Wildlife in Your Back Yard

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Create a Wildlife Refuge in Your Back Yard

Enjoy Your Wild Neighbors!

Squirrel Feeding On Top of Gambel Oak

Squirrel sitting on Gambel oak enjoying an acorn.

One very satisfying and useful way to participate in your local ecosystem is to plant part of your home's landscape with native plants. Including wild areas in your yard will create a richer habitat, both for you and for the local wildlife.

In fact as native plants become established in your yard, birds and other beneficial wildlife will quickly appear. According to Kelly Hartley of National Wildlife Federation, "Native plants support 10 to 50 times as many varieties of native wildlife as do non-native plants."

You may be surprised to learn that not only birds, butterflies and squirrels but also rabbits, raccoons and 'possums live hidden away in suburbs. All these animals will benefit from your naturally landscaped yard, and you will benefit by enjoying their visits! Furthermore, with a natural landscape you'll save much of the time, expense and effort that would go into maintaining a more 'conventional' landscape.

Plan Your Wildscape

When beginning to establish wild areas in your yard, start with a few well-defined patches so you don't worry your neighbors (suburban neighbors can be a nervous bunch!). A wild area blends into the suburban setting better if it has a neat outer edge (i.e., a trimmed grass edge, brick or stonework borders, etc.). When a wild area is neatly bounded, what's inside is more readily seen as part of an overall design. The juxtaposition of wild and neatly-trimmed areas creates a very harmonious contrast—accentuating the beauty of both the wild and the tame areas.

Woodpecker Feeding On Mullein Flower Stalk

Woodpecker feeding on mullein stalk, probably looking for small insects.

Planting for Food and Shelter

Your yard's wild habitat areas will need to include sources of food, water and shelter. Of these three requirements shelter is primary, and is typically the most difficult for wildlife to find in a conventional landscape. Sources of shelter can include birdhouses, bat houses, toad houses, rock or wood piles, etc.—but plan to also include some thicket areas for natural, food-producing shelter. A 'thicket' is simply a thickly planted mix of small trees, shrubs and flowering plants, and will serve as a favored source of shelter for wildlife in your yard.

A thicket will naturally form in any untended area—all you'll need to do for a quick start is clear an area and plant a native mix of nectar, seed and/or berry-producing shrubs. Some good plants for Texas might include Yaupon and Deciduous Yaupon, Dogwood, Viburnums, Farkleberry, etc.

Include a variety of sizes and types of plants. Plant some wildflowers in the open areas for the first year or two while the thicket fills in. Then Mother Nature will do the rest. Additional plant species will even be contributed by visiting birds! Soon the local wildlife will have a dense, protective, food-laden area in which to seek refuge.

Finding Plants for Your Wildscape

Finding plant materials to populate your yard's wild areas can be part of the fun. A variety of sources exist for wild plants, including nurseries and your local wild environment (please see Tips on Collecting Wild Plants for a guide on responsible wild plant harvesting). Explore your local plant nursery and ask them if they carry native plants. Perhaps the best place will be the abandoned lots and natural areas near your own home.

Heron Stealing Goldfish

Great Blue Heron attempting to sneak up on cistern and steal goldfish.

A few trees and bushes responsibly selected from the wild and carefully transplanted in winter or very early spring (before buds swell) make a good starting place for a wildscape. Be sure to get permission from the landowner!

A bonus of transplanting from the wild is that a variety of native seeds will usually be present in the rootballs of plants you collect. In addition to transplanting, seeds of wild plants can be collected and planted and will quickly grow to fill an area. Native plants often do best when seeded directly into place, in fact, since taproots (important for surviving drought by finding deep water) can develop undisturbed.

Watch for Invasive Plants!

Watch for invasive plant species (poison ivy, ampelopsis, kudzu, etc) appearing in your wildscape, and remove them when they're small and manageable. Persevere against invasive plants or they may soon take over your plantings. A weed has been defined as 'a plant which does not respect diversity.' Your goals in wildscaping are to increase the diversity and health of your yard's plant community, and invasive plants will naturally interfere with both these goals.

Now Start!

Now all you have to do is start! Include as many food source plants as you can find, and don't forget to provide water (small, shallow puddles are popular among many wild creatures). Create a landscape that is beautiful and valuable to animals, then step back and allow it to sustain and evolve itself naturally. Reestablish contact with the food plants and natural environment around you!

For more ideas on backyard habitat planning and species selection, see "How to Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat" on the National Wildlife Federation website. Happy Wildlife Viewing!


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Reprinted from (Perma) Culture and Sanity Website

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