Since you’re reading this column, I’m sure you care about the environment because you know we depend on it for our own survival and because you’re concerned for the well-being of other forms of life. We are all responsible for doing our part to protect this spectacular planet, and there are many things we can do as individuals that will benefit its health. One place where we can make a difference is right in our own backyard: We can “wildscape” our property. And now, in the midst of winter, is a great time to begin planning.
Wildscaping is a simple idea. Make your yard and property a refuge for wildlife by providing simple but necessary habitat elements. These elements include basic wildlife needs such as sustaining food, available water and various forms of shelter.
Here are some simple ways to turn your yard into a wildscape.
You might think native plants are not as attractive as exotic species, but this is not so. Many native plants make lovely additions to your landscape, with attractive bark, flowers or fruit and there are good native replacements for any exotic plant. For example, you could remove your highly invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and replace it with a native red chokeberry bush (Aronia arbutifolia), which offers both fall color and valuable winter food resources to birds and other animals. In planting your garden, include perennials like purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) which are highly attractive to bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Non-native plants are commonly available because of their showy appearance but, often, they provide little wildlife value. Worse yet, some can be highly invasive and escape into the wild, wreaking havoc in the environment by dominating habitats and reducing biological diversity. The more species that exist in a given area, the more stable and hardy the living system is. If a non-native plant invades and becomes dominant in an area, only those creatures that can make use of that one species can live there. However, if there are many different plants producing a variety of foods and shelter in an area, a greater diversity of animal life is possible.
Some particularly aggressive invasive plants should be strongly targeted and removed from your wildscape. These include multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata), burning bush or winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate) and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
Let your property go a little wild! Common landscapes, with closely mowed lawns and trees with understory plants neatly removed, provide little habitat for wildlife. Many wild creatures are in decline today, largely due to human actions. If we all added just a little wildlife habitat to our yards, we could create thousands of additional interconnected acres of wildlife-friendly land. To support wildlife at your house and minimize your environmental footprint on the planet, make your property a wildscape!
George Regmund is a field biologist and nature educator, who recently retired from Armand Bayou Nature Center in Texas, where he worked and led bird field trips for 37 years. For more information about wildscaping, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife Program at www.nwf.org/wildlife. Another excellent resource is University of Delaware professor Douglas Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens,” published by Timber Press and available at many local libraries (www.bringingnaturehome.net).
Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 525 South Pleasant St., Amherst, appears every other week. For more information, call 413-256-6006, or write to us.Click here to return to full list of Earth Matters articles.