This is a great time to make plans for a wildlife garden so you can enjoy seeing numerous kinds of critters!
The idea is to provide nesting locations and shelter from the weather, as well as food and water. You should replace as much lawn area as possible with flowers, native grasses, vines, shrubs, and trees.
Try to create three “layers” of foliage to provide an assortment of habitats. Plants that are not very tall, such as flowers, grasses, and vines, comprise the shortest layer. Small trees and shrubs make up the second or middle layer and the tallest trees and shrubs make up the third layer.
Growing a variety of plants that flower and whose fruits mature at different times of the year will help create year-round availability of food.
Of course, you have to work with the lay of the land and with what you already have on your property. For example, lots of big trees would mean your yard is mostly shaded so you will need to decide whether to grow only shade-loving plants or whether to cut down some or all of your trees.
Note that sunny areas are much more productive than shady areas. Many plants require a minimum of four to eight hours of sun to produce flowers and fruits. Far fewer plants are able to flower and fruit in full shade.
Try to determine the amount of sunshine each area of your yard receives during the growing season (spring through fall) before deciding what to plant where. If you don’t get it quite right, don’t worry. You can relocate plants if they don’t seem to be doing well.
If your soil tends to stay overly wet or dry, you can choose plants that will be “happy” to live under those conditions or you can amend the soil.
Making brush piles and putting up wildlife boxes and shelves will help to provide shelter and nesting sites.
Water, which is essential to all life, can be provided by way of an artificial pond, but a shallow pan or saucer of clean water on the ground will do nicely. If the depth is two inches or less, birds will bathe in the water dish, toads will sit in the water for a drink (toads “drink” by absorbing water through their skin), and various kinds of insects will even perch on the edge for a sip.
Wildlife gardeners get to enjoy beautiful surroundings and free entertainment, courtesy of the animals that share the yard. It is very satisfying to realize that these creatures are able to coexist with you because you created a welcoming environment.
Naturalist Marlene A. Condon is the author/photographer of The Nature-friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Plants, Wildlife, and People (Stackpole Books; information at www.marlenecondon.com). If you have a question about plants or animals, or gardening in a nature-friendly manner, please send it to [email protected]