Rethink the way you garden. Don’t buy pansies and mums year after year. Instead, turn your yard into a sanctuary for wildlife by adding layered perennial beds.
Native perennials re-seed themselves or come back from their roots and don’t require replanting. Shrubs that bear berries will ensure a symphony of bird song. Pink, red, and orange blossoms will attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A small pond will lure insect-eating frogs.
Why Grow Habitat?
As the population, suburban communities, and paved surfaces have increased, habitat suitable for plants and animals has decreased. This is a problem. We need bees to pollinate corn, birds to spread seeds, and reptiles to keep insects in check. Food and medicine come from natural sources. There are many reasons why we need a balance of plants and animals to ensure a healthy and livable environment: the greater the diversity, the better.
By converting all or part of our lawns to diverse habitat, we fill in the gaps between houses and highways. A natural landscaping movement seems to be catching on with those who love to help wildlife and others who enjoy the color and artistry of a lawn that’s more than grass. While a carpet of green grass can be pretty, it doesn’t feed or shelter much of anything. Grass isn’t particularly palatable food for wildlife. In suburban lawns where grass abuts trees, an important layer is missing: most animals thrive in the transitional shrubby area between open space and forest.
When converting a lawn to habitat, homeowners should insert a multi-layered variety of shrubbery, wildflowers and tall grasses. Consider plants that wildlife likes to eat, especially plants with seeds and berries. Leave enough space between plants for movement. Wildlife needs space to seek a mate and rear offspring. Make sure that water is available for wildlife.
Plants also provide cover for small animals to hide from predators. One of the most disruptive predators is the house cat. If you have a pet keep it inside, especially in the spring when birds, rabbits, and other creatures have their young.
Particular communities of plants attract certain animals. Think about the wildlife you want to attract and make accommodations for them. For example, many types of birds prefer grasses and flowers located next to a border of shrubbery. Some plants require standing water and frogs need moist soil.
But don’t be surprised when flowers attract butterflies and bees. Shrubs with berries attract birds and raccoons. Habitat shouldbe diverse and shouldattract a variety of wildlife. If you build it, they will come!
Plan Your Garden
Plan your habitat to mix the elements of food, water, and cover. Shrubs, piles of leaves and twigs, and tall grasses are the most important element of a habitat because wildlife needs places to hide and rear young. Include cover elements in every quadrant of your landscape.
Use special care to choose plants that are native to your area. Native plants have adapted to the soil and climate. They will live through droughts and will require less fertilizer and pesticide because they evolved to live with the conditions particular to your area. Beware of exotic plants! They have no natural enemies and may overwhelm every other plant in your habitat. English Ivy, for example, is invasive in the Chesapeake Bay region where it can choke and kill a mature tree.
Arrange wildflower beds with complementary colors. Frame wildflower areas with garden paths. Circle water elements with stones. A habitat doesn’t have to be a jungle of vines and waist-high plants that limit your enjoyment. A little planning can add pizzazz.
Your yard should be a retreat for you and your family. Gather in the habitat garden and connect with the variety of plants and animals that are necessary to ensure a healthy environment for all.