Wildlife Landscaping Guidelines

A section explaining each point follows.

  1. Select a mix of native plants that grow, bloom, and seed throughout the year. Include, if you can identify them, the ones already growing in your yard.
  2. Remove aggressive species that don’t provide sustenance to wildlife because they will crowd out species that do. But do it by disturbing as little as possible!
  3. Plant your plants close together.
  4. Limit hard-scaping (decks, driveways, sheds…).
  5. Re-use yard waste or just leave it be altogether.
  6. Don’t spray if at all possible.
  7. Don’t feed the wildlife (directly).
  8. Provide a water source if needed and feasible.
  9. Keep your pets out of the garden/yard when unsupervised.
  10. Learn your local ecosystems. It would be a guideline, but if you focus on the first 9 this happens naturally.

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  1. Select a mix of native plants that grow, bloom, and seed throughout the year. Include, if you can identify them, the ones already growing in your yard.
  • Your plant community is the foundation of your backyard food chain and therefore you want it to be a good source of food. Thanks to a shared evolutionary history native plants will support a much greater diversity of native species, insects in particular, than most non-natives (which can still have a place in your garden!). Since your pool of local species to attract will be mostly native it makes sense to focus on these animals and their preferred nuts, berries, and leaves.
  • A further qualifier, it’s best to find locally (but responsibly) sourced plant material.
  1. Remove aggressive species that don’t provide sustenance to wildlife because they will crowd out species that do. But do it by disturbing as little as possible!
  • Yes, the majority of these plants will be non-native. There are some native species that can overwhelm a small space which you might want to control for your own reasons but the main concern is a plant that wildlife won’t eat taking up big swaths of space in your garden.
  • A word of caution: most “invasives” are really just species that thrive in disturbed ecosystems which is why they show up around humans. Disturb things too much trying to get rid of them and you might be laying out the welcome mat for their return!
  • Let’s lump turf into this category, it may not be aggressive but turf is an ecological wasteland. Kill (at least parts of) your lawn!
  1. Plant your plants close together.
  • As a general rule your adult plants should be crowding each other’s space. Observe how trees grow in a forest or flowers and grass grow in a field. Humans have a weird preference for spacing plants super far apart from each other. Every plant doesn’t have to be for show.
  • This also creates more biomass per land area, which means more food and energy to support your wildlife food chain.
  • Increases habitat and cover for small animals. One tuft of grass all by itself doesn’t provide much security against hawks and company.
  1. Limit hard-scaping (decks, driveways, sheds…).
  • If it’s hard-scape, it’s not animal habitat
  1. Re-use yard waste or just leave it be altogether. (See “Reusing Yard Waste in the Spirit of Spring”)
  • Animals use different kinds of yard waste (small stick pile, big upright log, big log on ground, leaf layer, dead grass, and on and on) to make their homes, as habitat, and for food.
  • In the bigger picture it’s environmentally costly to remove all of your perfectly good organic yard waste and bring in alternative organic matter in the form of mulch or fertilizer. Make stick piles, incorporate slowly decaying logs into gardens, and embrace the more natural look of stick and grass “mulch.”
  1. Don’t spray if at all possible.
  • It’s difficult to spray one plant and not harm all the plants around it, including the ones you want.
  • Plenty of data shows harmful effects of many herbicide and pesticides on humans and wildlife. As for the “safer” herbicides (looking at you glyphosate/Roundup), here’s a free gut feeling from me: I’m skeptical of any substance’s effect on me or other animals if it can kill a plant in a matter of days, worse if it kills insects.
  • The great thing about gardening in a small urban yard is you have manageable space to exercise complete control. Fall in love with your shovel and get stuff out by the roots (your upper body muscles will fall in love with you). Or go for the war of attrition: grab pruners and obstinately cut stuff back to the ground until it dies as other plants grow over it.
  1. Don’t feed the wildlife (directly).
  • Let them eat your plants instead. I think it’s an infinitely better route to plant enough species to support a range of nuts, berries, and best of all insects throughout the year.
  • There are a couple potential problems associated with feeders. It seems that with responsible set-up and management bird feeding can be done with minimal harm. If you’re not a devotee I say forego it. I grew up with bird feeders and we were dutiful feeder re-fillers but now my opinion is if you’re going to attract wildlife to the backyard let it be that, wildlife. It’s an unnecessary step when we start artificially meeting animal nutrition needs, altering behavior, and inflating populations only to attract animals we can attract in a more natural hands-off manner.
  1. Provide a water source if needed and feasible.
  • In an urban environment finding water isn’t always as simple as it is in a natural landscape. My yard is a quarter-mile from a (very polluted) creek but when you factor the roads, parking lot, and development, how close are we really?
  • Do your research before installing your water source, mosquito larvae may not be the wildlife you’re after.
  1. Keep your pets out of the garden/yard when unsupervised.
  • If you refuse to do this, which is going to be almost everyone, your wildlife garden is still worth it! Cats in particular have received attention for their efficient nationwide slaughter of songbirds (I LOVE cats, by the way). Dogs can be equally destructive. I think it’s important to remember that 200 years ago our local wildlife survived very well living alongside predators very similar to our current domestic dogs and cats…but at population densities of one to every couple or couple hundred square miles, not one to every yard. Yes, they are the love of our lives, and they are killing machines.
  1. Get to know your local ecosystems and their major players.
  • If you focus on the nine above this reward will just happen naturally. And it’s the best part. There are whole worlds and complete complex languages out there. And by out there I mean literally under your nose.

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