Some may believe that gardeners and the wildlife inhabiting their yards cannot possibly peacefully coexist. I will concede that gardeners and wildlife can be at odds, especially when the critters that call our yards home decide to sample from our vegetable gardens or dig up our ornamentals. I have had many an epic standoff with our resident groundhog family that views my vegetable garden as their personal restaurant. However, to me, gardeners also seem naturally wired to take care of nature, as they lovingly commit themselves to be caretakers of their plants, and foster a relationship with the environment they wish to cultivate. Wildlife, being an integral part of that environment, naturally becomes part of the gardening equation.
Having always been a wildlife lover, long before becoming a gardener, I have enjoyed the local wildlife that inhabits our yard. Looking out my window to watch rabbits, opossums, groundhogs, skunks, chipmunks, a myriad of bird species, and many others, is like turning on the nature channel. We welcome all creatures here at the Hubbell homestead, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and birds, albeit some I’m happier to see than others. To succeed, I must be diligent and realistic when creating harmony between the wildlife in my yard and my gardening ambitions. Barriers, such as fencing, row cover, and highly visible bird netting, have helped me keep the harmony between the wildlife lover and the gardener sides of my personality.
In truth, wildlife needs our help. Studies have shown that many species are declining due to habitat loss. One organization, The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), started a campaign to encourage people to create wildlife-friendly environments in their yards. The goal of these habitat gardens is to help replenish resources for wildlife to help them survive. NWF also allows homeowners to register their landscapes with the organization as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. I was intrigued with the program and wanted to do my part to help wildlife, so I excitedly accepted the challenge!
I started by reading a book published by NWF entitled Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife, written by David Mizejewski, a Naturalist for NWF. I found this book helpful when creating my wildlife habitat, as it offers many tips and suggestions. The book also describes several requirements for certifying your habitat. Applicants confirm that essential elements have been supplied, including food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. A checklist is provided both in the book and on NWF’s website with appropriate options for all of these resources.
Food sources are a critical part of wildlife habitats. Whenever possible, NWF recommends native plants as a foundation for the food chain in your habitat. Certification requires at least three food sources, including plants that provide fruit, nuts, foliage, seeds, pollen, or sap, as well as supplemental feeders for birds, squirrels, or butterflies.
Wildlife needs a source of clean water to survive, both to drink and, in the case of birds, for bathing to keep their feathers in good condition. Certification requires at least one water source in your habitat. Natural water sources such as ponds, lakes, streams, or wetlands can provide all the water wildlife require. Alternatively, if your habitat does not include a natural water source, you can install a birdbath or shallow pool.
Offering cover to wildlife allows them to protect themselves from predators, hide from prey, and shelter themselves from extreme weather. For certification, at least two types of cover must be present. Appropriate options include dense shrubs, a bramble patch, a wooded area, meadows, and ponds. Birdhouses and toad abodes are also considered acceptable cover.
While offering food, water, and cover in your habitat aids individual animals, providing places for wildlife to raise their young is essential for the survival of the species. Many options for cover can also double as places to raise young, such as meadows, wooded areas, and wetlands. Additionally, nest boxes and host plants for caterpillars are other great options. At least two of these areas must be provided for certification.
How you manage your habitat is equally important to providing wildlife with the resources to survive and thrive. By maintaining your landscape in an environmentally-friendly way, you ensure that the wildlife inhabiting your yard stays safe and healthy. NWF requires that the homeowner of a certified habitat employ at least two practices of managing their habitat sustainably. These methods may include capturing rainwater from the roof, using drip irrigation, limiting water use, and reducing soil erosion. Practicing integrated pest management, using native plants, composting, and eliminating chemical pesticides and fertilizers are other methods for fostering a sustainable environment.
I have now completed my certification for my wildlife habitat and, by adding pollinator-friendly plants, my garden also qualified towards the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. When you become certified, you may purchase a Certified Wildlife Habitat sign from NWF to display in your garden. I proudly present my sign in the hope that it will create awareness for the necessity of these habitats. The fees for the certification and sign fund NWF’s many programs that help wildlife. Gardeners and homeowners alike can all do their part to ensure our local wildlife species have the best chance of survival. I encourage you to consider creating a wildlife habitat in your landscape, as it is both an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
National Wildlife Federation Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife by David Mizejewski, Naturalist, NWF