Gardening for Wildlife
Last year I carefully planned, planted, and nurtured 2 garden beds in my yard using only native plants with one goal in mind: transforming my yard into a haven for wildlife. Gardening for wildlife helps not just wildlife, but mankind, as we are deeply reliant on the services nature provides us. Gardens can serve as a refuge to biodiversity from invasive species, development, and climate change. As humans continue to destroy the earth we are beginning to run out of time to save it. We have all the tools needed to save it at our disposal, we just need to use them. Thankfully, gardening for wildlife is one of the easiest and most rewarding tools we can use.
Over the spring I carefully laid out my garden planning not only for aesthetic beauty but to meet the needs of wildlife. I tried to choose plants that bloom throughout the year of varying heights and forms to provide a constant source of food and shelter. I planted a Spicebush which blooms before its leaves even come out, Broad-leaved Mountain Mints which bloom from July well into the fall, and Red-twig Dogwoods which provide berries and cover for birds.
While my goal was always to attract wildlife I had no idea just how rewarding of an experience it would actually be. Over the summer, watching my plants grow under my love and care filled me with a sense of accomplishment. My Cardinal Flowers started out as inch tall plants but soon grew past their typical height of 2-3 feet to a whopping 5 feet! They got so big that I had to stake them up to keep them from falling over.
Harmless Great Golden Digger Wasps (pictured) and Great Black Wasps were common visitors at my Mountain Mint. They both require bare soil to nest in.
An even more rewarding experience was watching all the wildlife that used my plants. On any warm, sunny, late-summer day my three Mountain Mints would be swarming with at least a dozen or more pollinators at a time! Several different kinds of bees and wasps would constantly dart from flower to flower and fight with each other over the precious nectar, too busy eating to bother me. Once my Cardinal Flowers began to bloom they turned my yard into a hummingbird magnet. I went from rarely seeing hummingbirds to having 1, 2, or 3 in my yard at once!
A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird visits my Cardinal Flower. Hummingbirds need to visit 1,000 to 2,000 flowers a day to get the energy they need (Genier).
Just why is gardening for wildlife so important? Dr. Douglas Tallamy, a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware explains in his book Nature’s Best Hope. He writes that our yards can be used as a tool to create wildlife corridors preventing the extinction of fragmented populations. Additionally, our yards could support a wide variety of species that otherwise wouldn’t be there. When you consider that when combined, America’s lawns add up to an area the size of New England, our gardens have massive potential. He also argues that gardening connects us to the natural world making us more aware of the day-to-day changes that take place in it (Tallamy, 2019).
Gardening for wildlife is an extremely rewarding experience for people and the environment and is one of the key tools we can use to save our planet. This year I hope to convert more of my lawn to native plantings so I can support more species and more parts of their lifecycle. If one or two garden beds can attract so much wildlife, imagine how much a whole yard can!
How can you garden for wildlife? Dr. Tallamy recommends you shrink your lawn and remove invasive species that provide little to no value for wildlife. Instead, fill your yard with mostly native plants, especially those that support the most diversity or that specialist species rely on (take Milkweed for example.) Also, remove wildlife hazards, create nesting and pupation sites for pollinators, don’t spray or fertilize, and spread the word (Tallamy, 2019)! I can’t possibly cover everything in this article and would highly recommend Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy to anyone who wants to learn more about the importance of gardening for wildlife and how to go about it.
Genier, Lisa M. “10 Facts About Hummingbirds – And Other Interesting Tidbits.” Adirondack Council, 3 July 2018, www.adirondackcouncil.org/page/blog-139/news/10-facts-about-hummingbirds--and-other-interesting-tidbits-1101.html#:~:text=Hummingbirds%20have%20a%20very%20high,2%2C000%20flowers%20throughout%20the%20day.
Tallamy, Douglas W. Nature's Best Hope. Timber Press, 2019.