Create an Organic Wildlife Habitat: The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden Certification Program

One of the joys of organic gardening is the knowledge that you are engaging in a hobby that can increase the quality of the air, water, and soil in your community. Even if you weren’t thinking about wildlife when you started gardening organically, one of the serendipitous side effects of sustainable gardening is the nurturing of local wildlife. Consider creating a certified National Wildlife Federation (NWF) wildlife habitat in your organic garden to let others know of your commitment to supporting natural ecosystems.

The NWF is a charitable, educational organization that has existed in its present form since 1938. Over 90,000 gardeners have certified their yards since the program began. Although the exclusive use of organic gardening techniques isn’t required for certification, organic gardening methods complement NWF certification standards.

You don’t need a large-scale garden to receive certification. Even an apartment balcony can receive certification if it meets the standards for food, water, shelter, and sustainable gardening practices. If your home is already certified, consider other locations: the NWF also provides wildlife habitat certification to schools, offices, and places of worship.

Examine your garden for these wildlife habitat friendly features, and begin the certification process when the garden fulfills the four requirements.

Food Sources for Wildlife

  • Check the organic garden for fruits, nuts, berries, or seeds. This can include berries or seeds from native plants not grown for human consumption.
  • Flowering plants qualify as a food source if they provide nectar, sap, or pollen for wildlife.
  • If plants are scarce, supplemental feeders can act as a wildlife food source, including seed, suet, and hummingbird feeders.

Water sources for Wildlife

  • Natural water sources on the premises such as a stream, lake, or pond qualify as a wildlife water source.
  • Water sources can be modest, such as a single birdbath or even a mud puddle to serve as a butterfly water source.
  • The organic garden itself may be the water source, if it’s a water garden or rain garden.

Cover for Wildlife and Place to Raise Young

  • Let a fallow area of the organic garden serve as cover for wildlife or a place to raise young. Consider a log pile, dead tree, or dense shrubby area of the garden for shelter.
  • Prominent features in the organic garden, such as ground cover, mature trees, and evergreens qualify as shelter.
  • Structural features such as a rock wall or rock mound provide shelter for newts and beneficial snakes.
  • In a very small garden, a nesting or roosting box can serve as shelter. Even a caterpillar host plant in a pot, such as bronze fennel, serves as a place to raise young.

Sustainable Gardening Techniques to Conserve Resources

  • Organic gardeners can rest assured that the bases are covered in this certification area. Qualifying features include the elimination of chemical fertilizers or pesticides and the use of compost.
  • Water-wise gardening also counts, such as the use of rain barrels, irrigation with drip or soaker hoses, and the inclusion of native plants, which usually require little or no supplemental watering.
  • NWF suggests reduction of lawn space as a sustainable gardening technique, something most organic gardeners are pleased to oblige.