Indiana Backyard Wildlife Habitat
In 1996 I realized my dream of moving out of the subdivision and into the country. I purchased 22 acres of farmland & built a house on it. Nine of the acres are still farmland, but I set about transforming the remainder to something a little more aesthetically pleasing, and more suitable for wildlife.
I live in central Indiana, so keep in mind that the trees and plants I recommend may not be suitable for your area. Also, some of the wildlife I mention may not be present in your area.
Building a Pond
I have always wanted a pond, so before I even made an offer on the property, I had it checked to make sure that it was suitable for a pond. If you don't have the right kind of soil, it won't hold water.
If you hire someone to build your pond, it isn't cheap. The cost is dependent upon the amount of dirt which has to be moved. If the ground where your pond will be is flat, it will have to dug and will be expensive. If you have a location where a dam can be built to create the pond, it will be a lot cheaper.
I hired someone to design my pond, and he came up with a 1.5 acre pond with three small islands. Most of the pond is pretty shallow, but there are a couple pockets that are eight to ten feet deep. You want to have some deep pockets for two reasons:
- During hot, dry summers the level of your pond will drop considerably.
- During cold winters the surface of the pond will freeze. The pockets ensure that any fish will always have access to liquid water
The state of Indiana sells trees pretty cheaply. You can get 100 trees for about $30-$40, depending on the species. If you have limited space and don't want that many of one species, they have various packets that cost a little more per tree, but give you better variety. These trees are sent to you bare root, which means that you need to get them into the ground fairly quickly. To order order trees from the state of Indiana, visit http://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/3606.htm.
To plant bare root trees, you don't dig a hole with a shovel. Instead you use a planting bar. For information on how to use one, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUzeruQT8xE. I purchased mine from A. M. Leonard, but they are available from numerous sources. I could plant about 20 trees per hour on my own with a planting bar, but it goes much faster if two people are planting. With one person handling the trees and one using the planting bar, two people can plant about 50 trees per hour.
When you select your trees, be sure to get trees that are appropriate for the area where you are going to plant them. Don't plant trees that need moist soil in high areas that get very dry or trees that need dry soil in wet lowland spots. You also need to make sure that a tree's sun needs are met. Some trees will grow in the shade and some won't.
In adding trees, I recommend that you start by adding evergreens where you want privacy or to screen off a certain view. Evergreens are also great for blocking your house from the winter wind to lower your heating bills. I planted evergreens to the southwest of my house, which is the direction of the prevailing wind in central Indiana. In planting trees, I always recommend using a good mix of species. Here are some of the everergreen species that I have planted:
- Eastern red cedar
- Northern white cedar
- Norway spruce
- White pine
- Red pine
- Virginia pine
- Pitch loblolly pine
The Virginia pines grow fast, and will grow well even on poor soil. The downside is that they can also die early. I have had some that grew tall, but died after 15 years. If you plant these, you might want to plant some other evergreens in the understory, in case the Virginia pines die young. Northern white cedars are good for this, since they are very tolerant of shade. For very poor soil, I recommend eastern red cedars. They can grow in almost any soil, but don't tolerate shade well. To maintain a good windbreak, you want to have several rows of evergreens, and replant whenever one dies.
When you add deciduous trees, try to add trees that produce fruits or nuts to provide food for wildlife like squirrels and birds.
Common visitors to my pond are great blue herons, canada geese, ducks (primarily mallards and wood ducks), kingfishers and occasionally a muskrat. I have stocked the pond with the standard mix of fish for this area:
- Largemouth bass
- Channel catfish
A lot of wildlife will come to your pond on their own, such as:
My pond isn't real close to another source of water, so I'm not real sure where the turtles and frogs came from, but they're here. The insects can fly, so they showed up immediately after the pond was built. One species I find particularly interesting is the whirlygig beetle. If you have never seen one, check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIbzOeNcaxE.
A variety of mammals visit my property. Occasionally I see deer, but I am sure they are quite active at night, based on the tracks that I see, and the damage that they sometimes do to my trees from rubbing their antlers against them. Sometimes I see coyotes, but I'm much more likely to hear them at night. I have viewed foxes in my area, but never on my property. I once saw a skunk, but unfortunately that was after my dog grabbed it and pulled it out of the long grass. She had to stay in the garage until we could take her to the groomer and have her bathed to get the smell out.
I recommend that you don't do anything to attract canada geese - You'll probably get more than you want anyway. Although they are attractive birds, they are noisy, aggressive and leave their dropping everywhere. Ducks are much better guests. They are not aggressive and they leave most of their droppings in the water instead of on land. You may want to put up some nesting boxes to attract wood ducks. Another bird you may want to attract by adding nesting boxes is the bluebird.