For too many people, wildlife in the garden conjures up images of aphids, snails, crows, deer, or other so-called destructive pests. But these and many other pests are part of the native and natural food chain–they must simply be balanced with beneficial native species. (Although there are still certain invasive pests that you never want in your garden.)
For example, if you have ladybugs, it’s probably OK if you have aphids–the ladybugs will take care of them and there’s no need for you to spray your garden with loads of pesticide. Similarly, frogs and birds will keep many of your insect problems in check.
Plus, by making your little patch of the Earth a wildlife haven, you’ll be giving a hand to local wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and toads, which are being squeezed out of their natural habitats by increasing suburban sprawl. A side benefit if you have kids–you’ll be giving them a valuable first-hand education in nature and ecology.
I think wildlife gardening has two levels. What I would call the basic level is pretty simple–you make your backyard hospitable to wildlife by providing them with places to eat, drink, and raise their young. Create a steady supply of food and water by installing bird feeders and bird baths. Create shelters where wildlife can hide from predators, take refuge in bad weather, and raise their young. Examples include hanging bird houses and strategically placing brush piles, logs, and rocks.
A more advanced level of wildlife gardening involves more time and effort (of course), but it’s well worth the rewards. The concept is the same–you need to provide food, water, and shelter–but the implementation involves developing a planting strategy.
A lot of people won’t want to hear it, but getting rid of your lawn is one of the best ways to attract wildlife–or at least reduce its size. Replace it with native species that provide berries and fruit that appeal to wildlife. Plant shrubs, trees, and groundcovers that can be used as hiding places. Certain flowers attract birds and butterflies–ask a reputable nursery to help you choose species that will be too tasty for native wildlife in your area to pass by.
Take it one step further by planting species such as tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Maximilian sunflower (Helianthis maximilianii), fennel (Foeniculm vulgare), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and many, many others that attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hoverflies, parasitic wasps, and lacewings. This sort of wildlife is highly undervalued–not much to look at unless you’re a bug lover, and frankly their habits can be somewhat gruesome–but beneficial insects will allow you to keep many voracious and disease-causing pests under control without the use of pesticides.
Building a pond or water garden is more complicated than installing a birdbath, but they’re beautiful to look at and useful for a variety of plants, birds, insects, amphibians, and fish. The Natural Resources Conservation Center (NRCS) has some excellent advice on how to build a pond or water garden.
The BBC has a great article with specific tips on how to attract wildlife. And the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat program“certifies” homeowners who follow certain steps to make their backyard attractive to wildlife.
What I’ve described isn’t your typical suburban lawn with large expanses of grass and perennial borders. But what you’ll get in return is a garden paradise that supports native plants, trees, and flowers and a variety of beneficial birds, butterflies, and insects.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.