Put out the welcome mat for beautiful backyard critters with these tips for making your property a haven for birds, pollinating insects, and other wildlife.
1. Cultivate An Inviting Landscape
The way you manage your landscape could mean the difference between a lifeless backyard and one that teems with nature. Whether you live on an expansive estate or a postage-stamp-size urban lot, there are plenty of things you can do right now to make your property a vital part of the local ecosystem. Turn your backyard into a wildlife way station with these simple ideas.
2. Put Away The Pesticides
Have you noticed fewer fireflies visiting of a summer evening? The decline of this harmless beetle may be tied to the increased use of pesticides, which affect larvae developing underground as well as adult bugs that come in contact with the chemicals on grass or on their food sources. Instead of applying chemical treatments to your landscaping, choose organic methods like pulling weeds manually and handpicking bad bugs to control weeds and pests.
3. Grow Butterfly Host Plants
Nectar plants like buddleia (butterfly bush), coneflower, and verbena serve as much-needed food sources for the adult butterfly population. But these graceful insects need more than just nectar to further their species—they also need host plants on which to lay their eggs. Butterfly larvae, or caterpillars, have very specific culinary preferences, and most species feed on only one or two plant species. For example, the monarch butterfly will lay eggs only on milkweed, while the black swallowtail seeks out dill, carrot, fennel, and parsley.
4. Don’t Pull All The Dandelions
The bane of all lawn perfectionists, dandelions may be the most hated, and also the most determined, weed in the suburban landscape. But for early-emerging pollinators like bees and other beneficial insects, the dandelion is a valuable nectar source until more nutritious blossoms appear. Resist the urge to yank those sunny yellow flowers long enough for the rest of the spring flowers to catch up.
5. Plant Clover In The Lawn
Do the pollinator population a favor and say farewell to a perfect fescue lawn. Lawns are one of the most high-maintenance parts of the landscape, requiring constant cutting, watering, and fertilizing to stay weed-free and green. Rather than seeking perfection, use a clover and grass seed blend for high-traffic areas, and straight clover in less traveled spots. Unlike grass, a clover lawn might need to be mowed just a few times a year, and the dainty white-and-pink flowers it produces are a favorite with honeybees.
6. Hang Bird Feeders
Feeders are a great way to bring birds to your backyard, but keep in mind that different birds are attracted to different foods. Black oil sunflower seeds will attract the widest variety of birds. For American goldfinches, indigo buntings, and pine siskins, hang thistle socks filled with tiny black thistle, or nyjer, seeds around the landscape. Chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, and jays are nuts for peanuts, while hummingbirds are drawn to feeders filled with sweet nectar.
7. Add A Water Feature
Many creatures rely on surface water like puddles, dew on grass, and raindrops on leaves. But when drought hits, fresh water can be hard to find. Birds will appreciate a clean birdbath located away from low-growing plants and shrubs, where predators like cats can lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting birds. To attract butterflies, offer them “puddling” opportunities in sunny spots where they can slurp water and nutrients from wet sand or soil.
8. Plant Shelter
Maintain a combination of deciduous and coniferous trees and shrubs to provide birds with shelter from the elements, safety from predators, and nesting space all year long. Fruit-bearing trees like service berry and crab apple have the added benefit of offering a food source that many birds, including cedar waxwings and robins, can’t resist. Incorporate trees and shrubs of various sizes and densities to accommodate both low-nesting and high-nesting birds.