Beautiful Native Plants

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

6 easy steps to support wildlife

If you’d like bluebirds in your yard,
stop poisoning the bugs.

Tis the season to make resolutions for the upcoming year.  Some are easy to keep, especially when you have firm and attainable goals in mind where the results are so rewarding.

1) Turn your yard into a working ecosystem

If you want your landscape to support more birds, then you’ll need to invite the bugs, reduce the lawn, and plant more natives.  Okay, so maybe this isn’t the easiest item on this list, but it’s important and you can accomplish it in small steps over several years.

a) The first step will save you money: Stop using ALL landscape-wide pesticides. For a detailed explanation of the poison cycle, see my post: A poison is a poison is a poison.

A squirrel tree frog sitting on a blue stem
palmetto frond would be easy prey for a cat.
You want these voracious bug eaters in
your landscape, so keep your cats inside.

b) Keep your cats inside.  These subsidized predators in the landscape skew the ecosystem and create a huge problem for various wildlife including birds, toads, lizards and more. For more information and opinions on cats see, Cats in the landscape controversy.

c) Reduce your lawn acreage by replacing some of it with native habitat such as meadows or groves of native trees and shrubs. Manage the remaining lawn more sustainably. A sterile, monoculture lawn offers little habitat value, but when you stop using poisons and synthetic chemical fertilizer, it will become more diverse and the soil’s ecosystem will begin to recover. If your lawn needs fertilizer or if the soil needs restoration, use a light layer of compost just as your lawn naturally comes out of dormancy–in Florida spring is the only time when fertilizing makes sense.  For more ideas and suggestions on sustainable lawn management practices and lawn replacement, see my articles: Reducing lawn in the landscape and Adventures in creating a native garden.

A winter zebra longwing on a snow squarestem
Melanthera nivea) sprout. In Florida, wildlife
gardeners need to provide year-round flowers.

d) Choose your new plants with wildlife in mind. Install plants that will: have berries throughout the winter for birds, have tubular flowers for hummingbirds, supply larval food for butterflies and moths, provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies throughout the season–in Florida, that means year-round. Doug Tallamy’s ideas for the important part even small landscape can make has made a huge difference in how we approach our home landscaping. Also see my post, Teeming with zebras for more information on how to welcome Florida’s state butterfly into your yard, too.

e) Provide shelter and nesting sites. Leave some land unplanted and unmulched for native bees and toads. Create a stick pile that never gets cleaned up in a back corner of your property. Leave snags and logs where possible in your landscape. For more information and further resources on creating habitat and maybe even certifying your yard, read on my article, Creating backyard habitat.

Even clean water becomes polluted when it runs
across roads and parking lots, so retain your stormwater.

2) Conserve & retain water

Water pollution, especially nutrient overloads, has spoiled both aquatic and riparian habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. The majority of the pollution comes from hard-to-identify and control non-point sources–these include stormwater runoff from public and private properties, which is carries nutrients from fertilizers, silt from erosion, plus it picks up chemicals on roadways on its way to the nearest waterway.

On your own property you can install rain barrels and rain gardens so that little or no runoff leaves your lot. Read my article on rain gardens which includes links to rain barrels and other resources.  For a broader picture of the problem read, We all live in a watershed.

The best way to learn about native plants and animals
is up close and in person.

3) Increase your knowledge

While reading articles and books will help with background information, there is no substitute for getting out into nature, especially with a knowledgeable guide. So make 2014 the year you join your local native plant society or Audubon society chapter and then go on their field trips, and attend their meetings. Each state has its own native plant society–The American Horticultural Society has put together a list of all the native plant societies and here is the general site for the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy.  There are other environmental groups that also host field trips and educational meetings, so find a good match for your interests and get involved.  I know I have found a stimulating environment in Florida Native Plant Society.

You can help parks by volunteering or by simply
picking up trash along the trails. My daughter
and I collected some trash on our Christmas hike
this year making the park safer for wildlife and
more inviting for humans.

4) Support your local parks

Parklands provide huge chunks of habitat, and greenway connectors between other open lands, which is critical for wildlife. But as budgets across the board are being cut, parks on every level are feeling the pinch.  You can show your support by being an active customer, so as they make their cases for funding, their numbers justify the expenditures. You can take you family camping, hiking, fishing, and exploring in your regional parks and parks around the nation.  What a great way to solidify family ties and hook your kids on nature.

If there is a park near you, find out how to volunteer to help out.  They may need help to maintain trails, remove invasive exotics, build and maintain butterfly gardens near the buildings, or to clean up trash. Here a couple of examples of what can be accomplished: Removing invasives in Mandarin: a team effort and FNPS Ixia Chapter project: Native Park restoration.

Speak up for Mother Nature. Politicians may
only be hearing from lobbyists for
developers and big businesses.

5) Influence the deciders

Large environmental decisions are made by politicians and bureaucrats who may not hear from anyone but the lobbyists for developers or big business. You can make a difference for wildlife and the native habitats by speaking up and/or support organizations that are speaking out for Mother Nature and her wildlife.  While you may think that you sound like a broken record, it takes 17 repetitions before most people commit a new idea to their retrievable memory bank. Read my article Supporting wildlife beyond your garden gate.

Also, join organizations that have an outreach program and help spread the word by volunteering to man (or woman) their booths.

Reduce your ecological footprint.
There are so many ways to do so.

6) Reduce your personal ecological footprint

In addition to greening up your landscape and becoming more involved in supporting your local parks and joining environmental groups that match your interests, maybe you could begin the process of consuming less and recycling more. This may not directly affect wildlife, but if we all use fewer resources, it reduces the destruction of wild spaces that support our wildlife. There are many ways to approach this resolution and how you proceed will depend upon many factors.
For us, my husband and I produce very little waste that goes to the landfill.  We compost the kitchen scraps, donate old clothing, and make do with less stuff.  We’ve reduced our electricity bills by turning up the air conditioning to 84 in the summer and turning down the heat in the winter to 67. We cook most of our food from scratch and grow a lot of the produce ourselves. For more information and a quiz to see how you’re doing, see Reduce your footprint.

Happy New Year!  If we all work together, wildlife will benefit.

Getting out to enjoy nature provides many rewards, 

If we take better care of our planet, the rewards are great.Remember, there is no Planet B!

© Ginny Stibolt