Placing habitat features to maximize pest control

Placing Habitat Features to Maximize Pest Control

Rock piles, log surrogates, and other similar features are great for attracting beneficial wildlife. But where should you place habitat features to maximize your pest control? There are a couple simple strategies you should follow to get the most out of these. Let’s dive into these so you can get the most out of your habitat features!


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Rock piles, woody debris like snags and log surrogates are all fantastic at attracting beneficial wildlife that eat pests. Without these predators, pests like slugs can overrun your vegetables.

This often happens when gardens are surrounded by traditional landscaping and lawns. The garden is an oasis of food surrounded by a food desert.

Of course pests are drawn to the garden! There is nothing else to eat for you or them!

But if you’re carefully placing habitat features around—and yes, in—your garden, you can also attract predators to keep those pests in balance.

When working with habitat features, keep in mind that each individual feature is not stand-alone, but rather a part of a larger system.

Just like you would find in nature, you want to create a range of sizes of habitat features that each serves a unique role in supporting beneficial critters. Each feature works in concert with the rest to help keep pests in balance on your property.

The key to placing habitat features to maximize pest control is to place lots of small features, a few medium ones and just a couple large ones.

Each size feature fills a unique role in the garden ecosystem, and you can place them strategically around your property to maximize the benefit for wildlife and pest control.

If you’re not sure what habitat features are, then keep reading, because I will give you a quick overview before diving into how to place them.

And if you’re wondering what sort of predators you can attract with habitat features, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print guide which covers 9 types of predators that are great at helping you to control common garden pests.

What are Habitat Features?

When placing habitat features put them near your gardens

I’ve been building a ton of these stacked logs known as log surrogates. They mimic large downed logs, but you only need small logs to make them. They’re simple to make and great for attracting small beneficial predators.

You could call almost everything on your property a habitat feature. Flowers and native plants, for example, provide food and shelter for all sorts of beneficial wildlife that will help you keep pests under control.

But in this case, a habitat feature is something you’re creating or building specifically to attract beneficial wildlife such as frogs or predatory ground beetles.

Common habitat features are snags (dead standing trees), log surrogates (stacked small logs that mimic large logs), downed large logs, rock piles, etc.

What these all have in common is there made from natural materials and they mimic what you would find out in a wild area such as a healthy forest.

Often you can build these just by using material you find laying around—or dig up! Digging a new garden bed and find a bunch of rocks? Build a rock pile! A tree falls down? Use the big branches to build log surrogates.

Check out the blog post—How to Create Habitat Features for Pest Control—to learn more about how to build habitat features.

Placing Habitat Features – Small Features

When placing small habitat features scatter them about

I’ve got small habitat features right in the middle of my gardens so beneficial wildlife come right to these spots and help keep pests under control.

When placing habitat features, the easiest are the smaller ones. Small habitat features provide shelter for predators during the day when they’re out hunting.

How small is a small habitat feature? The thing to keep in mind when building small habitat features is to make sure they consist of more than 1 layer of rocks, logs, etc.

A single layer of rocks or logs can provide a little benefit, but it’s limited. Insects can take shelter under these and snakes and lizards will use them for basking.

But if you add a second (or third!) layer of rocks or logs over the first, then you create small spaces where a lot more wildlife can hide and shelter. The more you can encourage beneficial critters to spend time there, the better the pest control.

Wild Tip:

A small log surrogate can be built using just 3 small logs. Place 2 of the logs on the ground parallel to each other (their sides should be touching). Then place the 3rd on top of the first 2 so you cover the gap between the bottom logs. The end will form a rough triangle—this is a simple log surrogate. The small logs are now mimicking a much larger log! You can keep adding logs following this pattern to make it bigger. Rocks can also be added to it.

You can place habitat features of this size all over your property. There really isn’t any limit to how many to add. The key is just to scatter them around—but also put them close to your food growing areas.

You want beneficial wildlife that use them to be drawn right to your food growing areas so they can help you keep pests under control.

I’ve placed at least 1 of these small habitat features in each of my kitchen garden beds. But I’ve also placed several others nearby.

The goal is for predators to show up to eat the pests and then be able to take shelter and hang out in these small habitat features. This way they’re right next to your vegetables, just waiting for the pests to show up!

Placing Habitat Features – Medium Features

Place habitat features where you grow food

This is one of several medium habitat features I’ve built on my property. This one is right next to one of my flower patches and a small garden area.

Medium habitat features are a bit more challenging to place and they can take longer to build, but they will go a long way toward transforming your place for pest control.

These features will create spaces for wildlife to shelter from the heat of the summer and potentially even overwinter. If you think of small habitat features as an outpost, medium features are more of a central hub.

These features tend to come up to your knee or waist and are around 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3 meters) in length/width.

Wild Tip:

You don’t have to make these as wide as they are long. I often go for the same general ratio as a log. Though if you’ve got room, go ahead and make them wide and long!

When placing habitat features of this size, aim for around 4 to 6 per acre. Though you could add more if you want! Just make sure to spread them out and not just group them all in one corner of your land!

Log surrogates and rock piles are great options for building medium habitat features. These tend to be a bit neater looking, and it’s easier to place them closer to your core living areas.

Wild Tip:

With all of these, just make sure to follow recommendations for reducing fire risk in your area. Some areas have a low fire risk. But in other areas this is a real concern. Rock piles are a great option if you live in a fire prone area. Otherwise, large logs are much less likely to be a fire risk than small brush. But always be safe and follow recommendations for your area.

I’ve placed several of these medium sized habitat features right next to my core gardens. This is a great way to bring beneficial wildlife right to your gardens.

Wildlife will use these habitat features during the summer months to get out of the heat, but they’ll also overwinter in and under.

Placing Habitat Features – Large Features

Place large habitat features to support the most wildlife

This habitat features isn’t on my property. It’s actually on one of my restoration sites. A house and hundreds of tires used to sit here! While this one is a bit smaller than a large habitat feature it’s similar to what you will want to build. When building yours put large material on the bottom and smaller material on top. This creates open spaces that wildlife love.

When placing habitat features, the hardest ones to find room for are large ones. These are sometimes referred to as wildlife piles or wildlife dens.

Large habitat features can provide shelter for a broad range of beneficial wildlife to overwinter and raise their young. Ultimately, this is essential for maintaining a healthy population of beneficial predators on your property.

These can be between 6 and 10 feet (1.8 to 3 meters) tall and 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.6 meters) wide/long.

That is a lot of space! But you don’t need very many of these.

Ideally you would build 1 or 2 of these per acre. And they can be tucked away in areas you don’t access on a regular basis.

You could even hide them with shrubs and trees.

If you’ve got some wet areas or other hard-to-use areas, those spots could be great for habitat features like these.

Wild Tip:

Instead of burning woody debris like a lot of people do, make a large habitat feature instead! As long as you build a good solid base using large material, you can then just toss smaller material on top each year. These will breakdown over time, but still provide great habitat for years to come. Untreated pallets can be used as the base of these too!

Just aim for the 1 or 2 per acre. And you can build them using rocks, logs or a mix of the 2. The key is to create large open space within these large habitat features that wildlife can get in and take shelter.

These will provide shelter and habitat for all sorts of wildlife. Plus, they’re great for wildlife to overwinter in. And that’s key for maintaining a healthy population of beneficial predators over time.

Putting it All Together and Next Steps

There are lots of predators on my wild homestead

Here are some of the predators that have been showing up on my property since I started adding habitat features.

If you follow the guidelines outlined in this blog post for placing habitat features, you’ll end up with a few large features on each acre, a scattered amount of medium ones, and a bunch of small features scattered all over, especially near your food-growing areas.

Some of these habitat features should be placed right in and around your garden and other food-growing areas.

My fruit tree guilds always include at least 1 small habitat feature to help keep pests under control.

Wild Tip:

Snags come in all sizes and don’t fit the dimensions outlined in the earlier sections. But here are some guidelines for adding snags to your property. In a healthy forest there should be about 3 large snags (big enough that an owl could nest in a hole in the snag) per acre, and a mix of smaller ones. You can stick small logs into the ground like you would a post to create small snags. These small ones can be treated just like other small habitat features. I like to add them next to my log surrogates and rock piles. Birds love to use them as perches and I’ve seen mason bees using them for nesting.

Building up this system takes time. You don’t have to do it all at once.

Just start with a handful of small features and work your way up. Your system will become more and more effective with each new feature you add.

I still don’t have any permanent large habitat features on my property (as of 2020), but I got an area picked out for my first one. Ultimately, I need to build 3 to 5 of these based on the size of my land.

But I’m not in a hurry.

Though I have already built multiple medium habitat features, and lots of small ones. Start with these on your own property. And then add large ones when you have good areas picked out and a bunch of material on hand.

As you continue to place habitat features, keep in mind that you want to make it easy for wildlife to move about your property from one area of shelter to the next. If there is too big of a gap between your habitat features, then wildlife won’t feel safe moving between them.

So start small, near your food-growing areas, and work your way out. You are building up a network of shelter to help beneficial critters make themselves at home.

Then sit back, see what kind of critters you turn up, and enjoy making them your partners in your struggles with pests!

What sort of predators are you hoping to attract and support on your property? Leave a comment to let us know!

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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