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Home & garden.

Updated: 30 Mar 2022

The best shrubs for attracting wildlife throughout the year

Keep your garden revitalised every season with the best shrubs to attract and protect your local wildlife
Natalie Turner

No matter the size of your garden, there's a variety of plants and shrubs to choose from to provide a suitable habitat for attracting and homing wildlife around the year.

Shrubs and plants can be great for outdoor decoration, but planting certain varieties to attract, protect and provide shelter for wildlife can turn your garden into a natural haven.

We've rounded up the best native and non-native shrub varieties for looking after your garden visitors year-round.


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Spring

Springtime can be an unexpectedly difficult time of year for wildlife.

As it awkwardly sits between the previous autumn and the coming summer, the fruits and berries provided in autumn will likely be gone, while new plant growth may not have yet fully begun. Not to mention the famously unpredictable weather and temperature.

However, there are some nourishing shrubs and plants to give your wildlife a well-needed boost during this tricky time.

Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)

Flowering currant plant with pink flowers

This early-season plant produces beautiful dark-pink petals that are ideal for attracting bees.

It's hardy and able to grow in more difficult soils, so this fast-growing plant is perfect for the tougher areas of your garden.

As well as keeping buzzing visitors happy and well fed, the flowering currant can be grown into a dense bush, which is great for protecting birds and smaller creatures. Remember to prune it every few years to keep it in good condition.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

Holly bush

Usually thought of as a classic Christmas-time plant, the holly bush actually thrives in spring.

The berries on female trees last a substantial time, and the white flowers found on male trees are full of nectar and pollen – perfect for attracting the holly blue butterfly.

While it's not a particularly fast grower, the holly bush can flourish with proper care and intermittent pruning of the suckers it produces.

Hawthorn (Crataegus Iaevigata/Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn tree with white flowers

While traditionally a native hedging plant, the hawthorn works wonderfully as a garden shrub too.

It can bear small flowers in white or various shades of pink, which are favoured by pollinating insects.

As well as this, the leaves of the hawthorn are an excellent food source in the springtime for other creatures, such as caterpillars, butterflies and moths. 

Plus, the red autumn berries provide great nourishment for migrating birds, like the redwing or fieldfare.

Summer

Summer is a great time of year to sit back and let nature bloom, but that doesn't mean you can’t be proactive in looking after wildlife.

Blossoms will attract small insects, which will serve as a nutritious food source for birds. You can help even more by topping up bird feeders and leaving out fresh water to keep wildlife hydrated.

Hebe

Hebe plant with purple flowers

Native to New Zealand, this attractive garden favourite enjoys plenty of sunshine and warmth.

Hebes are fantastic for attracting a number of insects, from pollinators like bees to hoverflies.

Plus, the evergreen foliage provides great shelter for small birds all year round.

Hebes are usually small and fairly low maintenance, only requiring a trim during the late summer to maintain neatness.

For more information on this versatile shrub, see our full guide on how to grow hebes

Elder (Sambucus)

Elders are hedgerow shrubs usually found lining ditches and fields.

They are hardy growers, with bright flowers that bloom in early summer.

The blossoms are wind-pollinated and can produce autumn berries over the following months, which provide nourishment for hungry birds.

Buddleia (Buddleja globosa)

While wild buddleia can be unruly and somewhat invasive, the Buddleja globosa (or ‘orange ball tree’) may be easier to get under control for your garden.

As is clear by its nickname, ‘the butterfly bush’, buddleia is perfect for attracting butterflies. During the day it also attracts bees, and moths by night.

The orange variety is slightly slower growing than the purple, so ideally prune it after the flowers have bloomed while leaving some longer stems through the winter to protect bugs and wildlife.


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Autumn

The autumn season is the time of year for fruits and berries to ripen and provide food for garden birds. It can be an ideal opportunity to cut back any overgrown shrubs but take care to keep the habitat suitable for any remaining birds.

We recommend sparing a few berries on branches for nourishment, as well as leaving stray leaves around the base of your shrubs to provide shelter, nesting and foraging material.

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Orange hazel tree leaves in sunlight

Hazel trees bear catkins in spring and hazelnuts in autumn, making them an incredibly good plant for feeding wildlife.

Hazelnuts are a rich and fulfilling source of food for birds and small mammals alike.

Hazel trees have the capacity to grow very large with long multitudes of stems, so they should be pruned in the winter to encourage spring growth.

Berberis

Berberis plant with green and orange leaves

The dense berberis provides the ideal environment to encourage foraging and nesting birds.

Moreover, the berries are a great source of food, and the spring-blooming flowers will attract bumblebees.

To best care for a berberis bush, prune in the mid-summer, leaving enough so that berries can still grow.

Winter

The cold and dark winter months can prove difficult for your garden visitors. Making sure your plants and shrubs can help take care of them is a great step towards protecting these incredible species.

Filling your garden with evergreen shrubs (ie plants with leaves that do not fall off in the winter) not only look great in winter but also provide essential shelter for birds and insects.

You can attract wildlife to certain plants and shrubs through cleverly placed birdfeeders.

Plus, just because it’s winter it doesn’t mean no flowers can grow: early blossoming shrubs can attract pollinators and are usually low maintenance.

Sweet box (Sarcococca)

Sweet box shrub covered in snow

Emerging in the late winter, it’s clear to see where the sweet box earns its name. On sunny days, the strong sweet scent of this evergreen plant attracts a number of pollinators.

While it provides shelter year-round, its berries are present in the autumn and provide food for wildlife.

To care for a sweet box, the best time to prune is after flowering. Although, it is slow to grow, so don’t overdo it.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis)

Yellow witch hazel shrub

The witch hazel features red, orange, or yellow flowers, which have a distinctively sweet smell and bloom throughout February and March. These blossoms are attractive for a range of pollinators, including bees and flies, as well as moths.

Witch hazel thrives in more acidic soil but is hardy and will grow in a range of soil types. You can even use ericaceous compost to plant it in a pot.

Viburnum (Viburnum tinus)

The evergreen viburnum, as with other evergreen shrubs, can provide natural shelter throughout the year. 

In the late wintertime, it blooms tiny white or pink flowers that produce a sweet, almond scent – perfect for bees.

It grows slowly and is easy to maintain, but it can reach heights of up to three metres if not pruned.