Gardening for Wildlife
Written by: Dottie Baltz
Many years ago, I made a commitment to myself, to the environment, and to my neighbors, that I would garden in a responsible manner, so that whatever I did to my own yard and gardens would not negatively impact the surrounding environment. Mother Nature has a way of healing herself without our help, but when we add loads of chemicals to her soil and water or displace wildlife by building up all the open land and forests, she has a little tougher time getting over that.
As a general rule, I do not use:
- Synthetic fertilizers, such as Miracle Grow
- Synthetic weed killers (including Round Up)
- Kill off bad bugs with chemicals
I do however:
- Encourage wildlife to take up residence in our yard
- Encourage beneficial bugs to our yard to control the bad bugs
- Use organic methods for weed control
- Use organic fertilizers and compost to improve the soil
- Only use homemade or organic pesticides when absolutely necessary; but honestly, I can't remember the last time I needed to
It's all about balance.
Now, when I say "garden for wildlife", I basically mean that you should provide food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young for a variety of animals. This would include birds, snakes, frogs, toads, butterflies and bees to name a few.
Without birds, we would be bombarded with mosquitoes, slugs, snails and other nasty critters. Without snakes we would be over run with mice and voles. Without toads we'd be bombarded with a multitude of insects, slugs, and snails. Without butterflies, bees and wasps, we would not be able to pollinate our food crops. So you see, every creature has a reason for being on this earth, so we need to do our part to help keep it all in balance.
You also need to be aware that nature has cycles....cycles where some critters might be abundant one year because of the weather or what have you and then other years when their population is down, so don't panic if one year you notice a lot of vole damage. Most likely, in the next year or two the population will be down again if their are natural predators in the area.
In our yard, I do not necessarily encourage critters that can be destructive. We buried chicken wire all along our sheds and outbuildings so that the skunks, woodchucks (groundhogs) and rabbits would not nest right in the yard. Woodchucks will eat nearly everything in site, as will rabbits, if the population is too high, and we all know how stinky skunks can be.
I keep a brush pile for lizards, toads, snakes and yes, even mice. The mice are eaten by the snakes, so it's not usually a problem. The pile is away from the house and has never posed a problem.
Water is an important thing for all life whether it be humans, animals, or plants. Without water, the earth and everything on it would die. I provide a birdbath for the birds to bathe in and drink out of. This bath is off the ground at least 4' feet so that the birds do not get attacked by neighborhood cats and other predators. I also provide water on the ground for other animals. Mud puddles will provide butterflies with the water and nutrients they need to survive.
Food can be in the form of plants that provide seeds or berries that the birds can eat, or can mean that you feed the birds yourself with birdseed. Planting a variety of trees and shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen will provide ample shelter and places to raise young.
To prove my commitment, I registered my yard as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. You don't need to register to show your commitment, but it's a worthy cause. Check out their website for more information on what you can do to turn your yard into a Backyard Wildlife Habitat.