There are 6 easy steps to create a National Wildlife Federation certified wildlife habitat
Plant native plants that have nectar, fruits and seeds. For our avian friends, supplement these natural food sources with bird feeders when natural foods are not in abundance. Look to provide diverse food supplies throughout the entire year. If you use native plants, you’ll also save time and conserve water, since native plants are adapted to living in the local climate. Ask us for suggestions and sources.
Wildlife depends upon access to clean drinking water in order to survive. Backyard ponds, bird baths, and even puddles have immense value to creatures always looking for a clean, reliable source of water.
One of the easiest things to do is to set up a bird bath in your yard. You don’t need to set it on a pedestal, a small saucer just above the ground will do. Birds will not bathe in deep water so be sure to keep the water shallow, about 2 inches deep or less. You also want to site it where you will be able to see it and remember to keep it clean and filled. Place it near protective cover to give the birds a lookout spot to check for safety as they approach or where they can flee if danger arises. A shady spot is also beneficial as it will keep the water cooler and give the birds a place to cool off. Be sure to provide year round. Birds need water in cold weather also. (Ask us about heated bird baths.)
A backyard pond provides even greater benefit and will attract more wildlife to your yard. There are many design considerations to include to provide impetus for wildlife to visit your pond and we include a couple of suggestions to increase it’s wildlife value . Be sure to incorporate a sloping edge around part or all of the pond’s perimeter. This will encourage wildlife to bath, feed or simply get a drink. Using native pond plants will provide greater benefit and attract wildlife since they are adapted to each other. Be sure to provide rocks and logs that are partially emerged to provide perches for sun bathing.
Harsh weather and predators present a constant threat to our local wildlife. Cover, such as rock or brush piles, evergreens, snags, and even man-made bird and bat houses, all provide needed protection. Native vegetation not only provides wildlife a place to hide from predators and the weather, but also when artfully incorporated into your yard, increases the wild appeal of your garden.
Brush and rock piles are great hiding places for small animals and again help make your garden look more natural. Resist the urge to make your property too neat when it comes to downed wood from trees. Dead wood provides habitat. It returns nutrients to the soils as it decays and supports insect life. The undersides of logs can become a critical source of moisture. Small mammals and reptiles use the logs as part of their nesting and hunting areas.
Provide Places To Raise Young
Many of the places we mentioned that make good cover, like native trees or shrubs, are also ideal locations to reproduce and raise the next generation. Try to offer habitat that meets the needs of all phases of the life cycle. For example, you may supply the Monarch Butterfly with the non-native and invasive Butterfly Bush, but they need a specific plant for their larval stage – the milkweed plant. You also need a steady supply of insects for food. Most insects are not generalists. They evolved in coordination with specific native species and only eat those species. If you plant non-natives you will lose those insects. According to Doug Tallamy, the celebrated entomologist from the University of Delaware, “Ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds rear their young on insects.” A pair of chickadees requires between 6,000 and 9,000 insects to raise a single clutch of chicks. No wonder the bird population has seriously declined! We have inadvertently killed it off with our applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
Use wildlife-friendly landscaping methods.
- Reduce lawn area
If you can only do one thing for the environment we suggest removing some of your lawn and planting a garden. Your lawn provides little to no environmental advantages for local wildlife, all the while requiring considerable time, water, chemicals, and energy to maintain. Watering your lawn contributes to water runoff, and much of the fertilizers and pesticides added to keep it green go along with it.
Leave your grass clippings on your lawn. They return nutrients to the soil and mean less work for you while reducing additions to landfills. Other recommendations include mowing to no less than 2.5” high to protect the roots, limiting watering (in the morning) to when rainfall has been less than one inch per week and using organic fertilizers. See the Ewing Township Department of Public Works sustainable lawn care pamphlet.
- Don’t use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides
Pesticides and herbicides kill off the insects that are an integral part of the food web for wildlife. They can pose health risks to families and pets, and can contaminate water supplies. Learn to look at holes in your leaves, not as imperfections in an unsustainable goal, but rather as providing life sustaining support for the myriad creatures in Mother Nature’s food web.
Synthetic fertilizers provide short term improvements to the growth of plants and increased yields of fruits and vegetables; but in the long term, they contribute to pollution, migrating into ground water, rivers, lakes and oceans. Many areas now have dangerously elevated levels of nitrogen in their drinking water.
Create a compost pile/bin in a away location on your property. You can set up a bin, dump it in a pile, go formal (and faster) with a compost tumbler, or go simple and just dig a hole or trench in an out of the way spot in the yard and throw in your ingredients. Compostables include vegetative kitchen waste, yard debris, and host of other household recyclables such as cardboard, shredded paper, non-glossy junk mail, sawdust and more. The practice is eminently sustainable as it both reduces waste that would otherwise be sent to a landfill and recycles nutrients.
Choose the right plant for the right place to help you use water wisely. Native plants need less watering because they have deeper root systems and are best adapted to our local area. Employ xeriscaping practices and keep plants with the same water needs together. If you do have to water to establish new plants, use sustainable watering practices such as drip irrigation and watering early in the morning to reduce evaporation. Install a rain garden and rain barrel(s) to capture storm water. This not only improves water quality and directs water back into the soil where it can be used by the plants, but also reduces storm water runoff; prevents flooding, erosion and water pollution.
Mulching is a time honored practice used to prevent loss of moisture, control weeds and improve the appearance of the garden. The practice calls for placing a layer of organic material over the root zone of a plant to benefit the roots and the soil. Materials may include wood chips, bark, pine needles, straw, leaves, grass clippings or compost. These will eventually break down, in the process adding organic matter to the soil and enriching it.
We do not recommend mulching with inorganic materials such as rock/pebbles, landscape fabric, or even shredded rubber tires, because they do not decompose. You can also plant your garden densely for a pleasing and lush landscape, leave the resulting plant litter in place, and receive free mulch, fertilizers, nutrients, and weed control.
Certify your garden with the National Wildlife Federation and help spread the word! Share your certification success with the Green Team and the Environmental Commission and help us to encourage other Ewing gardeners to do the same. Use their Garden Certification Walk Through Checklist to see where you meet the requirements and also to determine what you can do better. Certify online at www.nwf.org/certifiedwildlifehabitat