How To Transform Your Yard into a Wildlife Habitat
Plant a Garden for All Seasons
Berries, rosehips, and spent seed heads are delightful winter feasts for foraging birds:
One of my greatest pleasures is waking up to the lovely sound of the birds. I can see the excited activity of the hummingbirds at the feeder outside my kitchen window while I make my coffee, and I can hardly wait to enjoy it while watching the foraging in my backyard!
The canopy of trees and my birdbath attract many visitors, but it is the selection of plants with their pollen, seeds, berries, and insects that will keep them returning day after day and season to season.
What Defines a Garden?
A garden may be a small sensible plot or a grand display of majestic trees, sweeping lawns, and floral displays like a city's arboretum. Despite design and scale, they all have one thing in common: each is a complete eco-system. These spaces are teeming with life both visible and unseen.
We use these spaces to give our homes curb appeal, to grow our victory gardens, or to provide places of beauty and fragrance for relaxation and outdoor entertainment. Birds, insects, reptiles, and small mammals use them for food, shelter, and reproduction. Whether we notice or not, our gardens are sustaining a host of living things. Even our soil is alive with both beneficial microbes and fungi which help our plants grow vigorously and decomposers such as worms, ants, and pillbugs which break down organic waste. It is an active eco-system!
Consider the Wildlife
Next time you visit your nursery, look beyond the showiest blooms. In addition to making selections well- suited for your soil, light exposure, and zone, think of the wildlife that depends on your choices. If you like hummingbirds, for example, consider which plants attract them. These are often red and orange with fluted or bell-shaped flowers. Bees prefer golden yellow, but will frequent flowers in blues and purples along with many butterflies. Choose some berry-producing shrubs and seed-producing flowers for your songbirds. Globe thistle, arbutus, viburnum, service berry, toyon, sunflowers, and holly will keep them around through the seasons. Encourage pollinators. Buddleia, hollyhock, verbena, salvia, yarrow, hyssop, and milkweed are great choices for butterflies. Night-active moths like fragrant plants such as night-blooming jasmine, honeysuckle, nicotiana, and cereus. Great bee attracters include herbs like thyme, rosemary, borage, and lavender as well as flowering coreopsis, tagetes, gallardia, and caryopteris.
Add a birdbath, toad house, or lizard habitat to keep your areas naturally pest-free. Toads like to rehydrate in shallow pools and saucers then retreat under logs, rocks, and low leafy plants. Lizards and skinks prefer warm surfaces for lounging such as rocks, concrete, and terra cotta. Keep these things tucked into garden beds and along borders. Mulches of leaf-litter are perfect places for lizards to hide while feasting on the insects there. Take some time to research your native flora and fauna. Choose to attract your personal favorites.
Native milkweeds give monarchs protection from predators.
Monarch butterfly tip:
Look for native species of milkweed. Although the tropical variety, Asclepias curassavica is one of the most commonly sold commercial varieties for monarchs, it is known to throw off the migration time-table because of its longer bloom period. As a result, the butterflies' survival is jeopardized by rain, colder temperatures, and predatory mites. They should be cut to the ground at the end of summer.
Don't Be Too Tidy
Gardens are not meant to be flawless. They are places to witness the cycles of life. Be willing to sacrifice a bit of your personal Eden. Take off your glasses and step back. Do you really need to be concerned about perfect tidiness and stressed over chewed leaves and earwigs in your roses? Those caterpillars will soon become lovely butterflies, and the insects bring hungry birds who will linger in search of tasty tidbits. Fallen leaves create a natural mulch which conserves moisture and dissuades weeds from sprouting. It also provides shelter for small creatures.
Try Integrated Pest Management: Instead of reaching for a pesticide, consider the balance of things and the natural food chain. Even organic insecticides which target some nuisance bugs will cause a proliferation of others and should only be applied when bees are NOT active.
Always start with the least harmful deterrents such as water blasts, insecticidal soap, and sticky pheromone traps before moving on to harsher controls. Praying mantis, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and beneficial nematodes are all available for home delivery through tiptopbio.com.
Nature is very clever and resilient without human interference, and you will find that birds and lizards are very efficient forms of pest control. Organic fertilizers and mulches enrich the soil, keeping plants strong, healthy, and resistant to pests and disease.
Select Native Plants: Choosing native plants is clearly a wise approach to your landscape. They will attract and support native fauna and are most likely to thrive with little help which means good value and more free time to enjoy relaxing in the garden.
Encourage your kids to create a cute and functional habitat for ladybugs, bees, and other beneficial insects:
Kids Learn by Observing
Grab a local nature guide book and learn to identify the new visitors you've attracted to your backyard. Our family has seen nearly 50 different varieties of birds in our yard this past year, some of them migratory species that come in winter and early spring.
If you provide a haven, wildlife will come. In these times of disappearing bee colonies, it is more important than ever that each us do our part in attracting pollinators to our gardens and open spaces. Share time outdoors with your family, take pictures and learn new facts. Kids who observe creatures in their natural habitats often develop a life-long appreciation of nature. It's nice to relax in the knowledge that your efforts make the world a better place and that your beautiful garden is sustaining a lot more than just you!
© 2011 Catherine Tally