How to: Create a backyard wildlife corridor
One of the hottest trends in outdoor design these days is the wildlife-friendly backyard. Rather than dedicating space to oversized patios and exotic plantings, many yard dwellers are creating urban wildlife corridors, places where native plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects – and humans – can coexist in harmony.
The need for wildlife-friendly backyards is more crucial than ever before, owing to the rapid loss of habitat as suburban subdivisions (and their requisite big-box stores) continue gobbling wildlife habitat across Canada.
Any home can provide a little patch of shelter for wildlife. A small urban balcony garden can harbour a nectar-rich rest-stop for beneficial insects like bees (which pollinate 70% of our agricultural crops), butterflies and ladybugs, while a larger urban, suburban or rural home can welcome everything from beneficial insects to a litany of songbirds, amphibians such as frogs and toads (which eat flies and other pest insects), harmless insect-eating garter snakes, and even small mammals like bats, rabbits, red foxes and skunks. Here’s how to roll out the welcome rug for native wildlife – while beautifying your home at the same time.
Plant a mixture of native plants, trees and bushes that will provide nectar, leaves, berries and seeds for birds. Include a variety of plant heights, from tall nectar-rich blossoms to groundcover and bushy prairie grasses – all provide food for different species, whether directly (though nectar, seeds of leaves) or indirectly (by harbouring insects that predators eat).
Keep the garden pesticide-free – you don’t want to kill beneficial insects. Birds and predator insects like ladybugs, lacewings and praying mantises will take care of pests.
Native plantings have the benefit of being more drought-tolerant than exotics, helping you conserve water. Ask your garden store rep for customized help, or search species suited to your zone online.
Some people choose to put out bird feeders year-round, while others only maintain feeders during the cold winter months when food is scarce. Whatever you do, be consistent about cleaning it and keeping it filled.
During summer months, hummingbird feeders stocked with syrup will attract these beautiful tiny birds to your garden.
Fresh water is a must for thirsty wildlife. Place your birdbath in shade or semi-shade so it doesn’t overheat, and change the water daily to discourage bacteria growth.
Better yet, install a backyard pond. Kits make this once-laborious task a simple weekend project, if you’re willing to roil up your sleeves and get sweaty.
Butterflies don’t drink from pools of water, so provide H2O for them by filling a shallow pan with fine gravel, and filling that with enough water to just keep it wet. Prevent mosquitoes from breeding in your yard, by changing birdbath water daily, and adding an aerator or stream to your pond ¬– skeeter larvae can only survive in still water.
Grow a variety of grasses, plants, bushes and groundcover to ensure shelter for various winged and four- and six-legged critters.<
Carve out niches by stacking landscape rocks so small “caverns” remain on the bottom – small bug-eating garter snakes, toads or other creatures will seek shelter here.
Another way to build an easy shelter for toads is to take a terra cotta flowerpot saucer and chip out a mouse hole-sized gap along the rim, and leave it on the ground in a flowerbed. You could also raise one side up on a stone, to provide an entry point. Install bird, bat- and butterfly houses out of the wind, on the side of your house or garage.
There are a number of ways to enjoy your yard, but creating a wildlife refuge is one of the best because it allows you to reconnect with nature, and welcome colourful birds, butterflies and other living “decorations” much prettier than their store-bought resin replicas!