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How to create a wildlife habitat garden

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Looking around my garden I have always felt that it was a special habitat for wildlife.  I have felt that about every garden that I have designed for myself but there are special elements that have to be created in order to truly be a habitat for wildlife.  Recently I decided to see what the process was to be certified as a wildlife habitat and was somewhat surprised by the numbers and kinds of things that you are expected to have in your garden in order to be considered as a wildlife habitat.

I wanted to write this blog to help people understand the various elements that you need to harbor wildlife.  Basically all wildlife need food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young.  Because I am speaking to people all over the world, specific plants will be different for my friends and clients living here in Southern California from those living in England, Australia, South Africa or other parts of the United States.

The best food to attract native animals is native plants.  Native animals are the ones that are under the most pressure from development in our world and are in most need of our support.  That being said, I myself have few native plants in my yards because they require such different conditions from the ones that I “need to test out” for my clients and want to have around me, that I would kill them quickly.  To obtain the status of a habitat you need three of the following elements: Seeds from a plant • Berries • Nectar • Foliage/Twigs • Nuts • Fruits • Sap • Pollen • Suet • Bird Feeder • Squirrel Feeder • Hummingbird Feeder • Butterfly Feeder.  In my gardens I have berries on my Mickey Mouse plant, India Hawthorn and Sacred Bamboo, Fruits on my Kumquat and Pineapple Guava, Pollen on various flowers and Hummingbird Feeders.  I have deferred my bird feeder until my 16 year old cat really gets too old to bring home the victims of her hunts.  One thing to note here is to be cautious about what you mix in your yard.  Suet is good food for Blue Jays who attack Hummingbirds so you want to inform yourself about potential conflicts to minimize death in the garden scenarios. I don’t understand the squirrel feeder.  In my neighborhood, the squirrels eat anything they want anywhere they want.

The second element needed is water.  To certify you need one of the following elements: Birdbath • Lake • Stream • Seasonal Pool • Ocean • Water Garden/Pond • River • Butterfly Puddling Area • Rain Garden • Spring.  I have two- a fountain in the backyard and a fishpond and waterfall in the front yard.  To clarify the water element, you could have something as simple as a bucket that is filled with water.  You do however need to be cautious, depending on the area of the country that you live in about the mosquito habitat that you may be providing as well.  My son, the biologist, assures me that I have created and maintain a wonderful habitat for mosquitoes despite the precautions I take by using “dunks” whenever I think of it.  I am seriously considering an owl box to help rid me of the mosquitoes but my old cat may not like being the prey instead of the hunter.  See how complications arise?

The third element you need is cover so that wildlife can shelter from weather and predators.  To certify you need two of the following: Wooded Area • Bramble Patch • Ground Cover • Rock Pile or Wall • Cave • Roosting Box • Dense Shrubs or Thicket • Evergreens • Brush or Log Pile • Burrow • Meadow or Prairie • Water Garden or Pond.  So here, my water pond doubles for a shelter and ground covers and dense shrubs are great shelters.   I try to keep my gardeners from making my shrubs too clean and open so that I can harbor birds in many places in the garden.  There is nothing like walking through a path in my garden and being scolded by birds that are claiming their territory.

The fourth and last element needed is a place for wildlife to raise their young.  To certify you need two of the following: Mature Trees • Meadow or Prairie • Nesting Box • Wetland • Cave • Host Plants for Caterpillars • Dead Trees or Snags • Dense Shrubs or a Thicket • Water Garden or Pond • Burrow.  Because my property is 60 – 70 years old I have several large trees to harbor birds, racoons, and squirrels.  I have host plants such as milkweed for caterpillars and a surprising place that I have watched birds raise their young every year that I have lived here is the light fixtures along my front porch and walkway.  Although it comes with the downside of bird poop on the walkway, it has been a great source of delight to my family every year of our life here.

No matter how urban setting you live in, from an apartment with a balcony to a large property, you have the ability to encourage a plethora of delightful wildlife that helps to support our world and will provide you with endless delight.  If you wish to become certified, you do that through the National Wildlife Federation.  Here’s hoping you enjoy and support your wildlife!

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Discussion

  1. Shelley Sparks  June 17, 2015

    Thanks for the heads up. Will check it out.

    (reply)

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