To live in harmony with our planet and to have a sustainable future in our world, we must live in harmony with its creatures, the birds, the bees, the mammals, the reptiles, and other living things. One way that we can do this is to start gardening for wildlife in our landscapes and transform them into more wildlife-friendly places. After all, it is we who have moved into their neighborhood, is it not?
Tips for getting started in gardening for wildlife in your yard or landscape
- Do not use toxic chemicals on your lawn and garden! Sadly, our efforts to achieve beautiful lawns, landscapes, and gardens have often come with the use of toxic chemicals that can be harmful to wildlife. Instead of using chemical products, consider switching to lawn and garden products that are wildlife-friendly.
- Provide habitat and cover. Wildlife are just like us in the sense that they need places to live, sleep, hide for safety, and to raise their young. By providing some structural and habitat components in your yard or landscape, you will help to provide a place that wildlife can live and thrive. Even more ideal is having some habitat components that can provide cover all year long, such as evergreen trees.
Wildlife cover components include bushes, trees, rocks, nest boxes, feeders, bat houses, bird houses, beehives, boulders and stones, brush, native prairie grasses and legumes, and dead trees (also known as “snags”).
- Provide food sources throughout the year. While some wildlife migrate to other areas during the colder times of the year, some wildlife will stick around all year long. You can help out your resident wildlife by providing feeders as well as perennial plants that will provide a source of food during times of the year when other food might be scarce. An example of this is a bush or tree that bears berries and retains them in the winter providing a latent source of food to birds.
- Plant plants for pollinators. Be sure to incorporate plenty of native plants in your landscape that provide nectar and pollen for the bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators! Native plant species are typically the best choice, since native pollinators will be the most adapted to those particular plants.
- Provide a water source. Wildlife appreciate a place to get a fresh drink of water, take a bath every now and then, or to raise their young. You can provide water through landscape elements such as bird baths, fountains, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and rain gardens. In the winter, these water sources can incorporate heating elements so that wildlife can still access them.
- Say goodbye to your manicured, monoculture lawn! Think of your entire landscape as an ecosystem that you can use for both wildlife and for yourself (such as to grow your own food). Nature works in diversity and complexity, so embrace it!
- Rethink your relationships… with weeds, that is. Believe it or not, a lot of the common weeds that many people shun are excellent at providing nectar and pollen for native pollinators. The humble dandelion, for example, which is so scorned in the United States, is actually one of the first pollinator plants to emerge in the spring.
- Garden with permaculture and other ecological principles. Approaching your vegetable garden and other landscape elements with permaculture and other ecological principles will provide an important whole-ecosystem perspective that can help you to plan your wildlife habitat in harmony with nature.
- Make your vegetable garden do double duty. Your annual vegetable garden can incorporate herbs and edible flowers that not only provide edible and medicinal plants for yourself, but also nectar and pollen for the pollinators in your neighborhood. Sunflowers are a great example, which not only provide beauty to your garden, but they also provide pollen for bees and sunflower seeds for songbirds.
- Consider installing a raingarden in low lying areas of your lawn. Such habitat can not only provide a great place for a variety of different species to hang out, but it can also help to capture rainwater and to prevent urban runoff.
- Get certified. Organizations such as the National Wildlife Foundation offer a Backyard Habitat certification that you can obtain in recognition for your wildlife gardening efforts.
- What about the neighbors? There are many ways to intentionally design a wildlife-friendly garden or yard that look so beautiful that your neighbors might be inspired to do the same. The key is to have an intentional plan and design that looks like what you have done is supposed to be there such as this one, and not a yard that looks messy and unkempt.