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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Gardening for Wildlife - Fostering Nature’s Magic

Feb 26, 2010 12:40PM
by Betsy S. Franz

For me, it was my first glimpse of a hummingbird that did it. For others, it may be the beauty of butterflies or the joyful music of songbirds or a frog chorus. Some people love to sit and watch the playful antics of squirrels scampering through the trees. Whatever the reason or season, America’s gardeners and backyard enthusiasts are learning that one of the most enjoyable ways to take care of their share of the planet is to create a wildlife-friendly landscape surrounding their home.

It is hard to deny the magic that wildlife adds to a domestic landscape. Providing hardy habitat for garden creatures allows us to help the environment while granting close-up views of nature that can restore a childlike sense of wonder in anyone fortunate enough to visit the private, peaceable kingdom of which we are the caretakers.

Most experts list the three most basic elements necessary for any wildlife-friendly landscape as food, water and shelter. Note that shelter is not synonymous with abode, such as a birdhouse or bunny hut. When it comes to wildlife, we need to think of the complete picture and ensure “safety first.” For example, luring wildlife to a garden that contains pesticides or wandering house pets can do more harm than good. The goal is to provide refuge, a place that provides nourishing, restful and safe shelter for visiting wildlife.

Shelter: Adding natural elements to the landscape provides the best shelter. Dense trees and shrubs make excellent nesting sites and cover for birds and small mammals. Prune with caution. Rock piles, brush piles and dense ground cover also provide protection for reptiles, amphibians and ground birds. Of course, wildlife areas are no place for manmade chemicals or wandering pets.

Food Sources: Vegetation plays multiple roles. Plants can be both host to eggs and larval foods for butterflies; produce food sources such as acorns, nuts, berries and seeds for various wildlife; or attract insects that are food for birds, reptiles or frogs.

Native plants are the best choice for local wildlife. They require less fertilizer, water and pest control, which helps prevent the contamination of soil and water runoff.

Feeders: Supplemental food sources can be supplied by using feeders for birds or squirrels. Keeping feeders clean is another key facet of safe shelter.

Water: All wildlife needs a clean water supply for drinking. Many also use water to bathe, clean their food or breed. A lake, pond or wetland can be the most exciting element in a wildlife garden, because of the wildlife it attracts. Water supplies can be supplemented with birdbaths or mini-ponds. Even shallow saucers of water placed on the ground or low-lying puddle areas will serve as welcome water sources for some wildlife.

Places to Raise Young: Many of the same elements that provide shelter also provide places for wildlife to raise their young. Mature trees, dense shrubs, fallen logs, hollow trees and dens in the ground are good nesting locations for many animals. Larval host plants may be provided as places for nourishing young in a butterfly garden. Nesting boxes and platforms, bat boxes and toad abodes also make intriguing additions to a yard habitat.

Whatever the size, any backyard or garden space can contain some of each of the three essential habitat elements for wildlife. Whether we plant a tree for local bird nesting, create a modest butterfly garden, eliminate chemicals or choose to leave a small corner of native plants for wildlife, each small decision is a step in the right direction for preserving the natural beauty of the world around us.

It’s also a lovely thing to do for ourselves and our families. When we catch a quick glimpse of a fluttering hummingbird or watch the transformation of a caterpillar from chrysalis to butterfly, and realize that we played a part in their journey, we discover that providing habitat for wildlife adds as much to our lives as it does to theirs.

To play a role in the preservation of butterflies, songbirds or even a regional endangered species is a miraculous feeling, and one we’ll want to nurture.

Betsy S. Franz is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in the environment and may be reached at She developed Project Backyard Brevard in Brevard County, FL to help residents maintain natural habitat based on National Wildlife Federation principles (see

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