Gardening for Wildlife Part II-Creating a Natural Habitat for Wildlife

Humming Bird 1-300x193 in Gardening for Wildlife Part II-Creating a Natural Habitat for Wildlife and gardeningtipsRegardless of what you may call home, wildlife can be attracted to your living space and can turn into a very enjoyable hobby.  Before rolling out the welcome mat to wildlife, one must first do a little homework and consider whom you want to invite.  Butterflies and birds are the most common animals attracted to a wildlife habitat, but do not forget the less commonly attracted insects.  These include ladybugs, walking sticks, moths, and bees including honey and bumble.  Once you have decided the guests you would like to invite, you will then need to find out the living requirements of each species.

Despite the species you plan to attract, you will need to keep in mind that your “new scape” needs to please both you and your new guests.  If your garden space is a more traditional design, attracting wildlife can be a challenge because most wildlife habitats are created in a loose fitting design.  To compensate for this design paradox, simply search your local nursery for native plants that will fit into your present landscape style.


Creating a Birdscape

A birdscape is a landscape designed to attract birds.  Birds in the landscape not only provide additional beauty to the environment, but also can provide insect and rodent control.

To start a birdscape, one must first survey what is available.  You will be more successful in this type of landscape if you use a variety of plants that create different niches.  This includes tall trees, understory trees, and shrubs that are both deciduous and evergreen. These plants will also provide nesting sites for your new guests.

Utilizing deciduous trees creates another environment for ground feeding species.  These species, including sparrows and titmice, can be found in the fall and winter turning over the leaves in search of tasty insect snacks.

Next, evaluate your ground cover.  Many birds, such as quail and sparrows, use ground cover to protect themselves and their young from predators.  This can include ornamental grasses or shrubs.

If your existing landscaping is a typical monoculture arrangement of shrubs and grass, one may consider purchasing plant material that will be a food source beyond the birdfeeder.  These include many plants that produce berries in the fall and winter.

Other items that one may consider adding to their landscape design include a water source, dust bath and houses.  A decorative birdbath is all that is needed to provide water.  If it seems that the birds have a hard time getting the water, place a few sticks across the top of the birdbath.  This will create a support for the birds while they drink.  When the winter winds blow though either empty the birdbath to prevent it from cracking or add a water heater designed to heat water in this structure.  A dust bath, on the other hand, may not meet any of the basic living requirements of birds but for what ever reason many bird species need this activity.  It does provide grit that is needed for birds’ to digest food and a fun activity.  To create your own, simply provide an area that is three square feet or less in diameter and six inches deep.  Fill this area with a combination of sand, loam and sifted wood ash.  To add a finishing touch, edge the dust bath area with wood, brick or stone.

If you plan to incorporate birdhouses into your design, make sure you do your homework. Many birdhouses are beautiful, but not functional. Each species of bird has its own requirements for a home, which includes the opening size, materials it is made from, and where it is located.

After you have evaluated your present design and have decided what species you would like to attract, it is time to plan your birdscape.  To get you started in this process, there exist some common plants that many different species use.  This list will help you attract a wide range birds, but do not limit yourself to these few.

Deciduous Trees

Dogwood
Mountain Ash
Sumac
Oak

Evergreen

Pine
Holly
Juniper
Fir
Spruce

Grasses

Ornamental grasses
Unkept lawns
Marsh grasses

Flowers

Zinnia
Cosmos
Roses
Rudbeckia
Blueberry

Creating a Butterflyscape

The process for creating a butterflyscape is very similar to those utilized for a birdscape.  Butterflies need shelter and this can be created by trees and shrubs, which protects them from predators while fences and buildings protect them from blowing wind.

While many butterfly species migrate, some remain in the area and require some type of overwintering spot.  This can simply be made from a pile of wood, but the wood has to be stacked so that the butterflies can use it.  To do this, simple lay several three to six feet long logs in a criss-cross fashion until the pile reaches three to five feet.  This arrangement will create many open spaces for the butterflies to hide in and hibernate.  If you want a more decorative way of helping your butterflies hibernate, there are hibernation boxes that can be purchased and set up in your garden space.

Butterflies also need open spaces so that the sun can warm their wings.  To aid in this basking routine, place several rocks of different space, colors and sizes.  These rocks will give the butterflies a place to perch and bask.

Water is another important need that butterflies have, but providing this water can be tricky.  Butterflies cannot drink from deep water or even a birdbath.  To create a drinking area for the butterflies, just sink a shallow container of moist sand into the ground.  Lay some sticks across the container or place stones into the sand.  Both of these items will create perches for the butterflies.

To attract butterflies, two different types of plants need to be present.  These include nectar and host plants.  Nectar plants are those that provide food for the butterflies.  Host plants, on the other hand, are those that feed the offspring or caterpillars of butterflies.

Below is a partial list of plants that provide food for butterflies and food for caterpillars.  Keep in mind though, butterflies utilize plant material better when it is planted in clumps verses in rows.  If you want to attract a certain species, you will need to research that particular species requirement.

Nectar Plants

Thistle
Milkweed
Phlox
Sunflower

Host Plants

Nettles
Lilac
Aster
Herbs such as dill and parsley

Creating a Habitat for Unique Wildlife

Most individuals do not consider attracting ladybugs, moths or bees into the environment until there is a problem.  These insects are easy to attract with just a few changes.

Ladybugs are a great insect to have in any garden space.  They are an organic way of dealing with many insects that cause plant damage such as aphids and spider mites.  To attract these beneficial insects to the environment, plant vegetation that is umbrella-shaped or consider planting cilantro, fennel, dill, cosmos, geraniums, and coreopsis.  Also, ladybugs are attracted to moisture.  To create a moist environment, water plants in the morning.

In addition, ladybugs can use a home.  Many homes designed for ladybugs can be found in the spring or can even be made from household items such as a cereal box.

Moths are another unique form of wildlife that many gardeners ignore.  Moths are great pollinators and have an important role in gardening.  A good way of attracting moths to the landscape is to sow plants that bloom at night.  This includes many different types of glories and gourds.

All gardeners should be familiar with bees, but there are more to bees than just honey bees.  Mason and bumble bees are just as important to the gardening environment.  To attract these bees to the environment provide a wide range of blooming flowers and a simple bee house.

If this process is too confusing, resort back to a time tested method of attracting wildlife.  This method is simply to plant an array of native plants in your landscaping.  This will create a landscape that is easier to take care of and attract wildlife at the same time.

A final note on creating a wildlife habitat, if you plan to use any type of pesticide wildlife landscaping is not practical.  Any type of pesticide will kill some aspect of that scape you have created.  If you decide wildscape is for you, do not forget to let those around you know that your area is pesticide free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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