When we hear the term “conservation,” we start thinking about lakes and streams and forests and wildlife. Also our state and county park systems come to mind. According to statistics from the USDA, there are nearly two billion acres of land in the United States. About 70 percent of that land is privately owned, and care of that land is in the hands of those who live and work on it. Most of the 1.4 billion acres is managed by farmers and ranchers. More than 92 million acres – an area the size of California – is privately developed and much of it is tended by homeowners.
Farmers and ranchers have used conservation practices to help protect their soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources. It is possible for you to use some of these practices in your own backyard. Conservation can be just as effective on a small scale as well as on a big scale. What kind of things can you do in your backyard?
In utilizing conservation practices in our backyards, we are really creating a mini wildlife habitat. Creating a wildlife habitat includes four basic needs; food, water, cover, and nesting. A site evaluation of your yard is a good starting point. You need to know how much area you want to landscape and what type of wildlife you want to attract. Birds and butterflies are probably more acceptable than raccoons and groundhogs.
Some practices you might consider are many and varied. The biggest part of the project is probably the plantings – trees and shrubs. Selection of trees and shrubs will influence and provide cover and shelter as well as food. You can select evergreen species for year-round cover and shelter, fruit or nut-bearing plants for a food source, and deciduous trees (leaf-dropping) that can offer summer shelter for wildlife as well as shade for your home, while allowing light to get through during the darker winter months. Using native plants and trees to the area will work best. Native species are adapted to your growing conditions and produce the foods and shelter local wildlife need. Select plants that flower and bear fruit at different times of year. You should plant in clusters and at multi-levels, having shrubs leading to small trees alongside larger trees.
If you want to attract a variety of birds or butterflies, plant a variety of nectar plants. The sunflower will attract birds such as chickadees, cardinals, and nuthatches. Fuchsia, foxglove, or beebalm attracts hummingbirds. Zinnias attract goldfinches. Bramble berries like raspberries or blackberries will attract wrens and catbirds. Pines attract finches, warblers, robins, and chickadees. Butterflies prefer plants with large petals that provide a perch. They also like purple flowers. The butterfly weed is a favorite. Butterflies also prefer the heat and are most active on sunny, warm days. They need sunning sites where they can warm up on cool mornings. A light-colored rock or a concrete garden structure placed in the morning sun is ideal. Water is also a necessity.
Water sources can be as simple as a birdbath or more elaborate in the form of a garden pond. Depending on the size of your backyard, the pond can become a whole habitat of its own. With native grasses along the edge, it could support frogs all the way up to stocking with fish if large enough. The possibilities are endless depending on the scope of what you want create. It is important to realize that a backyard wildlife habitat is always a work in progress. You can start out small and simple and gradually add other elements to enhance what you’ve started. Take the time to actually observe the wildlife you attract. If some plants don’t seem to be working, substitute something else to “fine tune” your backyard.
Depending on your location and the extent of your habitat, you may have to check with your local planning department or zoning board and any homeowner’s association bylaws. Locate birdfeeders and birdbaths near cover. You can build your own birdhouses specifically designed to attract the birds you want. Plans are readily available on the internet. If you have insect problems, you might consider building a bat house. Bats can consume 3,000 mosquitoes a night.
I have barely touched all the possibilities in creating a backyard conservation habitat. Go to the USDA website or Google “backyard habitat” to find suggestions of what you can do. I know by simply maintaining a birdbath under a shade tree in my yard, I have seen goldfinches, sparrows, bluebirds, blue jays, robins, and for the first time a scarlet tanager. Taking a little time to plan how you landscape your yard is a way to put you in tune with Mother Nature. It follows conservation practices. It enhances your property. It gives you the opportunity to view wildlife in its natural environs.
May the peace and joy of nature’s home be a continuing comfort in your life.