Room to Grow

With this article we’ve reached Part 4 of our series on Landscaping for Wildlife.  Our final topic is on providing the necessary habitat for wildlife to bear and raise their offspring.  This involves strategies so that both adults and young can be safe from predators, weather and human curiosity (or vandalism).  Your wildlife habitat needs to be a sanctuary where the entire life-cycle of the animal can take place.  This may not be feasible with all wildlife that visits your garden or property, but it shouldn’t be an issue with birds, butterflies and moths, other insects, reptiles and amphibians. baby birds

dutchmans pipeIn the American River canyon near where I live we have quite a number of California Pipevine (Aristolochia californica) plants growing into the live oak and Douglas-fir that cover the north-facing slopes.  These vines are the host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor).  To provide a food source for the larvae I have purchased and planted four of these vines in my new “native garden” area of the landscape.  With spring I hope to see these new plants establish themselves and grow into the oaks, attracting the adult butterflies and creating a new habitat for these beautiful creatures.

 

pipevine swallowtailI have done the same by growing a couple of different species of the perennial Asclepias, common name being milkweed.  The milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly, and since I see them here on occasion I‘ve decided to provide this source for both adult and larvae.  Once you get to know the butterflies that live in your geographic area then you’ll be able to select the proper plants that will be that source of nectar for the adults and a food source for the caterpillars.  Typically these will be native plants since that is what the insects have evolved with.

milkweedmonarchI have done the same by slowly constructing water features that are accessible for frogs, toads and dragonflies.  We have large areas of ground cover that the toads hide in and hunt through, thus we have provided food, water, shelter and ponds for the young; everything that is needed to sustain the population.

bluebird nest boxBirds may nest in nesting boxes, cavities in trees or on the ground in protected locations.  Ground nesting birds don’t have enough space  on our property to be safe, but birds that will nest in boxes or in trees do have ample places to call home.  Be aware that different species of birds will nest at varying elevations above the ground, will prefer a nest box with a certain diameter of entry hole and may even want the box to face south for the warmth of the sun.  Get to know the birds that spend spring and summer in your area and the types of terrain they frequent.  Bluebirds eat insects and prefer open fields and meadows.  Since we have a small open meadow we’ve been fortunate to have nesting bluebirds on the property.  We’ve also watched families of nuthatch, wren and acorn woodpecker raise families here.  The first two in nest boxes and the woodpecker in a cavity of the large valley oak (Quercus lobata) that grows near the house (the oak is 7 feet in diameter at chest height). duck nest box

While they do not nest on the property, gray tree squirrels are frequent visitors.

Bats will use the bat house to raise their young, so finding a good location for a few bat houses can give these small mammals a nesting site and in turn help with reducing the mosquito (and other flying insect) population around your yard.bat house

brown batIf your property is large enough you may consider building a brush shelter that will attract chipmunks, lizards, toads and more – a large variety of wildlife.  By constructing a dense and heavy brush shelter you’ll probably attract many different animals that don’t feel comfortable in open meadows or polished landscaped gardens.

Place your brush shelter at the edge between tow native habitats – like on the edge between woodland and meadow.  If available, use piles of stone along the edges of the brush and even on the interior – many animals like the stone to hide and nest in.  Old metal or concrete pipe can be incorporated to act as tunnels for those that like that sort of thing.

To build a brush shelter, start with large logs – anywhere from 6 – 10 feet long and about 4 – 6 inches in diameter.  Stack these in a criss-cross manner so that you create passages and spaces.  After you have a strong base of 6 or more logs then add on branches in a tighter criss-cross weave and simply continue to add branches of smaller diameter in denser weave.  The final product should be about 10 ft. square and about 4- 5 ft. high.  Now sit back and see who comes to live there!  brush shelter

Lastly, maintain your garden in a way that reduces or (preferably) eliminates harmful chemicals from the landscape.  Herbicides and pesticides will have a negative effect on all your efforts to create this wildlife sanctuary.  Rather than burning fall leaves use them as mulch.  Water will be conserved; the leaf mulch will provide homes for worms and insects and also reduces soil compaction while replenishing nutrients.

Look to using native plants whenever possible.  Just because its native doesn’t mean that it is low water use – some natives thrive in streams and rivers.  But many will do well in garden situations with less water, fertilizers and care than many of the more common variety of landscape plants you find in nurseries.  Know the water use of the plant so that, if you’re irrigating, all the plants within that irrigation zone have the same water requirements.

If you’re going to be applying fertilizers then get a soils test first to know what your landscape actually needs, rather than simply throwing out 16-16-16 all over the garden in a shotgun approach!  There are many alternatives to the petroleum-based fertilizers on the market today – organic fertilizers and amendments are readily available.

In the long run you’ll have a healthier landscape, a greater variety of wildlife and a safer environment for yourselves, your children and your pets.

Landscaping for Wildlife

December 4, 2013

This is the first of four blog posts on creating habitat for wildlife on your property.  I’ve recently been certified (no jokes please) a Wildlife Landscape Professional with the National Wildlife Federation and our property is now Certified Wildlife Habitat with the NWF.  In light of all this I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned while going through this process.

PART ONE  – PROVIDE FOOD

Just like us, wildlife needs to eat.  If providing for birds is your goal, then supplying hanging feeders is the simplest way to have food available for them when natural sources aren’t available.

bird at feederBefore you start hanging feeders do some research and get to know what birds live in your area at different times of the year.  Different species of birds prefer varying types of feeder foods, and while some birds like hanging feeders, some prefer to eat off of platforms.  Be aware that many birds migrate, so you’ll get different species throughout the seasons.  As time goes by you’ll probably attract birds you weren’t even expecting.

Use a seed blend designed for your feeder and the types of birds you feed. Blends that contain seeds and grains such as sorghum, and red or golden millet are not typically eaten by birds, and these will often end up on the ground.  Black oil sunflower seed however is a favorite of just about every seed-eating species.

Black Niger seed is a favorite of the American gold finch.  They also love to eat sunflower seeds – so planting sunflowers will provide a natural choice for them while bringing color to your summer garden.    gold finch

Suet feeders are a favorite of woodpeckers and other insect-eating birds, including jays. You can buy blocks of suet from wild bird stores, many hardware stores and even some supermarkets.  Typically, suet blocks are placed in a wire cage that hangs on the side of a tree away from squirrels.  Avoid putting suet out in hot weather as it will go rancid.

suet feeder

Some birds eat fruit, so by planting shrubs that provide berries and fall fruit will attract them into your garden.  I’ve watched Cedar Waxwings eat their way through persimmon orchards as well as eating the wild toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) berries in my landscape.

 

Brightly colored butterflies can be a welcome addition to your wildlife garden, not only because of their beauty, but also because of their usefulness in pollinating flowers.

Attracting butterflies involves incorporating plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly. The insects need places to lay eggs, food plants for their larvae (caterpillars), places to form chrysalides and nectar sources for adults.    anise swallowtail

Butterfly Garden Necessities (from NWF website)

  • Plant native flowering plants – Because many butterflies and native flowering plants have co-evolved over time and depend on each other for survival and reproduction, it is particularly important to install native flowering plants local to your geographic area. Native plants provide butterflies with the nectar or foliage they need as adults and caterpillars. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has lists of recommended native plants by region and state.
  • Plant type and color is important – Adult butterflies are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered and have short flower tubes.
  • Plant good nectar sources in the sun – Your key butterfly nectar source plants should receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Butterfly adults generally feed only in the sun. If sun is limited in your landscape, try adding butterfly nectar sources to the vegetable garden.
  • Plant for continuous bloom – Butterflies need nectar throughout the adult phase of their life span. Try to plant so that when one plant stops blooming, another begins.
  • Say no to insecticides – Insecticides such as malathion, Sevin, and diazinon are marketed to kill insects. Don’t use these materials in or near the butterfly garden or better, anywhere on your property. Even “benign” insecticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis, are lethal to butterflies (while caterpillars).
  • Feed butterfly caterpillars – If you don’t “grow” caterpillars, there will be no adults. Bringing caterpillar foods into your garden can greatly increase your chances of attracting unusual and uncommon butterflies, while giving you yet another reason to plant an increasing variety of native plants. In many cases, caterpillars of a species feed on only a very limited variety of plants. Most butterfly caterpillars never cause the leaf damage we associate with some moth caterpillars such as bagworms, tent caterpillars, or gypsy moths.
  • Provide a place for butterflies to rest – Butterflies need sun for orientation and to warm their wings for flight. Place flat stones in your garden to provide space for butterflies to rest and bask in the sun.
  • Give them a place for puddling – Butterflies often congregate on wet sand and mud to partake in “puddling,” drinking water and extracting minerals from damp puddles. Place coarse sand in a shallow pan and then insert the pan in the soil of your habitat. Make sure to keep the sand moist.butterfly puddling

What attracts butterflies will also attract bees – both the honey bee and our native bees.  As with butterflies, eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden – bees are very sensitive to these chemicals.

Finally, don’t forget frogs and toads in your new wildlife habitat.  Both are great hunters, with toads foraging throughout the garden at night eating up insects and other small pests.  And the sound of frogs on a summer evening is music not to be missed.  To attract toads you’ll need to create the proper habitat for them.  Toads are a tasty treat from many other animals – snakes, birds, even the occasional house pet will kill and eat toads.  Provide plenty of ground cover foliage and slightlyelevated areas where they can be safe.   toad

 

Toads are amphibians, so they need moisture.  While not tied to water as closely as frogs, they still need these moist places to live in and to lay their eggs.  Toad tadpoles will grow up in small ponds or ditches.  Keep these filled with water and you’ll ensure future generations of toads in your garden.  Toads are predators and will eat snails, spiders, worms, slugs and other invertebrates.  As tadpoles they eat plants.

Toads like to hide and I’ve had them burrow into rock walls and behind timber retaining walls where it’s safe, dark and damp.  You can even add a toad house to your garden

Back to getting rid of herbicides – glyphosate – the chemical in Round-up is deadly to frogs and toads – both the adult and the tadpole.  Please don’t use it in your garden and never where it can drift into ponds or streams!

Attracting wildlife doesn’t stop here – a healthy garden will include those “good bugs” that do a lot of good work.  The diet of these bugs consists of a lot of the “bad bugs” – the ones that eat and damage our garden plantings.  All insects have plants that they need for food and shelter; you’ll want to intersperse these plants throughout the garden so these beneficial insects will be close at hand when they’re needed.

To keep these good bugs around, don’t use pesticides – let them do the control for you.  Even if you try to avoid the areas where the beneficial live it’s still easy for chemicals to drift on a light breeze and cause a lot of harm!

Some “good bugs”:

Lady bugs (Lady Bird Beetle) – Most recognized when adults by their bright orange with black spots, it’s the larvae that eat the most pests.  They love aphids!  Eggs are yellowish in color and are laid on the bottom of the leaves.

Plants that attract ladybugs include:

Achillea filipendulina Fern-leaf yarrowAchillea millefolium Common yarrow

Ajuga reptans Carpet bugleweed

Alyssum saxatilis Basket of Gold

Anethum graveolens Dill

Anthemis tinctoria Golden marguerite

Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed

Atriplex canescens Four-wing saltbush

Coriandrum sativum Coriander

Daucus Carota Queen Anne’s lace

Fagopyrum esculentum Buckwheat

Foeniculum vulgare FennelHelianthus maximilianii Prairie sunflower

Penstemon strictus Rocky Mt. penstemon

Potentilla recta ‘warrenii’ Sulfur cinquefoil

Potentilla villosa Alpine cinquefoil

Tagetes tenuifolia Marigold – lemon gem

Tanacetum vulgare Tansy

Taraxacum officinale Dandelion

Veronica spicata Spike speedwell

Vicia villosa Hairy vetch

Another great bug to provide for in the garden is the Lacewing (Chrysopa spp.)

Beautiful, delicate little insects either green of brown with large lacy wings.  The eggs are laid on the end of inch-long stiff threads.  The larvae are ravenous and eat the bulk of the pests.  Another name for them is the aphid lion, but they’ll eat mites, other small insects and insect eggs.  You’ll often see them on your windows or screens on a summer evening, attracted by porch or house lights.

Plants that attract lacewings:

Achillea filipendulina Fern-leaf yarrowAnethum graveolens Dill

Angelica gigas Angelica

Anthemis tinctoria Golden marguerite

Atriplex canescens Four-wing saltbush

Callirhoe involucrata Purple poppy mallow

Carum Carvi Caraway

Coriandrum sativum CorianderCosmos bipinnatus Cosmos white sensation

Daucus Carota Queen Anne’s lace

Foeniculum vulgare Fennel

Helianthus maximilianii Prairie sunflower

Tanacetum vulgare Tansy

Taraxacum officinale Dandelion

Hoverflies are another great friend of the garden.  Adults look like little bees but they don’t sting – they hover and dart quickly away if you come near.  Their eggs are white, oval and laid singly or can be in groups on leaves.  The larvae (maggots) can be green, yellow, brown, orange or white and are about ½ inch long.  They look like little caterpillars and they’ll rise up on their hind legs to catch and feed on aphids, mealy bugs and other small insects.

Good plants for hoverflies include:

Achillea filipendulina Fern-leaf yarrowAchillea millefolium Common yarrow

Ajuga reptans Carpet bugleweed

Allium tanguticum Lavender globe lily

Alyssum saxatilis Basket of Gold

Anethum graveolens Dill

Anthemis tinctoria Golden marguerite

Aster alpinus Dwarf alpine aster

Astrantia major Masterwort

Atriplex canescens Four-wing saltbush

Callirhoe involucrata Purple poppy mallow

Carum Carvi Caraway

Chrysanthemum parthenium Feverfew

Coriandrum sativum Coriander

Cosmos bipinnatus Cosmos white sensation

Daucus Carota Queen Anne’s lace

Fagopyrum esculentum Buckwheat

Foeniculum vulgare Fennel

Lavandula angustifolia English lavender

Limnanthes douglasii Poached egg plant

Limonium latifolium Statice

Linaria vulgaris Butter and eggsLobelia erinus Edging lobelia

Lobularia maritima Sweet alyssum – white

Melissa officinalis Lemon balm

Mentha pulegium Pennyroyal

Mentha spicata Spearmint

Monarda fistulosa Wild bergamot

Penstemon strictus Rocky Mt. penstemon

Petroselinum crispum Parsley

Potentilla recta ‘warrenii’ Sulfur cinquefoil

Potentilla villosa Alpine cinquefoil

Rudbeckia fulgida Gloriosa daisy

Sedum kamtschaticum Orange stonecrop

Sedum spurium & album Stonecrops

Solidago virgaurea Peter Pan goldenrod

Stachys officinalis Wood betony

Tagetes tenuifolia Marigold – lemon gem

Thymus serpylum coccineus Crimson thyme

Veronica spicata Spike speedwell

Zinnia elegans Zinnia – liliput

There are so many beneficial insects that we can’t cover them all here, but we can’t finish without mentioning the Praying Mantis (or Praying Mantid, as some refer to it).  Praying Mantis are hunters and there are lots of different species.  They share one thing in common – they are carnivores!   Most are light green or brown they’ll eat aphids, flies, leaf hoppers, bees and crickets.  Actually, they’ll eat just about anything they can catch – in the tropics they grow large enough to catch lizards and hummingbirds!  praying mantis

They like organically grown gardens – again, stay away from those pesticides – and seem to like plants in the rose and raspberry family.  They also like grapes, wisteria and tall grasses where they can find shelter.  If you have Praying Mantids then you’ll also have other bugs that they will feed on.

So, to create a sustainable habitat for wildlife in your garden be sure to provide a food source.  Whether it be hanging feeders for birds or a chemical-free hunting ground for frogs, toads and beneficial insects.  You’ll have a healthier landscape and a lot of entertainment right outside your window.

In my next blog I’ll be covering the importance of water as we create our habitat for wildlife.

Thanks for reading!

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