Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
October, 2003
Regional Report

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This magnificent shagbark hickory provides shade, beauty, food, and nesting sites for woodland animals.

Plant a Woodland Landscape for Wildlife

We are in the process of bringing our landscape back to a complete, natural woodland. We have many large oaks and hickories that we've surrounded with mulched beds, not only for the health of the trees, but also to take the lawn back to a natural forest floor. Over the past few years we've added an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants to give us a naturally layered woodland.

Although we have left a grassy area around our house and in the backyard for the kids to play on, the rest of the yard is on its way to becoming a beautiful, low-maintenance woodland.

Managing the Return to the Wild
This cannot be accomplished by merely letting things grow. That would only give us a tangle of thistle, grapevine, and Queen Anne's lace. Instead, we've had to plant and manage the landscape fairly carefully, especially during the establishment phase. Putting mulched beds of shredded bark around the trees was the first step toward bringing the landscape back to what naturally occurs in a woodland. Each year we add shredded leaves to the bark mulch, helping the area beneath the trees to resemble a natural woodland. The bark gave a denser cover at first to shade out the existing Kentucky bluegrass, but now all we need to add is the leaves that naturally fall. We do shred them, however, to help them decompose more quickly.

As we gradually expand these beds to encompass the entire lawn, we are filling them with shrubs, ferns, and other woodland plants. One of our driving forces is the desire to bring wildlife of all types into the yard. We have a great resource nearby -- an adjacent wetland where there is all manner of furry and feathered creatures. I even saw two sand hill cranes alight there last spring. If we can restore our landscape to some semblance of what might be found naturally in the wilds, perhaps we can encourage and help protect these animals and birds.

Attracting wildlife to a garden is not just a matter of sticking in a few plants with berries. Although any little bit will help, to truly establish a stable, mixed population takes a commitment to providing food, shelter, water, and nesting materials.

No matter how small an area is, it can become a wildlife refuge for rabbits, raccoons, birds, butterflies, squirrels, snakes, chipmunks, toads, butterflies, gophers, deer, and beneficial insects. The key is diversity and stability in the plant community. It's also important to plant for the long-term, to plant many different things and then allow natural succession to dictate part of the landscape. As a happy coincidence, this also creates a landscape that takes little maintenance.

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