Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2011
Regional Report

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This dragonfly is a welcome guest in the garden

Bring in the Wildlife

We all love wildlife, except for maybe the pesky squirrels. But having butterflies and birds, possums and raccoons adds such a wonderful dimension to the garden and landscape. In most cases, they will come to just about any area with vegetation. But we can put in certain plants in order to increase the attractiveness of our garden to wild creatures.

Make a Plan
Attracting wildlife to the garden is not just matter of sticking in 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.

Diversity and Stability
No matter how small an area, it can become a wildlife refuge for rabbits, raccoons, birds, butterflies, squirrels, snakes, chipmunks, toads, butterflies, deer and insects. The key is diversity and stability in the plant community.

Plan for Long Term
As we plan, we need to remember to plant for the long term. We should plant many different species and allow natural succession to dictate what grows instead of a trying to keep a landscape static through constant maintenance.

No Pesticides
One thing we must keep in mind, especially when planting for a stable wildlife population, is that pesticide use does not go hand-in-hand with wildlife. Besides, diverse plantings need fewer pesticides. And a diverse population of birds and insects means that you won't have as many pest problems. These only get out of hand in sterile landscapes.

Transition Zone
The most successful way to encourage wildlife of all sorts is with an edge or transition such as between woods and meadow. Called the "edge effect," research shows that there is an abundance of life at the edge where one type of habitat meets another.

Add Native Trees and Shrubs
If you have large area, set aside a strip at least 30 feet wide and let it revert naturally to native plants. (You will probably need to manage it somewhat in order to get it established.) You can encourage this reversion by planting natives such as gray dogwood, sumac, and viburnum. Add to the beauty of the wood's' edge by planting trees like serviceberry and redbud.

Convert Your Yard
Whatever you can do to imitate this type of edge effect in the urban landscape will help encourage animals, birds, and butterflies. This may be the opportunity to try a small piece of prairie. You can still have a landscaped lot, but design it need mowing a bit less, choose flowers according to their desirability to butterflies and birds, and choose plants with animals in mind. Use hedgerows instead of hedges, short grass prairie grasses instead of acres of mown lawn, and groundcovers for cover instead of grass.

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