July 2, 2010
Beauty and Biodiversity
Give back to nature when landscaping your backyard
by Debra Firmani
How can a butterfly lay her eggs on a blade of grass, or a song sparrow build her nest in a yard without safe cover?
To lure the lovely visitors you want to see when you step outside your back door, learn to see your yard from their perspective, and begin to restore the necessary ingredients for a place in which life can flourish.
It's easier than you might imagine, and nature will help you along.
First, of course, you need to create a more life-friendly lawn by mowing less, watering wisely, fertilizing naturally, and using appropriate alternatives to chemical pesticides and herbicides. Those steps will help restore health and balance in your yard.
Transforming the space to a more inviting habitat can then be approached as quickly or as slowly as you wish. Add plantings as opportunities arise—be resourceful and trade plants and seeds with others!
Habitat islands and borders provide cover and safe nesting places for birds.
- Add habitat along the edges of your yard by planting native trees, bushes, and vines.
- Plant native grasses and wildflowers around a tree or bush in an interior area of the yard.
- Allow an area of grasses to grow, mowing a neat edge around it to show it is intentional.
Native trees and bushes provide nuts, berries, fruits, and buds and support insects for wildlife. Consult your local native plant society or cooperative extension office for appropriate species for your area.
- Choose species for which your yard will have adequate space when the plantings mature.
- Consider the sunlight and soil conditions of each space and position plants accordingly.
- Follow a local habitat example for grouping trees and bushes together in a natural way.
Make way for mini-meadows
Mini-meadows of native grasses and wildflowers provide seeds and nectar for birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.
- Map out an area of grass that you don't need to mow.
- Follow these tips for removing turf grass.
- Add your native plantings or seeds. It will take a couple of growing seasons for your meadow to fully mature. Have patience—your meadow will ultimately impress!
Additional supporting features
- Raingardens absorb runoff (from roofs, downspouts, and driveways), keeping streams safer for fish and amphibians, while adding beauty to your yard.
- Artificial ponds enable birds to drink and bathe in the safety of your yard.
- Brush piles provide safe cover for birds and small wildlife creatures.
A final word
Giving back to nature by restoring some of the native plantings that support your local wildlife will provide you many advantages; the best, perhaps, is the chance to deepen your understanding of the fascinating creatures for whom you are providing a safe place to live.
Browse this list of books and websites to learn more about how you can give back to nature.
Create a sanctuary
Enjoy the company of your wild neighbors in your yard. Every day, more and more wildlife habitat is lost to the spread of development. But you can help wild animals in urban and suburban areas by offering them sanctuary in your own backyard (or front yard, roof-top garden, or deck), no matter how small. Learn how to make your green space an Urban Wildlife Sanctuary.
Debra Firmani is a writer and long-time advocate for animals and nature. Her articles on wildlife, wild lands, backyard habitat creation, and nature education have appeared in print and online.