As more and more of our natural areas disappear and make way for human habitation or agricultural uses, butterflies, songbirds and other wild creatures find it harder and harder to find a place to live that provides all the elements they need to survive. Natural habitats are damaged further by invasive plants that often spread from our lawns and gardens, and by the overuse of fertilizers. But don’t despair. There is something you can do about this negative trend and it starts in your own backyard. After all, with a little thought and effort you can create natural spaces with the essentials to provide a welcome habitat for your furry, feathery or fluttery friends.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of non-native plants we’ve cultivated in our landscapes for more than a century don’t provide sufficient food for native wildlife. When you grow native trees, shrubs and plants, you give wildlife the nectar, pollen, fruits, leaves, seeds and nuts – and even insects – they need. Since space is usually limited in the typical home garden, it makes sense to plant the native species that provide the best food and shelter possible for birds and other wildlife.
Like all living things, wildlife needs water for drinking as well as bathing and cooling off. Water can be a scarce commodity in arid areas and in cities. Nature provides water to wildlife in a multitude of ways that the homeowner can replicate, such as a shallow in-ground pool or pond, water barrel or birdbath.
COLOR AND VARIETY
For a truly natural garden, plant some colorful flowers and shrubs that will help attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, butterflies and bees. Also choose plants of different sizes and scents that flower at different times of the year. Taller flowers will attract flying friends such as dragonflies, while night scented plants such as buddleia and evening primrose will draw moths, a favorite midnight snack of bats.
To provide maximum habitat for the widest array of wildlife, it helps to have a variety of native vegetation, including trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses, found in nearby natural areas.
Native trees, shrubs, thickets, grasses, brush piles and man-made shelters (like bird or bat houses) serve as homes and shelters for a wide variety of wildlife. All trees and shrubs can provide excellent cover for birds, especially evergreens, such as conifers. The seeds in their cones are an important source of food for some bird species. When possible plant native pines and other conifers that are more likely to host the native insects birds in your region depend on.
When building a backyard wildlife habitat avoid the use of pesticides, which can harm birds and other wildlife directly or contaminate the flowers or vegetation that are their food source.
To find native plants that will help bring your backyard wildlife garden to life, go to the Native Plant Finder at www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/About/Native-Plants or check out the Mississippi State Extension Service website at http://extension.msstate.edu/lawn-and-garden.