Learn how to create a habitat garden to attract birds, butterflies, and other neighborhood wildlife. It’s fun, makes a positive difference and easier than you might think.
May is my favorite gardening month, when the first flush of blooms appear and before the mercury and humidity collide to reach the ‘sweltering’ mark!
And as it’s an active month for nesting birds, May is also Garden for Wildlife Month. . . the perfect time to make your yard or garden more attractive to birds, butterflies and other local wildlife!
If you’re a gardener, want to save the bees, a bird enthusiast and / or love attracting butterflies, I thought you might enjoy learning how to certify your garden as a Wildlife Habitat! I recently certified our garden, which in turn helps support The National Wildlife Federation.
Every habitat garden is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife such as bees, butterflies, birds, and amphibians—both locally and along migratory corridors.
The Garden for Wildlife movement has recognized over 217,000 acres that support wildlife locally. Backyards, urban gardens, school grounds, businesses, places of worship, campuses, parks, farms, zoos, and community landscapes can all be recognized as wildlife habitats through the program.
Requirements for your Certified Wildlife Habitat® are:
🌱 Food: Native plants that provide nectar, seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, foliage, pollen, and insects. Feeders can supplement natural food sources.
🌱 Water: All animals need water to survive, and some need it for bathing or breeding.
🌱 Cover: Wildlife need places to take shelter from bad weather and places to hide from predators or hunt for prey.
🌱 Places to Raise Young: Wildlife need resources to reproduce and to protect and nourish their young.
🌱 Sustainable Practices: Maintain your yard or garden in natural ways that incorporates native plants, conserves water and doesn’t rely on pesticides.
Food sources are a critical component for all living things. Native plants form the foundation of the food chain in the natural world, and should do the same in your wildlife-friendly garden or landscape. Plants provide food to wildlife in a wide variety of ways, from berries to nuts to nectar and even the insects they support that feed other animals.
Many species need different food at different stages in their life. Hummingbirds need nectar and regular doses of protein from mosquitoes, spiders, thrips, gnats and other arthropods to round out their diet.
Bird feeders can supplement natural food sources offered by plant material, and be particularly helpful in winter months.
Wildlife needs clean drinking water to survive. Birds need to bathe in order to keep their feathers in good working order, while other species including some amphibians, insects and other wildlife actually live in water.
You can provide this habitat component in a variety of ways, from a birdbath or shallow dish of water to a water garden or pond.
Other water sources may include natural features such as ponds, lakes, rivers, springs, oceans and wetlands.
Certified Wildlife Habitats not only provide water for wildlife, they use sustainable gardening practices that help ensure our human demands on water are kept to a minimum.
Wildlife needs to find shelter from extreme weather and many species need places to hide from predators, while predators themselves need cover in order to successfully catch prey.
Native vegetation is a perfect cover for wildlife. Shrubs, thickets, and brushpiles provide great hiding places within their bushy leaves and thorns. Even dead trees provide shelter as a home to lots of different animals, including some that use tree cavities and branches for nesting and perching.
Add a birdhouse for the types of birds you would like to attract to your habitat.
Creating a wildlife-friendly garden or landscape is all about helping wildlife survive.
Providing food, water and cover –> (read Squirreling Away in a Watering Can if you missed it) , will help individual animals continue to survive in your area.
In addition, some species such as amphibians or butterflies have totally different habitat needs in their juvenile phase than they do as adults, so it’s important to offer habitat in all phases of the lifecycle.
Wildlife needs a sheltered place to raise their offspring. Many places for cover can double as locations where wildlife can raise young, from wildflower meadows and bushes where many butterflies and moths lay their eggs.
Providing the four components of habitat—food, water, cover, and places to raise young—will create a wonderful wildlife-friendly garden.
Maintaining your landscape in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way ensures that the soil, air, and water that native wildlife (and people) rely upon stay clean and healthy.
Ways to Conserve Water in Your Garden:
🌱 Mulch planting beds with newspaper, leaves, bark, or wood chips. Mulches retain soil moisture and improve soil quality.
🌱 Water your plantings with a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system. Less water evaporates this way than with a sprinkler, and you target your watering.
🌱 Use a timing device with any watering system.
🌱 Use “wasted” water for your plants. A rain barrel or cistern that captures rainfall from your roof is a great garden reservoir.
Non-chemical, organic gardening practices in your backyard are always the best option for wildlife.
By planting native plants you attract populations of insects such as ladybugs and other carnivorous beetles, dragonflies, parasitic wasps, and praying mantises that keep the balance in the garden by other harmful plant pests.
Birds, toads, spiders and bats are voracious predators of pests too.
You can download and print a checklist and requirements for your Wildlife Garden, HERE.
And certify your garden as a wildlife habitat, HERE.
~ Elizabeth Lawrence
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