Monday , June 17 2024

7 Steps to a Wildlife-Friendly Garden

7 Steps to a Wildlife-Friendly Garden

Find out all you need to know about designing a landscape that benefits birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife.

Beyond serving as a space for growing your favorite plants, your garden can serve as a welcoming haven for beneficial wildlife, which brings about many advantages. Not only will you delight in their presence, but they also contribute to maintaining a harmonious ecosystem in your yard by controlling pests and unwanted vegetation. Plus, the very characteristics that attract local wildlife will also transform your garden into a year-round attraction for people to enjoy.

1. Figure Out What You Want

Before you dive right into planting and incorporating other features to attract wildlife, take some time to envision the type of garden you want. Is your main focus creating a welcoming habitat for birds and butterflies? Or perhaps you aim to attract beneficial insects, particularly if you’re cultivating fruits and vegetables. Are you willing to coexist with small animals like rabbits, squirrels, or snakes?

These considerations will serve as guidance for your design process. Remember that food, water, and shelter are the vital necessities for all forms of wildlife, and should form the foundation of your design.

2. Decide on a Style

While some may associate wildlife-friendly landscapes with free-flowing cottage-style gardens, it’s important to note that wildlife-friendly features can be integrated into various garden styles.

To begin, consider creating an ideabook where you can save inspiring photos of landscapes that resonate with you. Pay attention to both the overall aesthetic and the smaller, more interesting details. Similarly, when choosing plants, take the same approach. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wide array of forms and colors available.

Once you have gathered an extensive collection of images, take the time to review and analyze what you appreciate about each landscape and specific detail. This exercise will prove valuable in guiding you and your designer as you progress with your project.

3. Include Food Sources

To create a wildlife-friendly garden, the initial step is to provide a diverse range of food sources. Attract birds, bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small mammals by incorporating a variety of plant types. For example, seed- and fruit-bearing plants are excellent for attracting wildlife, while nectar and pollen-rich plants are also helpful. Trees can offer sap as a food source for birds, and certain plants serve as nourishment for caterpillars.

Incorporating native plants in your garden is highly advantageous, as they are proven to support local wildlife. You can find native plants in nearby nurseries, as well as others labeled butterfly-, bee-, bird-, or pollinator-friendly. Unsure on what to choose? Consult the knowledgeable staffers for guidance on the best picks for your area.

Local landscape designers specializing in native plants can also provide valuable advice and design assistance. Additionally, master gardener groups and cooperative extension offices frequently offer lists of recommended plants for your region. Engaging in conversations with your neighbors is also a good idea and can yield insights into popular choices among wildlife in their own yards.

Supplement your landscape with feeders to further attract wildlife. Nurseries, pet stores, and online retailers offer a variety of butterfly and hummingbird feeders, as well as bird feeders that can accommodate seeds and suet. Position these feeders in locations that provide a sense of safety for the animals while allowing you to enjoy observing their activities.

Keep in mind that bird feeders can also attract squirrels, mice, and rats. To prevent other creatures from consuming the birdseed, consider using baffles and weighted perches to ensure that the birdseed remains accessible to the intended visitors.

4. Provide Water

Incorporating water features in your garden is crucial to provide critters with a place to drink and bathe. Birdbaths, for example, attract a surprising number of birds. Ensure they are positioned in shaded areas to prevent overheating during summer, and away from predators like cats. Regular cleaning is important, and adding pebbles at the bottom provides extra perches for bathing birds. Consider using a solar-powered bubbler to keep the water aerated and in motion.

Butterflies are attracted to mud puddles or shallow trays of water. Another popular option is a bubble fountain, which creates a continuous flow of water across stones, recirculated underground by a hidden pump. It serves as a charming spot for both butterflies and people to enjoy.

Transform a natural wet area in your yard into a miniature wetland, ideal for frogs, salamanders, and lizards. Alternatively, go a step further by incorporating a garden pond or pool. If space is limited or you have a more contemporary garden style, then a water garden in a trough or a geometric-shaped pond might make a good choice.

Be mindful that garden ponds, especially those with fish, can attract predators such as raccoons or local birds of prey, which may also prey on smaller birds. To protect the fish, consider putting netting over the pond.

Rain gardens, designed to catch runoff and return it to the soil, can serve as a watering spot for wildlife. The rocks, pebbles, and foliage in these gardens will also be appreciated by visiting critters.

If your property includes a natural spring or pond, make it a highlight in your garden design, as it can serve as an attraction for guests and wildlife.

5. Incorporate Shelter

It is important to create sheltered spaces for wildlife, from the elements as well as predators. One effective way to achieve this is by grouping plants together, creating hiding spots within the foliage and flowers.

While loose plant groupings are commonly seen in cottage-style gardens, you can achieve a similar effect with borders that are more structured and linear. By tightly packing plants together, even in a small space, you can create a lush garden aesthetic while also minimizing the need for weeding.

In addition, meadows and prairies naturally serve as habitats for wildlife. If you prefer not to convert your entire garden into a meadow, consider incorporating plantings in sweeps or against the borders instead.

Even low-growing ground covers and trailing vines can provide shelter for smaller wildlife species, including insects. Shrubs and mature trees offer protection for a variety of wildlife, as well. Evergreen trees like firs and hollies are particularly beneficial during the winter months.

Rocks and rocky outcroppings, especially when combined with shrubs, create excellent shelters for numerous birds and mammals. For a more contemporary aesthetic, try adding a gabion wall filled with wood or a combination of wood and rocks.

6. Finishing Touches

After establishing the fundamental elements, it’s time to focus on the final touches.

Promote the growth of wildlife families. Areas that offer protection can also serve as safe havens for animals to raise their young. Enhance their living spaces by incorporating nesting boxes, birdhouses, and butterfly and bee houses. If you add a butterfly house, consider planting host plants for caterpillars nearby. Milkweed is a widely recognized host plant, but it’s important to choose native species that are appropriate for your region.

Emphasize diversity. Strive for a wide range of plant types and species in your garden. Incorporating plants with different bloom times will entice and provide nourishment for a broader spectrum of wildlife throughout the year. Combine annuals, perennials, and shrubs with herbs, grasses, and groundcovers to create a rich and varied habitat.

Consider all seasons when planning your garden, including fall and winter. Integrate native plants that bear winter fruits and berries, such as bayberry (zones 3 to 7), purple chokeberry (zones 4 to 7), staghorn sumac (zones 3 to 8), and the appropriately named winterberry (zones 3 to 9).

Trees that produce seeds, like maples and spruces, can be a nourishing winter food source. Also allow perennials like coneflowers, coreopsis, and penstemons to go to seed, as they offer a treat for insects and birds.

Evergreen trees like arborvitaes, hemlocks, junipers, pines, and spruces furnish shelter for birds, insects, and small animals. Installing nesting boxes can also provide additional shelter.

Fill bird feeders with food that attracts local nonmigratory birds. Additionally, consider providing food for local animals that may face challenges during winter. Regularly break the ice on the surface of your birdbaths or use a heating element to keep the water warm.

Incorporate lighting that is friendly to wildlife. Excessive nighttime lighting can interrupt the natural sleep-wake cycles of animals and add to light pollution. Instead of overwhelming your yard with light, make deliberate choices in fixture selection and placement to provide necessary illumination, while also allowing birds and animals the benefit of darkness.

Adapt your maintenance routine. Contemplate allowing a touch of wildness, instead of striving for a perfectly manicured yard. Letting foliage flourish provides resting places for birds and shelter for every wild creature that explores your garden.

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