I noticed the sunset just a little bit later this week, hallelujah! After a series of frigid, gray days, there was one evening when the clouds cleared just enough above the horizon to allow the brilliant orange, pink and purple display to shine. While I know we may still have months of winter ahead of us the lengthening days make me hopeful.
I usually start going through the garden catalogues this time of year and plan for color or fragrance. This year I am planning what type of wildlife I want to attract: songbirds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and frogs. Last spring we had a gray fox and and 3 kits, will they return? I can definitely increase the odds by improving my backyard habitat. Now I am more prepared and have ready the lawn and garden equipment to make the garden more special and clean when the time comes.
Habitats need plants that provide berries, fruit, nuts and seeds throughout the season. The birds, amphibians, and bats you attract will reward you by eating mosquitos. Nectar producing plants will attract butterflies as well as hummingbirds. Consider the entire life cycle of the butterfly: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The larva or caterpillar may need specific host plants such as milkweed or thistle. Supplemental feeders can be used to augment seasons when food sources are slim.
Water sources can be as small as a dish on the patio to a water garden feature. Try to provide multiple water sources. Ground level water such as rain gardens, wetlands, or ponds will help to attract frogs and turtles. Adding a heater in the winter to a birdbath or a circulating feature to a pond will bring in a wider variety of birds.
Don’t think just of the linear space of your lot, think also of the vertical space. From the leaf debris on the ground moving up to the plants, shrubs and trees, your yard has many stories. Shelter is a place for animals to avoid predators and escape the weather. Evergreens and shrubs provide great cover and nesting sites. If that dead tree in your yard isn’t causing a hazard to your property leave it. Some birds need nesting cavities which can be natural in the form of hollow trees or nesting boxes.
Diversity is crucial to a healthy ecosystem. A weed free expanse of lawn does not provide much in the way of food or shelter. Incorporating plants native to Indiana should be a priority because they are hardier, use less water, keep out invasive plants and attract more wildlife. Reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides is also critical. Insects are a vital part of the food chain and important pollinators.
Less than 3% of the land in Indiana is publicly owned. As our communities develop, it is up to us, landowners, farmers, homeowners, schools, churches, and business owners to provide habitat for our local wildlife. You can get recognized for your efforts by applying to the Indiana Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Habitat Certification program. As I look out the window at my yard, I see possibilities and hopefully, this summer I will see more wildlife.
Learn more by visiting these wonderful resources:
Indiana Native Plants and Wildflower Society www.inpaws.org
An organization dedicated to promoting native Indiana plants, they are a great source of information and plant sales. Their brochure: Landscaping with Plants Native to Indiana is a wonderful listing of native plants, shrubs, groundcovers and trees along with their benefits to wildlife.
Indiana Wildlife Federation has good local information on backyard habitats including workshops and their Wildlife Habitat Certification Program.
Garden for Wildlife -The National Wildlife Federation