Gardening for Wildlife
Plant a Garden for All Seasons
What Defines a Garden?
A garden may be a small sensible plot or a grand display of majestic trees, sweeping lawns, and flower displays like a city's arboretum. Despite design and scale, they all have one thing in common: 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 that help our plants grow vigorously. Under the soil and beneath the ground are teams of decomposers at work breaking down organic matter to create nutrients for the plants we enjoy..The whole garden is an active ecosystem! It is more satisfying to work with nature than against it.
What a pleasure it is to wake to the cheerful sound of the songbirds! There is so much energy to be experienced in watching squirrels, lizards and birds foraging in the backyard, bickering, and chasing each other! Yet there are so many more benefits to their presence.
A canopy of trees and a 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.
Consider the Wildlife
Next time you visit your nursery, think of the wildlife that depends on your choices.
- If you like hummingbirds, consider which plants attract them. These are often red and orange with fluted or bell-shaped flowers.
- Choose some berry-producing shrubs and seed-producing flowers for your songbirds. These will keep them around through the seasons.
- Attract helpful butterflies and bees. Butterflies often like blues and purples. Bees like yellows but will visit most pollen-rich flowers. Good choices would include buddleia, hollyhock, lantana, verbena, gallardia, salvia, scabiosa, yarrow, hyssop, and alyssum.
- Night-active moths prefer fragrant plants such as night-blooming jasmine, honeysuckle, nicotiana, brugmansia, and cereus. Herbs, including thyme, rosemary, borage, and lavender, are excellent additions too.
Encourage Nature's Food Chain
- Add a birdbath. Attracting birds will help to keep your areas naturally pest-free, and squirrels will enjoy a drink too.
- Consider natural habitat. Toads and frogs like to re-hydrate in shallow water and then retreat under logs, rocks, and low leafy plants.Place a saucer of water or a toad house in a shady spot.
- Lizards and skinks prefer warm surfaces for lounging such as rocks, concrete, and terra cotta. They hibernate under leaf-litter and find shelter in overhanging vines, and ground cover.
- Bees and butterflies need water also but prefer the shallow saucer of water and gravel or pretty marbles as a muddling area.
Lizards Are The Best Defense Against Grasshoppers
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?
The insects will bring hungry birds who will linger in search of tasty tidbits like tomato horn worms and other caterpillars. Finches love the tiny seeds in spent flower heads, and those they disperse will sprout next season. Fallen leaves create a natural mulch that attracts earthworms, conserves moisture and dissuades weeds. They also provide shelter for lizards and salamanders, which eat garden pests.
Practice Integrated Pest Management
Our gardens are resilient without human interference, and you will find that nature's food chain is quite efficient.
- Before reaching for a pesticide, consider the balance of things and the natural food chain. Even organic insecticides like neem oil, pyrethrin, and spinosad, which target specific bugs, can cause a proliferation of others and should only be applied when bees are not active.
- Always start with the least harmful deterrent. Blast aphids with water. Pick caterpillars and snails by hand. Use diatomaceous earth for ants and pheromone traps for flying insects.
- Use Bio-controls whenever possible.They are effective at targeting beetle grubs and lawn pests.. Praying mantis, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and beneficial nematodes are all available for home delivery through tiptopbio.com.
- Build healthy soil with compost and worm castings. Reduce tillage. Use natural mulches to encourage earthworms and beneficial soil microbes. Great soil translates into vigorous plant growth.
Choose Plants Wisely
- Take note of mature plant size, water needs, and preferred sun exposure.
- Consider pest resistance. if you are plagued with deer and rabbits, look for plants that deter them.
- Plan ahead with wire barriers if root-chewing animals like moles, voles, and gophers are a problem..
- Select native varieties when possible. They will attract and support native fauna and are most likely to thrive with little help. However, they can get quite large. Do your research. This means good value and more free time to enjoy relaxing in the garden.
- Don't "try to make it work" in less than optimum conditions. This will only lead to weak, pest-attracting specimens that will cost you wasted time, effort, and money. Choosing plants wisely translates into good value and more free time to enjoy relaxing in your garden.
Get The Family Involved
Kids Learn by Observing
- Grab a local nature guide book and learn to identify the new visitors you've attracted to your backyard.
- Learn how raccoons, skunks, and possums visit the garden at night to forage for grubs and eat damaging snails and slugs.
- Involve your family in backyard projects like making feeders, birdhouses, and shelters.
- Think about the purpose of squirrels and mice. What value do they have to the urban garden? Besides providing food for snakes, hawks, and owls, they clean tree canopies of unpicked nuts and fruit, and their caches of seeds often help with propagation of trees and other plants.
- Kids enjoy and benefit from watching wildlife. They often develop a life-long appreciation of nature from early observation.
If you provide a haven, wildlife will come. In these times of disappearing bee colonies and butterfly populations, it is more important than ever that each us do our part in attracting these pollinators to our gardens. Share time outdoors with your family, make some peanut butter/birdseed pine cones to hang, and learn some new facts. 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!
- Plants to Attract Butterflies, Hummingbirds, and Wildlife
Create a butterfly garden this year! Start with our list of common butterflies and their host plants.
© 2011 Catherine Tally