Creating a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary
June 09, 2022
Creating a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary
By Lori Draz
Darting chipmunks, fireflies, ladybugs on your finger and the chirping of birds and frogs – it’s all part of summer. Everyone loves to watch butterflies, cardinals or a tiny hummingbird go by, but wildlife populations have drastically declined. Bees and other essential pollinators are wiped out. However, there are simple things you can easily do to turn your garden or neighborhood into a natural sanctuary.
Nature follows a pattern as tender leaves provide food for caterpillars and nesting birds feast on insects and nectar – it all works in balance. But non-native plants interrupt this cycle. Although beautiful, non-native landscape plants like ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers may not even be recognized by animals and insects. Without enough native plants for food and cover, insects cannot survive, nor can birds, pollinators and other wildlife in the cycle.
Jody Sackett of the Rumson Environmental Commission is a strong advocate for environmentally responsible practices. She shares some valuable tips on creating your own wildlife sanctuary in your backyard.
“The catastrophic reduction in wildlife populations is due in particular to habitat loss, reduced biodiversity and increased use of pesticides and herbicides,” she said. “Cutting down trees and replacing lawns with natural grassland growth dramatically reduces available habitats, diversity and food sources. Insect spraying also kills many necessary insects which are essential food for wildlife and pollinators. Herbicides not only control crabgrass and weeds, but also kill non-target plants, and the chemicals will stay in the environment for a long time.
But everyone can conserve nature in their own garden. Here are a few tips :
Become a native
Native plants are hardier, better adapted to our local climate and soils, and require much less care and water to thrive – no need to spoil them with fertilizers or pesticides. There are dozens of beautiful choices for shade, sun, or any soil condition. Visit RumsonNJ.gov/env/native-plants.html to learn more and see photos of the beautiful flowers.
Feed the birds
Overwintering birds like seeds, but many summer meals are insects. A chickadee mother needs 9,000 caterpillars to feed her chicks. Native plants and flowers attract these insects, so give the birds a break by planting some natives.
Create a backyard sanctuary or pocket park
A backyard wildlife sanctuary filled with native trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses also provides shelter. In large lawns, create a miniature wildlife corridor. Don’t mow the strip, just let the grass grow wild. Wildflowers and animals will soon find their way there. No big lawn? Create a “pocket park”. Leave a small “re-wild” area; or add a rain garden. Learn more about it at RumsonNJ.gov/env/ask-an-ec.html. Even potted plants, shrubs, piles of sticks, birdhouses and insect hotels encourage wildlife. Add bat boxes, caterpillar-friendly plants, and a birdbath for your flying friends to enjoy a drink. Regardless of size, you can even have your garden sanctuary officially designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat at nwf.org/CERTIFY. Spread the word and ask your neighbors to add wildlife areas to their yard as well.
Adopt the Swedish custom of picking up discarded plastics and trash as you walk around. A plastic bottle cap takes 25 years to break down or that plastic water bottle takes 400 years to break down. If you only pick up two items on your walk, you have improved the local wildlife environment.
Plant a native tree
A single mature native oak can provide food, protection, breeding shelter and shelter for more than 4,000 species, according to Dr. Doug Tallamy, but a non-native can only host a dozen. species. It’s okay if the tree doesn’t survive; dead trees are excellent habitats for wildlife.
Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides
Let birds, ladybugs and bats gobble up your insects or use organic pest control products like eucalyptus and citrus essential oils. Weeds where under vinegar or boiling water; but keep a few to attract wildlife.
Good bye, night lights
Bright lights blind nocturnal animals and migrating birds that collide with buildings or become too disoriented to continue their migration. Turn off exterior house lights at night or add at least one motion sensor. While you’re at it, swap out regular white bulbs for yellow LEDs, which are less attractive to insects and more energy efficient.
Crafting Seed Bombs
Mix equal parts potting soil and clay with native seeds like milkweed and toss them over these barren patches of soil. The clay in these bombs absorbs water to promote germination, the soil adds nutrients and the seeds do the rest.
Visit the OFL Seed Exchange
Get started with a free set of natives by visiting the Rumson Environmental Commission’s Seed Exchange at the Oceanic Free Library. Plant them in your garden or simply in a pot. There are a variety of choices, including seeds from taller shrubs like the New Jersey tea plant or pretty common flowers like purple coneflowers. More horticultural details on seed exchange are available at RumsonNJ.gov/env/native-plants.html.