Wildlife gardening for me is about planting a diversity of native plants local to my area, that will provide food, nectar and habitat for the local fauna. This amazing interconnected relationship between flora and fauna becomes clearer each year as I add more native plant species resulting in new species of birds and insects visiting my landscape.
I love to investigate the relationships of each of these species: What native plants does this insect feed or nectar upon? What does this insect look like in its larval or instar stage? What type of habitat does this bird or insect need? Where do I most often see this new bird or insect in my landscape?
How does a diversity of native plants play a role in providing food, nectar and habitat?
One of the best ways is that native plants attract fauna (insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, herbivores etc.) that evolved with them over thousands of years. As many of you already know, Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home and his research on insect-native plant relationships has highlighted how important these ecosystem connections are. If you haven't read the book, I would recommend this two page article he wrote for the Wild Ones Newsletter as a primer.
When one mentions providing food for wildlife to the casual gardener, often the first thing people think about is a bird feeder. Bird seed and nuts will attract many types of birds, but of all the species in your area, only a minority are feeder visitors.
|Illustration created from the article Gardening For Life by Douglas Tallamy|
In fact, the major diet of most birds (96% terrestrial birds, see above) during the growing season are insects. Insects and native plants are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem and food chain.
In both the spring and fall in our Minnesota landscape, we watch migrating warblers come through the area on their way to and back from north. We have more warbler species visit each year, some like the understory native shrub plantings picking off insects from the branches. Others work through the tree canopy tops searching for insects.
Other bird species that are summer residents also visit our yard regularly. We created dense shrub plantings for cover and will see many sparrows, gray catbirds and flycatchers seeking cover underneath. If you don't have natural nesting holes in trees then adding nest boxes with holes of different sizes will attract birds.
Cooper's Hawks become more vocal in the spring and summer preying upon songbirds and later in the fall the Red Tailed Hawks will come by and reduce our squirrel population. This year, a Bald Eagle perched at the edge of our yard watching for prey.
After spending 20 minutes this summer observing my patch of Stiff Goldenrod, I found 16 different types of insects. The previous year I found at most 5. I can't wait to see what I find next season.
Each of the places we live have unique ecosystems. I live in an area which is a transition between a deciduous woodland and savanna called an Oak Woodland Brushland.
One of the ways I try to learn about my plant community is by visiting local parks to observe the native plants (and invasive plants) growing alongside each other. I then try to replicate that in my own landscape in the same conditions.
It is important to develop an understanding of your own local landscape, the pre-European settlement plant community, the geology, hydrology and soil composition so you have the right recipe for creating your native plant foundation.