Spring will be here before we know it (at least it better be, lest I get all stabby), so it’s time to start thinking about next year’s garden. If you’re looking for an interesting theme, why not try a Bat Garden?
First, check with your local wildlife extension office to see what kind of bats are native to your area. If you have nectar-eating bats, you’ll want to plant fragrant night-blooming flowers. If (more likely) you’ve got insect-eaters, you should choose plants that attract insects.
For nectar-eaters, choose flowers that:
- Bloom at night
- Are large (at least 1″ or more)
- Are pale-colored or white
- Are very fragrant and have lots of nectar
In the American southwest, Agave plants or Saguaro cacti are a good choice. Guava, moonflower, night-blooming gladiolus, passion flowers, sand verbena, tufted primrose, sacred datura, desert tobacco, gilias, and night-blooming cereus are other possibilities. (There are also reports of hummingbird feeders being hijacked by nectar bats, so as a last resort you might hang up one or two of these.)
For insect-eaters, you’ll want to choose plants and create an environment that attracts night-flying insects such as moths. Fragrant night-blooming plants include four o’clocks, heliotrope, silene, evening primrose, nicotiana, cornflowers, evening stock, salvia, phlox, sweet rocket, soapwort, dame’s rocket, gardenia, eastern false aloe, joe-pye weed, and jasmine. You can also choose herbs for double duty, in the kitchen and to attract bats. Good choices are sage, borage, oregano, lemon balm, marjoram, chives (let some of them flower), and all of the mints (spearmint, apple mint, chocolate mint, pennyroyal, pineapple mint, peppermint).
Check to see what kind of conditions these plants like: Depending upon your region, it might be better to grow some of these plants in pots and take them inside during the winter.
In addition to choosing the right plants, creating an inviting environment for bats will help encourage their visits.
- If possible, site the garden close to woods, hedges or other cover to help bats feel more secure.
- Climbing plants like honeysuckle, dog roses, and ivy can help provide shelter and roosting spots for bats. You can also provide a bat house or two to encourage permanent residence.
- Be careful not to use pesticides or weedkillers on plants in the garden (I prefer to use safe organic products for everything in my yard).
- If there isn’t a reliable water source nearby, provide a small artificial pond or birdbath, and place flat stones along the edge to make it easy for bats to reach the water.
- Lights will attract moths and other insects; adding a solar-powered accent light or two will give bats access to an easy meal.
- Keep cats away. Roaming cats will hunt birds and bats.
- Evergreen trees, vines, and shrubs will provide year-round hideouts for bats, and also shelter insects which help feed the bats.
- If you want to get really hardcore, you can also leave part of your lawn unmowed during the summer to encourage insects whose grubs feed on grasses.
- Rock piles or walls with lots of nooks and crannies create a “bat fort” to shelter tiny bats.
After you’ve supplied food, water, and shelter for the bats, you can certify your yard as a wildlife sanctuary. In the U.S., visit the National Wildlife Federation to apply. You’ll get a personalized certificate and a Backyard Wildlife Habitat sign to post in your yard. (For non-U.S. visitors, check with your local wildlife office to find out about similar programs).
As bat habitats are threatened, it’s important for humans to provide them with places to live. You can do your part for the environment and be gothy at the same time. Everybody wins!