Friday, June 26, 2009

Create A Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard

Today, I'm a host on Mindy Friddle's W.O.W!-Women on Writing blog tour. Mindy is the author of Secret Keepers. In the novel, aging housewife Emma Hanley lives in Palmetto, S.C., but dreams of traveling the world; unfortunately, her long-planned European vacation must be postponed when her erstwhile husband up and dies after his regular Saturday coffee klatch with a gaggle of female admirers. Left alone, Emma must learn to deal one-on-one with her mentally troubled son Bobby, born-again daughter Dora and the ghost of son Will, who was killed in Vietnam. While her family goes to pieces, Emma lets her yard go to seed; enter gardener Jake Cary, Dora's old flame, whose efforts to cultivate Emma's garden soon spill into her family life.

In this post, Mindy tells us how to create a wildlife habitat in our own backyards.

Going Wild & Green: Establishing a Wildlife Habitat

There's been a sign posted in my front yard for three years. It's no "Keep off the Grass" warning--I haven't had a lawn in years. It's an official "Certified Wildlife Habitat™." sign, one of the easiest, green, fun and transforming things you can do to your yard-- and for the earth.

The National Wildlife Federation, which runs the Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program, describes it this way: "Whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20-acre farm, you can create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential areas. By providing food, water, cover and a place for wildlife to raise their young--and by incorporating sustainable gardening practices--you not only help wildlife, but you also qualify to become an official Certified Wildlife Habitat™.

Here are the basic steps in creating a wildlife habitat in your yard:

1. Provide Food for Wildlife. Berries, seeds, nuts, pollen, fruit-- you may already have one of these sources growing. I had a dogwood and an old pecan tree. I added native plants that provide nectar and food-- in my case, this meant gradually planting favorites such as Joe-Pye Weed, Narrow-leaf Sunflower, Bee Balm, black-eyed Susan, cone flower, and cardinal flower. Native plants are hardy, need little maintenance, are plentiful food sources for butterflies and birds, and just happen to be gorgeous, too. [You can find a list of native plants for your region here.] I added birdfeeders--with sunflower seeds and suet, which attract just about every kind of bird around--including red-bellied woodpeckers. This spring I began putting out mealworms for the blue birds--beautiful cobalt blue!-- and a pair of them are nesting in the front yard.

2. Supply Water for Wildlife. You may already be near a pond, lake, river, creek, ocean, or wetland. But if you're not, you can add human-made features such as bird baths, puddling areas for butterflies, installed ponds or rain gardens. I have a bird bath I made out of flower pots and an enamel pan. In the shade garden I have a small burbling fountain.

3. Create Cover for Wildlife. Wildlife need places to feel safe from people, predators, and inclement weather. [Don't we all!] This is a good excuse to stop trimming so often those prickly shrubs, bushes and thickets. Bring on the brush piles! Rock piles, too. Trees, even dead ones, are perfect. And don't forget to attract other helpful pollinators, such as bats or bees.

4. Give Wildlife a Place to Raise Their Young. I supplemented with birdhouses-- adding a new one every spring. Needless to say, we have plenty of little ones around here--feathered and furred, some of them greeting us at the window. Two years ago, after learning about how bats are endangered and in need of habitats, I added a bat house. Bats are fabulous creatures, and voracious mosquito eaters by the way. And cuddly? Oh, yes. Have you ever read the children's book Stellaluna?

5. Garden in an Environmentally Friendly Way. Your eyes don't have to glaze over at "sustainable gardening practices." For me, this meant doing things like

1) starting a compost pile--with coffee and tea grounds, kitchen scraps, leaf and grass trimmings. I spread it in the garden to enrich the soil.

2) Eliminating the lawn--or at least trimming back. Lawns are high-maintenance, demand a lot of water and labor--and worse, chemicals. I mulched over most of my front yard with a layer of newspaper and pine needles, and replaced most of the lawn with a raised-bed vegetable garden and native flowers. No more lawn service, chemicals, and mowing!

3) Mulch, as I mentioned, saves water and your back!

4) Use organic fertilizers, and stop using expensive [and harmful] pesticides and chemical fertilizers. I've gone totally organic--using compost and fish emulsion for fertilizer. I never use pesticides (kills the good insects like ladybugs, butterflies, mantises, too). My tomatoes--and all the other veggies-- in my garden are thriving, maybe because the birds are happy to devour the pests.

5) Conserve water. After last summer's drought, I added a rain barrel under one of my gutters.This spring, my barrel runneth over.

6.Register Your Yard as a Wildlife Habitat. Congratulate yourself on creating a "haven" on earth...and being a good example to your neighbors. Sit back in your favorite lawn chair and enjoy. The butterflies, bees, and birds put on quite a show!
Bio: Mindy Friddle's first novel, The Garden Angel (St. Martin’s Press/Picador) was selected for Barnes and Noble's Discover Great New Writers program in 2004, and was a National Public Radio (NPR) Morning Edition summer reading pick. Secret Keepers, her second novel, was published by St. Martin's Press in May.She lives, writes, and gardens in Greenville, South Carolina where she directs the Writing Room, a community-based nonprofit program she founded in 2006. She often posts photographs of her garden on her blog Novel Thoughts: Musings on Reading, Writing & the Earth. Visit Mindy online at


Jodi said...

You've inspired me to see if I can register my yard. We do still have the lawn but my husband is slowly but surely replacing it with flowerbeds--he hates to mow. I guess you could say Emma had a wildlife habitat, she just didn't register it?

Gayle said...

I'm not ready to register the yard, but I would like to attract more wildlife. Thank you for the fascinating post, Mindy!

Mindy Friddle said...

Once you start attracting the birds--including hummingbirds-- and butterflies, you'll find yourself watching and observing a LOT...and, best of all, relaxing!