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Hedgerows as Habitat: A Resource Guide

Articles: Hedgerows as Habitat: A Resource Guide
Flowering buckwheat (Eriogonum fasiculatum) in a hedgerow bordering the vineyards at Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley.  Photo: Frederique Lavoipierre
Flowering buckwheat (Eriogonum fasiculatum) in a hedgerow bordering the vineyards at Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley. Photo: Frederique Lavoipierre

Native plant hedgerows can provide habitat for a diversity of birds, insects, and other small animals, offering food, cover for nesting and overwintering, and safe travel from one area to another. Lists of plants suitable for garden hedgerows are as varied as a homeowner’s landscaping style, wildlife preference, and what the climate dictates, but try to include shrubs, grasses, flowering annuals and perennials, and ground cover. Many habitat plants, especially for native insects, are not well-studied; observant gardeners can contribute significantly to our knowledge of which native plants are best for attracting beneficial insects and other garden allies.

Any of the following lists should be checked with a local native plant nursery for suitability in the individual gardener’s situation. Substitutions are encouraged! Pay attention to available space, and allow room for the hedgerow to grow. With a careful selection of plants, especially those that will support some pruning, hedgerows can be created to fit into even small spaces such as next to driveways and sidewalk strips. Avoid blocking driveway sight lines and be sure to choose plants adapted to the local soil and water availability.

Plants suitable for agricultural hedgerows are not always ideal in gardens, especially some of the large tree species, but if you have enough space, consider including them. Many native trees provide important habitat; for instance, oak trees are known to harbor over 700 species of insects, critical food for nesting birds.

Include plants that provide shelter and forage over a long season by carefully selecting a palette of sequentially flowering plants to provide nectar and pollen for as many months of the year as possible. Remember to include a water source for any wildlife planting; this may simply be a faucet dripping into a basin, a more elaborate pond or—if you are lucky—a nearby riparian stream.

The following plants lists will help you create a hedgerow designed to attract and support specific wildlife. Local native plant nurseries and university extension programs will help you identify additional plants for your specific region. Many native plants appear on more than one of the following lists, and any of these hedgerows will attract a diversity of wildlife.


California Quail Hedgerow

Long ago, I came across a wonderful list of native plants for California quail published by the Golden Gate Audubon Society. I am glad I saved it as it no longer appears on the website. Years went by before I had the opportunity to plant a hedgerow for quail. If you love this iconic little bird as I do, and would like to provide habitat, be sure to include native lupines as many species provide good forage. This list is adapted from the original handout; starred plants are especially recommended.


Arctostaphylos spp.                           Manzanita                              .

Atriplex lentiformis spp. brewerii      Saltbush/quailbush*

Baccharis pilularis                              Coyote bush*                        

Ceanothus spp.                                   Ceanothus (especially those that provide cover)

Cornus spp.                                         Dogwood                   

Heteromeles arbutifolia                     Toyon                                    

Lupinus spp.                                       Lupine*                                 

Myrica californica                              Wax myrtle                           

Quercus agrifolia                                Live oak*                               

Rhamnus californica                          Coffeeberry

Rubus ursinus                                     California blackberry*

Rubus parviflorus                               Thimbleberry*

Salix spp.                                            Willow*

Perennials and Annuals

Anaphalis margaritacea                     Pearly everlasting                

Eriogonum spp.                                  Buckwheat                

Hemizonia spp. & Madia spp.            Tarweed                    

Lupinus spp.                                       Lupine


Butterfly Bonanza

A hedgerow designed to attract butterflies is incomplete without including plants that host their immature stage: caterpillars. While butterflies are able to harvest nectar from a wide variety of plant species, their larvae are often highly host restricted. Perhaps the best-known example is the well-loved monarch butterfly, whose caterpillars will starve rather than feed on any plant but milkweed.

Host plants for caterpillars can be tucked into less visible parts of a hedgerow if they are likely to look tattered, although many large larval host plants show little damage from caterpillar feeding. In other cases, even plants that appear highly damaged will quickly recover once the caterpillars pupate. Butterflies also benefit from being able to travel along habitat corridors, such as those provided by hedgerows.


Aesculus californica                         California buckwheat

Ceanothus spp.                                   Ceanothus

Holodiscus discolor                            Creambush

Quercus spp.                                       Oak

Salix spp.                                            Willow

Perennials and Annuals

Achillea millefolium                            Yarrow


Amorpha californica                          California false indigo

Angelica spp.                                      Angelica                     

Asclepias spp.                                     Milkweed

Aster chilensis                                     Aster

California native bunch grasses

Cirsium occidentale                            Cobweb thistle

Encelia californica                              California encelia

Eriogonum spp.                                  Buckwheat

Lomatium spp.                                              

Lotus spp.

Lupinus spp.                                       Lupine

Malva spp.                                          Mallow

Mimulus spp.                                      Monkey flower

Monardella spp.                    

Salvia spp.                                          Salvia

Solidago californica                            Goldenrod

Viola spp.                                            Violet


Abundant Birds

Thorny plants provide great for shelter for birds and protect them from predators. Choose plants that provide fruit throughout the year; plants that hold their fruit in winter are especially treasured bird plants. Provide a long season of nectar throughout the year for hummingbirds. Multi-tiered hedgerows are important when attracting birds. Many perching birds will nest in hedgerows, especially those that include tall shrubs. Tall conifers provide a ‘ladder’ allowing birds a safe route to the lower plants. Include some plants that attract the insects that most birds feed their young. A birdbath nearby will add to the habitat value of the hedgerow; hummingbirds prefer to fly through a mist.


Berberis spp.                                      Barberry

Chilopsis linearis                                 Desert willow

Cornus spp.                                         Dogwood

Corylus cornuta californica                Hazelnut

Heteromeles arbutifolia                     Toyon

Malus fusca                                        Oregon crab apple

Manzanita spp.                                   Manzanita

Prunus ilicifolia                                  Hollyleaf cherry

Prunus lyonii                                      Catalina cherry

Quercus spp.                                       Oak

Rhus integrifolia                                 Lemonade berry

Ribes spp.                                           Currant and gooseberry

Rosa spp.                                            Rose

Rubus spp.                                          Blackberry, thimbleberry, and salmonberry

Salix spp.                                            Willow

Sambucus spp.                                   Elderberry

Vitis californica                                  Grape

Vaccinium parvifolium                       Huckleberry

Perennials and Annuals

Aquilegia formosa                              Western Columbine

Aster chilensis                                     Aster

Carex spp.                                           Sedge

Cirsium spp.                                       Thistle

Clarkia spp.                                        Clarkia

Epilobium spp.                                   California fuchsia

Galvezia speciosa                                Island snapdragon

Lavatera assurgentiflora                   Tree mallow

Lonicera involucrata                          Twinberry

Mimulus spp.                                      Monkey flower

Montia perfoliata                               Miner’s lettuce

Penstemon spp.                                  Penstemon

Oenothera hookeri                              Evening primrose

Salvia spp.                                          Sage

Satureja mimuloides                          Monkey-flower savory





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