Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat
By Jennifer Rauschmayer
It doesn’t happen often to an avid gardener, but every once in a while you have a space you just don’t know what to do with. Maybe its in an awkward area of your yard, it receives too much shade/sun, or honestly you and your family never set foot in that area. Keeping Earth-Kind® principles in mind, why not create an attractive and environmentally beneficial wildlife garden?
The National Wildlife Federation notes that human activity has changed and eliminated habitat both locally and globally. Every habitat garden that is created helps to replenish resources for local wildlife such as bees, butterflies, birds and amphibians. Luckily, if you are already practicing Earth-Kind Principles in your landscape, you already have many of the elements required to get started!
Requirements for Creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat
One of the most important elements of a wildlife habitat garden is providing native plants. Much like the principles of a good landscape design, it is important to consider who you are designing for as well as how to it will provide interest (or in this case, food and shelter) at all times of year. As noted in the Texas A&M Natural Resource Institute article, Native Plants for Backyard Wildlife (October 2017), a proper native habitat includes a variation in plant height and textures. Be aware of the different size of animals you are attempting to accommodate and Include a variety of evergreen and fruiting trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, groundcovers, and mulch.
Be sure to take note of the sun exposure and water required for each plant, group them accordingly and account for their mature size. Remember, this area should be pesticide free, low maintenance and relatively self-sustaining. An excellent resource for choosing native plants is the Aggie Horticulture Earth-Kind Plant Selector as well as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Your next step to inviting local wildlife is to include at least one water source. This can be as simple as a bird bath, a butterfly puddler or as involved as a rain garden or small pond. Again, you need to consider who you will be “entertaining” and ensure they can reach your water source easily.
Shelter/Places to Raise Young:
Shelter from other native wildlife and our unpredictable Texas weather is an essential layer to creating your habitat. Provide bird houses, bug hotels, hollowed out logs, dense brush/grasses, an attractive rock wall or simply allow your leaves and sticks to settle upon the ground. Don’t forget that common household items which would typically be discarded can also be repurposed by wildlife. For example: Birds often have difficulty building nests during the late fall and winter due to less vegetation. One way to help is to save your dryer lint, pet hair, left-over twine/yarn, place it in a suet holder and allow the wildlife to help themselves! As an added bonus, you get to see your contribution in all of the colorful nests that appear throughout your yard and neighborhood.
Last but not least, you need to provide a minimum of three food sources. Luckily, by using the above-mentioned native fruit bearing trees, plants and flowers you have two of those sources already covered (fruit/nuts, pollen). A simple third element could be the addition of a bird, squirrel or hummingbird feeder.
You Did It!
Now that all of the elements are in place, you should feel proud knowing you not only made an underutilized area of your yard productive, but also contributed to the sustainability of our native wildlife. With patience and time, you will soon be reaching for your binoculars and enjoying the wonderful new additions to your garden.
To apply for your National Wildlife Habitat Certification, go to nfw.org
Texas A&M Natural Resource Institute article, Native Plants for Backyard Wildlife (October 2017), https://nri.tamu.edu/blog/2017/october/native-plants-for-backyard-wildlife.
The National Wildlife Federation, https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.
United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, nrcs.usda.gov.
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