By Brandon Butler
It doesn’t take a large tract of land to attract wildlife. There’s plenty of room in your yard to grow and nurture plants, bushes and trees that provide benefits to deer, turkeys, squirrels, birds, butterflies and more. This list includes just a few of the options available for creating a backyard habitat for wildlife. You may be surprised at how robust your local wildlife population is once your location becomes the go-to destination for neighborhood critters.
Hunters and anglers aren’t the only ones who appreciate sunflower seeds. Many species of birds, including soulful-sounding mourning doves, as well as squirrels, chipmunks and other small mammals love them. Common sunflowers grow up to 8 feet tall and need about two feet of room to grow. Plant them in full sun and expect flowers to start in mid-summer.
Above ground, native grasses provide essential habitat for most wildlife. Down below, the root structures of native grasses grow much deeper than their man-made cousins, providing soil health benefits and creating robust microbial communities. Big Bluestem is a warm season, perennial grass that grows about six feet tall. Insects will abound in grasses, which means birds will too.
If a snowstorm hits and you have red cedars in your home, the critters will fight to be there safe from the storm. In fact, junipers, red cedars are evergreen trees that provide birds, deer, rabbits and just about any other animal with shelter all year round, but especially during bad weather. The berries provide food from summer to winter. More than 30 species of moths and butterflies lay their eggs on red cedars.
Deer walk right past the red oaks to find the much sweeter acorns of a white oak. White oak acorns have much less tannic acid than reds, making them more palatable. However, they are less hardy, so they are consumed quickly. If given too much time on the ground, they are likely to rot. White oaks only grow about a foot a year, so they need a while to mature. They won’t start producing acorns until they are 20 years old, but a healthy white oak tree will live for hundreds of years. Providing a home for countless squirrels.
If a crab apple tree is good, a group of them is great. Deer love crabapples, but many other species benefit from these trees. The sweet nectar from crab apple flowers attracts pollinators, the thick branches provide nesting shelter for birds, and the fruits are eaten by insects, birds, and mammals. These trees stay relatively small, barely reaching 15 to 20 feet tall. They live to be 70 years old.
If you’re planting blackberry bushes for wildlife, you’ll need to keep yourself from competing with critters for those sweet berries. The bushes do best in climates with warm days and cool nights. Plant them in well-drained soil. They like sandy areas. Be sure to plant your shrubs where they have enough room to spread out. Blackberries will climb up a trellis if you provide one. Once the berries are ripe, the birds will gorge on them, but so will the bears. Be careful if you are in bear country.
These six plantings are just a small example of options to help you attract and retain wildlife in your garden. You don’t need to own a large tract of land to positively impact the habitat needed by local creatures in your area. With a little time and money invested, your garden can be transformed from a monoculture to a diverse wildlife refuge.
An unattributed old Greek proverb states, “Society grows when old men plant trees that they know will never sit in the shade of.” Creating a habitat for wildlife provides a sense of accomplishment and joy that is hard to explain to those who don’t share our love of nature. For those of us who understand, we are grateful for your efforts. So will generations of wildlife enthusiasts who may never know your name, but will be grateful to you for what you did all those years ago.
See you on the trail…
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