I know spring is here. The redwing blackbirds are back at our feeders, the peeps and whistles of the spring peepers are getting louder each day, and a box of seeds showed up in the mailbox this week. In the last few years, we have planted two pollinator gardens in hopes of attracting a variety of pollinators and other wildlife species. This year, we wish to expand by adding a variety of herbs, thus the box of seeds, so our selection includes basil, oregano, dill, and several others. You too can help pollinators and many wildlife species. With more than 70 percent of the land in the United States privately owned, it follows that wildlife depends on homeowners and agricultural producers like you and me! No matter the size of your property, from many acres to a small lot, you can garden for wildlife.
The components of a wildlife-friendly garden and yard are food, water for drinking and bathing, shelter from weather and predators, and space in which to raise young. You can create mini-ecosystems based on the characteristics of your site. Do you have full or partly sunny locations or is the site generally shady all day? How moist is the soil? Generally, locations facing south and/or west are dryer than those facing east and/or north. Even a small yard can be attractive to birds, butterflies, beneficial insects and small animals. Trees, shrubs, and other plants provide food and shelter. The plant species will determine what wildlife will be attracted to your site. Supplemental materials such as nesting boxes, feeders, and watering sites can further enhance your wildlife gardens.
Here is a list from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service which can help you get started:
• Identify all existing plants, if any and note their condition and location.
• Make a sketch. Include existing plants, buildings, utilities and pathways. Evaluate each plant’s contribution to the wildlife habitat components to decide if it should stay or be removed.
• Add trees, shrubs, flowers, and groundcovers to your sketch. It is perfectly acceptable for the changes to be implemented in phases as time and money allow. It is better to start small and build slowly so that you can manage your project(s) easily.
• Go native! Native species are well suited for the local soil, climate, and wildlife and generally require less maintenance and watering.
• Plant the trees first. Evergreen species provide year round cover and shelter. Fruit or nut bearing plants provide food sources. Trees and shrubs contribute pollen and nectar too.
• Fill in with smaller shade tolerant understory trees and shrubs. These provide vertical structure which is common in natural landscapes.
• Flowering annuals and perennials add color and can be added at any stage to attract birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects. Consider using native grasses which provide beauty as well as food and shelter.
The National Wildlife Federation has a great website full of information about creating wildlife habitat through gardening and includes a certification program. There are videos and fact sheets galore, too, so check out www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat/. Another informative resource is the Pollinator Partnership, which offers Ecoregion Planting Guides as free downloads, just type in your zip code for your region at https://pollinator.org/guides.
Managing your property for wildlife is good for improving soil health and conserving water. For other conservation information and ideas, check out the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District’s website at www.delawareswcd.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.