{Food & Gardening} Creating a Backyard Habitat

Now that we’re well into summer a lot of talk about backyard plants revolves around those in our vegetable and flower gardens. Tomatoes are getting bushy, heads of lettuce are filling out and blooming flowers provide pleasing pops of color. As nice as vegetables and flowers are, our backyards, patios and other outdoor spaces can benefit more than just ourselves. Often urban landscaping pushes out wildlife and introduces invasive species to an area but there are things we can do to help bring back wildlife and native plants, even to small outdoor spaces.

Eliminate invasive species from your yard. Many aggressive invasive plants can push out native plants and don’t benefit native animals. Eliminating them from your property will benefit both wildlife and plants.

Landscape with native plants. Native plants provide food and habitat for native animals. They are also suited to your particular environment so they are easy to take care of, often don’t need a lot of watering and can be just as beautiful as the exotic plants you can find at big garden centers. If you’re not sure where to start, visit locally-owned nurseries as they’re likely to carry native plants. Also, many communities have Native Plant Societies or other organizations that hold native plant sales in the spring.

Layer your landscape. A variety of textures and heights in your garden will attract wildlife and provide cover to many different animals. If you think about a single tree planted in the middle of a vast lawn, you can probably see how it won’t be very inviting to a bird. What else is there to attract them? Will they want to cross all that grass just for one small tree? (Besides, grass really isn’t all that awesome, as I’ve written about before.) Imagine that same tree surrounded by some lower shrubs that provide berries and places for birds to perch.  Even lower, flowers attract bees, low-growing plants and ground cover provides shelter for beneficial insects and other small creatures and there can still be room for a patch of grass.

Provide food and water for animals. Put up a birdfeeder, choose plants that provide seeds and berries, add a small pond, birdbath, or even a dish of water for animals to drink from. Animals will quickly seek out your yard as a refuge.

Create a space where animals can raise their young. Put up birdhouses, bat-boxes, or mason bee boxes. Choose plants that attract butterflies and provide food for their larvae so they’ll lay eggs. The layered planting that provide cover for animals can also provide safe places for them to raise their young.

Even if all you have is a small balcony or patio, many of these steps can be taken to start attracting wildlife. If you’re serious about creating a backyard habitat, there are certifications you can pursue. The National Wildlife Foundation has a Certified Wildlife Habitat Program. You have to complete a few of the suggestions I’ve mentioned here and your outdoor space, large or small, can be certified as a Wildlife Habitat. My city of Portland, Oregon has its own Backyard Habitat Certification, as does the state of Florida and probably many other local areas.

What steps have you taken to make your outdoor space wildlife-friendly? Have you seen any animals in your backyard? What step are you inspired to take to make your outdoor space more of a wildlife habitat?

(photos, from top to bottom, are from flickr users hunda, drivebybiscuits1, Flatbush Gardener, loimere, Greg Lilly Photos, and Max0rz.)

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  1. Our suburban New York backyard has been a registered wildlife habitat for 5 years now. it brings us joy everyday in all seasons.