Create a Nature-friendly Garden

Environmental Commentary by Marlene A. Condon

Providing habitat for numerous species of wildlife is a critically important to keep the environment functioning properly. And, it’s absolutely crucial to our well-being. Without the variety of services provided by wildlife, the environment simply cannot work as it should.

For example, without recyclers—such as slugs, snails, earwigs, flies, opossums—organic matter, which includes leaves, dried plant stems, animal droppings or dead animals, wouldn’t be broken down and returned to the soil for the benefit of plants.

If plants can’t access the nutrients locked up in organic matter, they run out of food and won’t be able to grow. Then animals, including humans, that depend on plant life won’t have food or survive.

It should be every person’s responsibility to help maintain the health of our environment by creating a nature wonderland that can provide homes for a great variety of species.

Unfortunately, many people prefer to garden only for particular species, such as birds or butterflies. But you can’t pick and choose without harming the very animals you want to help.

Let’s say that you put up shelves and/or boxes in the yard to make housing available for the kinds of birds that will make use of these structures to reproduce. But then a Black Rat Snake climbs into the structure and eats the eggs or chicks.

If you’re like many folks, you’d get angry and kill the snake (although this is illegal in some states). You’d think that the serpent was “bad.”

But the snake isn’t bad. If it didn’t help to limit bird populations, the birds would crowd and eat themselves out of house and home, bringing disease and starvation upon themselves.

For example, a pair of Carolina wrens can nest three times from spring to fall, averaging four chicks per brood. If the two adults, along with all 12 of their chicks, were to survive the season, your yard population would go from two Carolina Wrens to 14, which is an increase in population by a factor of seven. If year after year, all of the adult wrens mated and they and all of their chicks were to survive, each year your yard population of wrens would increase by a factor of seven.

In just 10 years, you would have produced—on your property alone—565 million Carolina wrens. And don’t forget all of the other bird species that are nesting on your property and elsewhere!

There’s simply not enough space and food available for all organisms to survive to adulthood, which is why predators are so vital to the proper functioning of the environment. We must recognize that even those animals that we have a special fondness for do need to be kept limited in number. This truism applies to every kind of animal—including man—because the Earth is limited in space and resources.

But this doesn’t mean you turn your birds into sitting ducks. If a snake gets into a structure much too often (I’ve found that, on average, you should expect this to occur only about once every three years.) it tells you there’s something wrong with that location and you need to move the structure.

You needn’t feel stupid for having placed the structure in that location. After all, the birds didn’t recognize there would be a problem, either.

The guidelines for creating a nature-friendly garden are simple.

Minimize the lawn because it doesn’t provide much food, shelter or nesting sites for animals. Instead, grow a variety of plants of differing heights: herbaceous flowers and grasses, vines, shrubs and trees to create vertical structure.

To decide what kinds of plants to grow, walk around your neighborhood and local parks. Bring a small notepad and pen and watch for animal activity among plants.

Write down the kinds of plants being visited by any kind of wildlife, especially insects. Insects provide an important clue to how valuable a plant is. If they are visiting blooms, the flowers must be providing nectar and/or pollen, a necessary food source for numerous kinds of creatures, from bees to hummingbirds. The insects themselves are a valuable food source for spiders, lizards and birds.

Bring a camera to photograph plants you’re not familiar with so you can try to identify them later.

Note whether each plant is located in sun or shade and whether it’s growing in dry or damp soil. The plants you choose to grow must be those for which you can provide the proper environment.

Marlene A. Condon, author of “The Nature-friendly Garden,” believes saving the natural world begins in one’s backyard. She can be reached at Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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