Attract and Protect Wildlife in Your Garden
by Marci Hayden
Here are some guidelines to guarantee your garden will attract and protect wildlife.
The rules are pretty simple: provide life’s basic essentials and you’ll be rewarded with opportunities to share your domestic tranquility with some of nature’s creatures.
Food: Grow fruit and berry producing plants and trees, or place store-bought or hand-made feeders around your yard. Even peanuts (either the shelled or unshelled kind) and sliced fruit on a secure plastic tray can serve as a major attraction; make sure to keep it clean, and remove any uneaten fruit regularly. Your garden must offer meals if you want anyone to live there!
Shelter: Some good plants to grow: crab apples, hollies, junipers, magnolias, pines, roses. Provide housing by including a variety of sizes and shapes of bushes and trees. Low-growing and medium-sized hedges will give birds and critters the convenience of comfortable places to stay or dash into when any kind of danger approaches. All types of wildlife love to hide and most usually they are hiding from you!
Water: Perhaps the most important thing in our gardens during the summer months is fresh water. Dehydration quickens health problems for every living thing. Try keeping a few sources of clean, shallow water around the yard. You could have at least one birdbath elevated a couple feet off the ground, located somewhere easily accessible (so you’ll fill it and clean it often). Then place another shallower dish or two in open areas for butterflies to sit and sip or even for nocturnal raccoons to dip their food.
Nesting: If your garden has different levels of bushes, hedges and trees, abundant nest-building material probably already exists. Stacking logs, rocks, or even broken concrete provides safe haven for small scurrying critters who would rather not have you ever lay eyes on them (including spiders, lizards, salamanders, and small rodents). Unfortunately for these little critters, mounded rocks can look untidy in an urban landscape, so hide these stacked materials behind a wall or fence if you can. Any place toward the back of your property where these piles can be left undisturbed is ideal. Habitat diversity is what you’re striving for, so this includes insects and ground crawlers.
Domestic Animals: Keep all pets contained indoors, or at least confined to certain parts of your yard. Leave some part of the garden safe for wildlife to flourish unimpeded by domestic animals’ instinctive predatory behavior.
Shrubbery: Growing bushes for shelter is just one of the multitude of reasons why shrubs are so important for wildlife in a garden. Flowering shrubs or hedges help to create a hospitable wildlife environment because most will attract beneficial insects, and the plants with berries or hips provide perfect food for birds as well as visual interest for us to enjoy. Planting bushes in groups, in areas that receive little human traffic, is one of the surest ways to attract and protect wildlife.
Do Not Use Pesticides or Herbicides: Every time petrochemicals are applied to deter growth or repel bugs, something living gets killed. Whenever death and destruction occur in the garden at the hand of humankind, it’s not part of nature’s plan and can only be accounted for in unnatural ways. Another way of saying this is, “for every action, there is a reaction”: the ground water, the runoff, the seeds, and even the snails, along with all the birds, etc. that eat and drink outdoors will also get poisoned unavoidably from these chemicals. Instead, garden according to nature’s plan, using only mechanical means of eliminating weeds or chasing off the aphids we want to rid from our gardens.
Pull unwanted weeds as soon as they surface by hand or hoe, or use a weed whacker for taller weeds. Remember, if weeds don’t receive water, they’ll eventually die back to the ground. When weeds get brown and crisp, all you do is gather them up or rake aside–of course the problem is, by then they’ve had a chance to spread seeds, so take note to catch them earlier. Mulch on top, add compost to all the garden beds, and you won’t have as many weeds next season.
For uninvited insects, a strong spray of water from a garden hose will usually deter or completely eliminate the invaders. Once you keep unwanted bugs off desired plants, the beneficial insects already present in the garden have a chance to devour their enemies before any population gets to be a problem. Remember: infestation is only accelerated by applying toxic pesticides! Don’t be fooled by the advertisements; whenever sprays are used to kill greenery, the death is indiscriminate and you’ll also lose the time and money it took to acquire and grow all the “good” plants.
Bottom Line: Wildlife just won’t live peacefully in a garden if pesticides or herbicides are present. The smell and taste of chemicals bans them from the site and can hasten their demise as well.
Go Organic: A number of good resources can assist with organic propagation. We are very fortunate to have nearby Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center, a not-for-profit garden supply and education center located in Palo Alto, located at 559 College Avenue (650) 493-6072.