Wildlife Habitat On The Homestead
Why Making Space for Bugs and Animals will Help Your Land Stay Healthy
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Anita B. Stone, Raleigh, North Carolina
With an abundance of rural development, only smaller habitats remain for wildlife to thrive. As homesteaders, we can maintain the balance by serving the land. If you ever thought about creating a garden that attracts and helps wildlife maintain its natural existence, now is the time to do it. Woodlands are continuously being developed into roads and buildings. Certifying a homestead habitat will serve a dual purpose by opening a network with other homesteaders and and creating your own balanced ecosystem to sustain wildlife and leave a positive footprint for the future.
Several weeks after buying an old home, which required quite a bit of repair, both inside and out, I eagerly repaired both, when it dawned on me that there was one major issue I neglected to spot — the lack of a habitat for other critters living in my backyard.
I quickly decided to expand the natural habitat, which not only excused me from a perfectly manicured landscape, but also enabled me to help out those creatures that simply needed food, water, cover and a place to raise their young.
I sat on the ruddy-looking deck across from an old fish pond that also catered to a frog family, and heard the cardinals singing to each other. An area for ducks remained unvisited, but food and water was available. An untrimmed Japanese maple stood sandwiched between two cypresses, both of which hung lazily over the fish pond.
After much thought, I decided to feed, water and protect any inhabitants within my landscape. So I began to read books on how to establish a wildlife habitat. I quickly discovered I didn’t have to become an expert, but just follow the guidelines set up by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). And as I looked around the yard I saw several places that would invite and protect many critters, including bees, birds and butterflies.
A major consideration for wildlife protection is to provide wind and safety coverage by offering enough plants and shrubs to camouflage the areas you have selected. Another thought is to provide ample food, including shrubs that offer seeds, nuts, berries, nectar, pollen and foliage. Types of holly provide both excellent cover and offer seeds and berries for the bird population.
I provided clean water from an already existing pond for drinking, taking a dip or two, reproduction, and added a birdbath. For future butterfly populations I set up a “puddling” area where monarchs, yellow and even tiny white butterflies could sip nectar from a newly planted Asclepias (milkweed), a butterfly favorite. I even cleaned out an area that seemed to get wet more frequently as wetlands do and planted a rain garden. I wanted all wildlife visitors to be= well fed, watered and protected.
In order to offer protection from humans, predators and bad weather, I kept several small brush piles. Instead of discarding broken and dead limbs, I created safe living quarters for the visitors. A word of caution — avoid pruning trees and shrubs during the nesting season, from March through July, because of damage to nests which leaves exposure to predators.
Recently we have heard about the disappearance of bees within our ecosystem. Thousands of these pollinators are needed for balancing and maintaining the health of the landscape. With the proper landscape plants from which bees can sip, they will find and drink from what is offered.
USE NATIVE PLANTS
Another simple rule is to use native plants and flowers, which, in turn, require less water — thus practicing water conservation, a major consideration in maintaining a habitat. Planting herbaceous plants, those with soft green stems, also provides cover and food sources during the cold season needed by birds and other creatures. Those include the popular Helianthus (sunflower), aster, and geraniums. Echinacea (coneflower) seeds are popular during the fall and winter seasons. Sedges including Carex provide both cover and habitat. It is no myth that if you find a tree frog residing in your landscape you have done an excellent job because their presence tells you that the landscape is healthy.
Azaleas, holly and hibiscus plants offer fruit and nectar. I planted early fruit producers including serviceberry and American beauty berry.
Vertical vegetation permits ground-dwellers and treetop dwellers to exist in harmony in the same place. The cycle works when leaves fall to the ground and are eaten by leaf eating insects, which provide food for birds and other insects. Carrying the habitat one step further, friendly wildlife landscaping can be done in public places such as schools, work, religious landscapes and other community endeavors. Neighborhood and green space planning require special maintenance and habitats that avoid grassy medians in the center of two-lane roads.
Be aware that planting shrubs along roadsides attract birds, which may be killed by automobile collisions. Make sure that forest buffers are more than 100-feet wide when adjacent to wetlands for other species.
LEAVE IT BE (IF YOU CAN)
It is best to leave natural vegetation in place as much as possible when you move into a newly developed neighborhood. I have seen neighborhoods completely devoid of trees, which leave wildlife no place to eat, drink or sleep without invasion from other species, including people. In new areas it is best to cluster homes and leave parts of the forest as green space, which can be used for nature watching or hiking. Native pine and other vegetation are sure to attract wildlife, especially large trees with enough space above and below ground. Sometimes small areas of green space can be connected with forest areas, known as greenways, which provide excellent forage for wildlife.
Sustainable gardening, conservation of resources and welcoming habitat for wildlife creates a community of healthy cycles for everyone.
In the end, we planted the garden for two reasons; beauty and to provide food for wildlife and nectar for insects. Birds and insects feed on blossoms and leaves. Bees spend a great deal of time visiting flower blossoms. We also have resident squirrels, which can be annoying at times, but providing seeds and nuts will keep them happy and healthy. I am not a wildlife expert, but as long as birds, bees, insects and other critters appreciate nature’s offerings, I feel that I should play my part in keeping the balance of nature alive. I look forward to leaving a positive footprint across my landscape to protect and keep a clean environment for the future.
Why Is Wildlife Protection Important?
One statement from wildlife expert, Janet Allen, in Syracuse, New York, who was concerned about the loss of habitat and its effect on wildlife, read, “What if each person was to become a responsible steward of his or her own piece of the Earth? Imagine what a difference that would make”. Allen summed it up when she stated, “My backyard has become a microcosm of the whole world for me.” — Anita B. Stone
For further information contact: National Wildlife Federation at www.nwf.org. For additional certification contact: Native Plant Garden Certification at www.npg.org.