Featured Image from: Eracaperealty
When we think of a wildlife sanctuary, we envision an ancient woodland where all sorts of creatures take up residence in different levels of vegetation. Birds and squirrels gliding from one tree to another, preys and predators hopping about in the understory, fungi and bacteria eating off deadwood and critters and snakes in the moist undergrowth – all living in harmony. Streaks of sunlight pierce through the thick canopy, triggering a process called evapotranspiration, which then sends water back to the forest. Everything’s in place, the cycle goes on.
Modern gardens are anything but wild. They are the epitome of our dominion over nature. We flatten out slopes,drain and cover ponds, train trees to grow a certain way, and till beds to make way for a succession of plantings. We build fences around the lot to keep not only people but also wildlife out. We spray harmful chemicals to prevent pests and “bad insects” from pillaging our opus.
We build gardens in our yard to bring nature close, yet in our pursuit to create the perfect garden, we unwittingly made it less attractive to wildlife. By keeping wildlife out, you’re also keeping out creatures that help out in pollinationand replenishing the soil with nutrients. You end up doing all the heavy lifting by removing this vital feature.
Having birds, bugs, and all sorts of creatures in your yard is not bad at all.You can’t replicate the symphony they produce at twilight or dawn, or the display of diversity and carefree abandon, or the balancethey effortlessly create. What you can do is invite them in using a few simple techniques:
The Secrets to a Successful Wildlife Garden
The main ingredients to a diverse and thriving wild garden are food, water, sunlight, and shelter – the essentials for life. Basically, you’ll want to restore your yard into its original setup. To know what your area looked like before it was developed, walk around the neighborhood and visit a park, community nursery or wildlife sanctuary, or the nearest woods. That, alone, will give you a hint of which plants and animals live in your locale. Dig deeper by consulting with a local horticulturist or experienced wildlife gardener. Though you can find a wealth of information online, nothing beats local, first-hand wisdom.
Setting Up Your Wildlife Sanctuary
Successful wild gardens make use of multiple three-dimensional habitats and structures where animals can nest and hide. When planning out your wildlife habitat, make sure to include these key features:
Log pilesand garden waste– in the woods, many animals and injured prey hide in deadwood. It’s also a place for insects, reptiles, and amphibians to breed. In your garden, place a pile of logs in a shady area to provide a refuge for wildlife. Scatter different types of garden debris across your yard to replicate the moist and dark forest undergrowth. Garden debris, such as plant cuttings, wood chips, and mowed grass, not only provide a habitat for arthropod predators, they are also a natural form of natural mulch, soil amendment, fertilizer, and weed control.
Bee and bug hotels – attract the most valuable pollinators in your area by hanging bundles of hollow stems and placing insect boxes in areas with light to partial shade. Make sure the box stays nice and dry during a cold or rainy day. There’s an endless number of ways to offer lodgings for your six-legged friends. You can buy one from a garden center or build one at home.
Birdhouses and feeding stations – birds are your garden’s best friends. They help control insect and bug populations and pollinate all sorts of plans. They also produce the nicest sounds, beckoning you to wake up and start work in the garden. To increase the number of birds visiting your garden, give them a place to eat and take shelter. Put out different kinds of food, like sunflower, thistle, suet, or safflower seeds, and a sugar-water feeder. By setting up bird houses and feeding stations, you’re not only attracting birds, you’re also helping them prep up for a successful breeding season.
Water features – a small pond alone can support a vast diversity of desirable species, from songbirds to foxes. Shallow ponds become feeding stations for birds and breeding grounds for insects and amphibians. Deeper areas provide refuge for aquatic insects, amphibians, and even fish. To add visual interest and add the music of moving water in your yard, build a waterfall or fountain. Add a deicer to help your wild residents live through the winter safely.
Pollinators – on top of shelter and water, make sure visiting insects have something to munch on in your garden. Nectar-rich flowers invite bees and butterflies. Consult gardening resources to know which flowers and plants host which insects. Instead of keeping a lawn or exotic flowerbed, create a wildflower meadow, instead. This will increase your chances of attracting beneficial pollinators.
What to Plant: Think Native and Local
Plants are the key ingredient to agarden exploding with biodiversity. There should be a balance of ground cover, understory, shrub, and canopy species that will act as different habitats. Once you’ve decided on what types of species you want to host, fill your garden with plants that fit their individual needs. Get rid of invasive plants to make way for natives. These are plants more suited to the conditions of your area or state and will thus grow healthier without disrupting the balance of the wider ecosystem. Ditch the ornamental grass for native species to put out a buffet and nesting space for butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects.
What not to have in your wild garden:
- Turf lawn
- Impervious hardscaping
- Invasive plants
- Free-roaming cats
- Herbicides and pesticides
Before starting a wildlife garden project, it pays to have a plan and budget laid out. You should already have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in your garden before you even start. The last thing you want to do is overdo it and end up with a backyard habitat you can’t sustain. Start small but think long-term; add two to three native plants this season or set up two birdhouses this year. Then, when your plans begin to kick off, have your backyard certified by the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. Taking the pledge to sustain your wildlife habitat will help keep you on track.
Dedicating your garden, time, and effort for wildlife is not only a noble cause, it also opens up a world of exciting experiments, possibilities, and year-round fun.
former owner of a commercial landscaping service business. Retired at the age of 44 after selling his business. Tony spends his free time reading the paper and watching house flipping and real estate shows on the FYI Channel.