The Ingredients of a Wildlife-Friendly Garden

HERE ARE SOME of the basic ingredients of a wildlife-friendly garden:

Food: You can provide food for birds (and probably squirrels and other animals too) simply by hanging out a bird feeder. But most wild gardeners also try to grow plants that produce nuts, berries, nectar, pollen, and sap that birds and other animals like to eat.

Clean water: All animals need water year-round. (Birds require water not just for drinking but also for bathing, to keep their feathers groomed.) A birdbath, particularly one that is kept thawed in winter, is welcomed by birds and often by other animals as well. Some people build ponds for wildlife; though a large, deep pond is a big project, a shallow pond suitable for birds can be built (using a liner) in just a few hours. Providing clean water also means keeping existing water sources clean – free of herbicides, pesticides, and other contaminants – and not allowing the banks of streams and ponds to be eroded.

Shelter: Animals also need somewhere to raise their young, hide from predators, and shelter themselves from cold. Many people provide birds with nest boxes (also known as bird houses) for nesting or “roost boxes” for winter protection. However, planting the right trees and shrubs can be an even more effective way of providing shelter for animals. Evergreen plants -- pines, junipers, cedars, yews – provide good winter shelter.

If you have a place for them, rock piles and brush piles also make wonderful shelter for animals. (Instead of hauling away brush the next time you prune, try piling it in an inconspicuous corner of your yard.) A dead tree – or “snag” – is considered highly desirable real estate by woodpeckers and many other creatures. If a tree dies on your property, are you sure you want to spend money to have it removed? As long as it doesn’t present a safety hazard, consider leaving it -- the animals will thank you.

Minimizing harmful practices: In gardening as in the rest of life, often what you don’t do is as important as what you do. For instance, wildlife-friendly gardeners try not to use pesticides, which kill beneficial insects along with the pests we are trying to target. (Most of us find that the birds and beneficial insects we attract to our pesticide-free yards eventually take care of most garden pests for us.)

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