Going Native

Living In a Wildlife Garden

Going NativeTrying to create some sort of order in my wildlife garden is futile. For a person who likes a place for everything and everything in its place, sharing a garden with the local birds and other assorted critters is downright frustrating. 

For instance, I fill the bird feeders for the birds and find them empty a day later. There is no way the local bird population can consume that much seed in a 24-hour period. I sneak a peak when least expected and find squirrels, deer and raccoons helping themselves to the bird food.

Racoon at the feeder

I tried to strategically place the feeders where I think only birds can reach them, but alas, I am outsmarted and still find empty feeders at the end of the day. So along with eggs, milk and butter, birdseed is a food staple on our weekly grocery list.

Deer

Providing shelter for birds was my next goal. I love bluebirds and wanted them to be part of the garden. So, I put up a bluebird house. The first year, we raised a batch of bluebirds and I was thrilled.

Bluebird

The next spring, sparrows found the bluebird house to their liking and they chased the bluebirds away. I put up a second bluebird house hoping for the return of a bluebird pair, but alas, we ended up with a second pair of sparrows. As you can probably guess, the sparrow population is now quite healthy around here.

Sparrow taking over the purple martin house 

Purple martin in the garageA few summers ago, purple martins set up their home in our garage. We left the garage door at least partially open all day and night until the purple martins decided it was time to move on. To keep them out of the garage the following year, we put up a purple martin house, well condos really. Remember all those sparrows we have been raising? Well, they decided they needed to expand into the condos. The purple martins still hang out in the garage.

The vegetable garden, if you want to call it that, is more of a community buffet and I am left with the scraps. I have yet to find a fence that keeps my fruit and vegetables protected until I can harvest them. I seem to be the last to know when food is ready to be eaten. 

Last year, I planted a container garden on the back deck. I was able to actually enjoy fresh tomatoes and I harvested enough to freeze a few bags, though I needed to cut away the portions that were nibbled on by the chipmunk that found itself in a food paradise.

Container garden

Even with all that being said, I have a stack of seed catalogs next to my reading chair. I am ever hopeful that this year I can gain some control over the goings on in the garden. It may not work out as I plan, but life in my garden seems to find a happy medium, albeit skewed more to the wildlife, but I did choose to live in a wildlife garden.

Let Fallen Leaves Lie

Autumn has traditionally been the time to put the garden to bed.  As a wildlife gardener, I look at my gardens as living ecosystems.  My gardens provide shelter, food, and water for the local wildlife as well as provide me with food, lovely flowers, and interesting foliage.   So putting the garden to bed means creating a place that can support wildlife during the winter and improve the garden’s health and yield in spring and summer. 

Fallen leaves

Probably the most important thing you can do this autumn is add a deep layer of fallen leaves to the garden.  If you use oak leaves, chop them up a bit because they take longer to break down and you will get more matting than aerated mulch.  If you have a shortage of easy-to-access fallen leaves, you can always pick up the filled leaf bags from your friends and neighbors.

Leaf mulch adds organic matter to your garden soil, protects the roots of your perennial plants, and keeps the soil from heaving if your winters include times of freezing and thawing.  In winter, leaf mulch also provides shelter for spiders, ladybugs, toads and salamanders.  These beneficial creatures feed on harmful insect creating a more balanced ecosystem.  This means you will have less insect pests eating your plants during the growing season.

Native bees, like bumblebees, hibernate under leaf litter.  If you can support hibernating bees in your garden then they will be out pollinating that much earlier come spring.   Leaf mulch also attracts birds in the spring as they search for insects to feed their fledglings or themselves after a long flight north.

Some butterflies hibernate in the north, though in different forms.  Your leaf litter provides an environment in which they can survive the winter.  Coral Hairstreak butterflies pass the winter as eggs.  Viceroy and Red Spotted Purple butterflies hibernate as larvae.  Gray Hairstreak and some swallowtails hibernate as pupae.  Mourning Cloak, Question Mark, and Comma butterflies hibernate as adults. 

So in the winter, your garden can be a wildlife haven if you let fallen leaves lie.   But as it true for us northern gardeners, we will not see the fruit of our labor until spring.