Creating a lizard friendly garden

We have over 85 different species of lizards living in New Zealand and new ones are being found every few years!

On oduline stack makes a good hiding spot for lizards. Photo: Sarah Mankelow, DOC

On oduline stack makes a good hiding spot for lizards. Photo: Sarah Mankelow, DOC

Once, lizards had lots of places to live but roads, buildings, farms and freshly mown grass have replaced much of their scrubby forest-habitat.

You can help to give them a much-needed refuge by creating a lizard-friendly garden. To attract geckos and skinks to your plot of land you need to get inside their mind. Think like a skink, if you will!

All of these creatures like good hiding places – they need to be at least a tail length from a retreat, so it’s important to plant complex cover.

Cryptic shrubs, grasses and plants that give streaky shadows make for good cover. You can create crevices and lizard-sized holes yourself by using rocks and old building materials.

What lizards don’t like –

  • Hedgehogs, stoats, ferrets, rats, mice and cats.  If the cat is showing undue interest, put netting over some of your lizard hideouts.
  • Gardens without any good hiding places.
  • No protection from cold in winter (skinks slow down in the cold and are easy prey if they are not safely tucked away.)

What lizards like -

  • Plant thick ground cover
  • Plant berry or nectar producing species: fruit to eat, flowers to attract insects.
  • Mulched gardens with good water retention
  • Decent hiding places - rotting logs, slabs of bark, layered rocks, or holes in a bank
  • Vines and creepers to cover walls – this allows them to move up and down them.
  • Stone walls with lots of cracks and crevices. It is best to make a wall less-than-perfect. In the winter-time skinks who are living in cold-climates will enter into semi-hibernation, coming awake on sunny days. They’ll sleep together, so it’s important to give them a safe, dry place to sleep! It’s best to build your rock wall facing the sun
  • Stacks. Build an Onduline stack – these are pancake piles made by stacking pieces of a corrugated roofing material made of compacted hemp and tar. Each sheet is separated by thumbnail-sized pebbles. Terracotta roofing tiles will do as well, their ridges and hollows holding the sun’s heat. Place your lizard home in a warm, dry sunny area with good cover such as divaricating shrubs, tussocks and rock piles
  • Water. Place water bowls in the garden – skinks may use them every day in summer.

Once you’ve attracted lizards to your garden – chances are you’ll have them forever. Lizards are long lived, and will stay in more or less the same place for years.

It’s illegal to collect skinks or geckos and it is recommended you don’t handle them. If you provide a welcome environment, be patient and just let them find you.

Top plants for lizards

Plants that flower close to the ground bring insects and flies within reach. As well as eating invertebrates and nectar, lizards supplement their diet with berries. Native fruits small enough to be a mouthful come from Coprosma, Muehlenbeckia, Melicytus or Gaultheria

  • Porcupine scrub (Melicytus alpinus)
  • Mikimiki or Mingimingi (Coprosma propinqua)
  • Thick leaved coprosma (Coprosma crassifolia)
  • Shrubby tororaro (Muehlenbeckia astonii )
  • Pohuehue (scrambling Muehlenbeckia species)
  • Matagouri (Discaria toumatou)
  • Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
  • Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides)
  • Gaultheria, Pentachondra, Pernettya, and Leucopogon
  • Raoulia and other cushion plants
  • Helichrysum, Parahebe, Pimelia
  • Tussock, Astelia and flax. These have bundles of dead material at their base with insects, their streaky shadows are good camouflage .
  • Pohuehue. It is a great moth attractant

 Did you know? New Zealand is home to two types of lizards: geckos and skinks. They are easy to tell apart because they skinks can blink (they have eyelids that move) and they have a smooth covering and narrow heads. Geckos in contrast, don't blink. They have a velvety, baggy skin and they're superb climbers. Instead of blinking they have a clear membrane over their eyes, which they lick to keep clean.