You’ve heard of bird gardens, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens and bee-friendly gardens. Why not take your wildlife gardening to the next level with a bat garden?
Bats are incredibly helpful animals and an important part of the ecosystem because they eat great quantities of insects, particularly moths and mosquitoes. A bat can eat 600 insects per hour. Their natural habitats are in decline, but we can easily help bats by taking a few simple steps in the garden.
To help bats:
Include plants that open their flowers late in the day or in the evening and/or keep their flowers open all night. These plants attract night-flying insects that are the bats’ food.
Ideally, the plants you choose for your bat-gardening efforts should be native to your area, because those will best attract the bats’ target insects.
Avoid using pesticides. These kill the bats' food source, and there's a risk of poisoning the bats themselves.
Consider leaving parts of your property unmown to encourage insect reproduction. Plant an insectary garden to further encourage insects that in turn become food for bats and other helpful predators.
If it’s safe to do so, leave dead trees standing to provide potential roosting sites for bats. Snags, as standing dead trees are called, are also very helpful to woodpeckers and other birds that nest in cavities and consume insects that bore into dead wood.
Purchase or construct a bat house. This is somewhat similar to a birdhouse, but it's tailored to bats' needs and preferences. It offers a very narrow interior and an entry/exit hole at the bottom. The best placement for a bat house is a spot that's warmed by the sun, inaccessible by climbing predators and offers an easy flight path unobstructed by tree branches. If you're not comfortable mounting the house on your house, a free-standing pole works well. A tree is not the best choice, because of predation, shading and branches that interfere with bat travel. More information on bat houses and placement, plus free DIY bat-house plans, can be found on this page from Bat Conservation International.
Although bat houses are best placed where the sun will warm them, bats also seek shaded sites to rest in during the day. A hedge or a vine-covered wall can help bats with this need.
Read more about bats and how to help them:
In the highly readable The Secret Lives of Bats, ecologist Merlin Tuttle tells of his adventures in studying bats, and he describes all of the benefits that these much-maligned animals provide to our environment, as well as their fascinating daily lives, social structures and more.
Learn how to live fearlessly alongside neighborhood bats and the easy, fun actions you can take to support their survival with Bat Basics by researcher Karen Krebbs.