Wildlife Gardening

Wildlife gardening can bring much enjoyment. While some animals are legitimate pests, like ground hogs and japanese beetles, others can usually be tolerated, and even encouraged. Some of us like to take the approach that any animals in our gardens are a threat and deal with those threats severely. Others take a live and let live approach, planting something for the animals and some for themselves. Gardening, being a man made replication of nature, is all about balance.

Once your garden becomes established, you can share your garden with wildlife by combining flowering plants and adding a water source. By adding a wide range of plants including trees, shrubs, ground covers, and grasses, you will get occasional visits from birds, insects, and small animals. Wildlife or fauna (that comes from the Roman goddess of fertility and earth), will find the garden a source for food. Four vital elements are needed for them to stay: food, water, shelter, and places to nest.

Many of the insects and animals will enjoy feeding on berry bushes like raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and currants. Unfortunately, if you are growing these plants, you probably like them too. As the fruits start to ripen on the plants that you planted for yourself, cover them with netting to keep the wildlife at bay.

Water in the form of a pond or a fountain running over rocks is a good water source. Shelters can be provided by adding dirt and rock piles for cover for the newborns. Other natural shelters include dense shrubs or hollow logs. Man-made shelters can include bird houses and nesting boxes.

Birds will feed on annual flowers like Sunflowers, Marigold, Poppies, and Zinnias. Perennial flowers such as the Chrysanthemum, Coreopsis, Coneflower, Globe Thistle, and Black-Eyed Susan are favorites. Birds also like shrubs such as Bayberry, Chokecherry, Viburnum, and Serviceberry and they will certainly be attracted to a birdfeeder or two. Birds will also use evergreens for shelter and nesting. Adding birdbaths especially ones that have little fountains will provide the needed water and quite delightful to all. No garden attraction is more spectacular than a hummingbird. They feed on the nectar of flowers such as Phlox, Rose of Sharon, Morning Glory, Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, and Azalea. Hummingbirds also love sipping sugar water added to special feeders.

Butterflies also add dazzling color to a garden. Butterflies will bask in the morning sun until their body temperature is high enough for them to fly. Add a flat, dark-colored stone or sand for sun bathing. Tall grasses and wildflowers provide food and shelter. Butterflies love colors and fragrance. Flowers planted in large quantities of the same type will attract them visually and fragrantly. Spring blooming plants preferred by butterflies are Forget-Me-Nots, Lilac, Rhododendron, Chives, Violet, Sweet William, Heliotrope, and Lupine. Summer blooming plants include Asclepias (Butterfly Weed), Day Lilly, Coreopsis, Hollyhock, Lavender, Phlox, Tomato, Yarrow, Salvia, Zinnia, Purple Coneflower, and Marigold. Bees will help pollinate the plants and dragonflies will consume pesky mosquitoes.

Reptiles and Amphibians are most at home among rocks, fallen leaves, and timber. For example, small lizards will sun themselves on rocks and snatch insects that come too close. They can hide among the rocks if they suspect danger. Frogs and toads are a nice addition to the garden with their croaking and children will thoroughly enjoy the tadpoles. Frogs require a pretty dense cover like water lilies or other floating plants in a stream or a pond. A toad will be attracted to a small terracotta hut in the garden. To make the hut use a small terracotta pot with a chunk taken out near to top of the pot and placed upside down in the garden. Then place the drainage dish upside down on top of the pot. The toads will eat grubs, slugs, beetles, and other bugs you don’t want around.

Snakes are common to gardens. The most common one that you will encounter is the common Garter snake. Often mistakenly called garden or gardener snakes, there are many different species. Like all snakes, they are carnivorous and will eat anything that they can catch such as slugs, earthworms, insects, amphibians, rodents, birds or fish. When encountering humans, they usually go the other way. They may bite if cornered, like any animal, but their bite is harmless, mostly like a scratch. Like all of the other living things in your garden, they are part of nature and they exist for a purpose. In some parts of the country gardeners may encounter poisonous snakes. Gardeners living in these areas should know what poisonous snakes are around and use caution when working in areas where these snakes are known to frequent, such as rock piles. Like insects, and other animals, some people have an irrational fear of snakes, but garter and other snakes have a natural fear of humans that is stronger which is why their preferred method of defense is to quietly slither away when they sense your presence unless startled.

Bats are also an interesting addition to the wildlife garden. They help control a mosquito problem. Bats are also a good source of pollination for the garden. You can place a bat house near the garden for them the gather and stay together. When choosing a location for a bat house, a tree is not a good idea because bats need warmth, and trees will hide sunlight. Many people choose to mount them on the sides of barns or sheds. Bat droppings, or guano, are also a very good addition to the compost pile because of the high phosphorus content.

The use of pesticides in the wildlife area is not recommended. With time, an established ecosystem will preserve the garden balance.

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