing, especially if you still want to maintain a vegetable garden for your family - you will need to protect it from the wildlife you are inviting in.

Unwelcome visitors

When foraying into wildlife gardening, I'm sure you had specific wildlife in mind that you wished to attract and designed your garden to be more inviting to that wildlife group. However, it's almost a given that you're going to attract a lot of wildlife you consider undesirable such as woodchucks, raccoons, opossums, skunks, deer and rabbits, just to name a few. You will find it challenging, frustrating and perhaps impossible to keep the desirables in and the undesirables out. You will also have to take extra precautions not to leave your garbage cans out and to shore up the areas underneath your porch and home where animals might venture into.

How the Benefits of a Wildlife Garden Compare to the Disadvantages

Wildlife gardening may be a well-intentioned proposition, but when you invite wildlife into your garden, you are also inviting a lot of trouble, trouble that is caused not only by the animals themselves, but by your surrounding neighbors. So, unless you are willing to contend with the many problems with wildlife gardening, it is something that you really should not pursue. All these issues aside, and taken into consideration beforehand, a well thought out and planned garden for wildlife is still a good thing.

In fact, many townships and cities actually have habitat certification programs to help guide you through the process. And as for the looks, remember that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Not everyone will enjoy it, and that's okay. For some of us, though, a wildlife garden is a wonderfully pleasing opportunity to become close to nature while helping these creatures thrive.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.