Learn from the Masters: Garden Paradise for Wildlife | Community

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by LAURA ARMSTRONG, Winona Master Gardeners Volunteer Program

Many people think of their home as a haven, a place where they can relax from the stresses of everyday life and where they can rely on what they need. The outdoor spaces of a home – from an apartment balcony to a patio or a small strip of yard, even to a wooded area – extend this haven outward, providing us with the opportunity to welcome and support citizens of the natural world.

To provide refuge for wildlife, first know that “wildlife” means everything from a small native bee to a little brown bat. Plus, the interconnectedness of nature means that every choice you make has the potential to benefit many different types of wildlife.

You will need to provide four items:

1. A water source: Your property may contain a stream or be located near a river or lake. Otherwise, you could create your own pond! The easiest way is to provide a birdbath. Keep the birdbath clean, rinse or hose it down as needed, and be sure to keep it filled in hot weather. A wide, shallow birdbath works best, providing a safe approach for small birds. Including a variety of plants in your space also ensures insects will be able to get moisture from nectar and water droplets.

2. Food sources: Provide a varied menu in your outdoor space and consider plants that provide multiple types of food. For example, the serviceberry shrub (Juneberry) offers pollen for insects with its delicate spring flowers and tasty berries later in the summer, which birds (and humans!) can enjoy. Echinacea (purple coneflower) is a favorite nectar source for many species of pollinators; later, its seeds are favored by goldfinches. Any plant that feeds insects will also feed insectivores!

3. Sources of nesting material: Birds love dried grasses and stems, small twigs, and clumps of moss or mud. A typical small yard offers many of these useful items for smart nest makers. To complete, cut 2-4″ lengths of yarn or twine and drape them over branches or plants for birds to pick up.

4. Sources of Shelter: A shrub or tree not only provides a place for a bird to build a nest, but also provides shelter from rain, high winds, or winter cold. If you include a variety of plants in your garden, their different leaf shapes will provide rest, shade, and laying grounds for many beneficial insects. Even the design layout of your outdoor space can provide shelter; for example, a line of mid-tall, shade-loving hostas along a fence gives rabbits shelter from predators as they pass through your yard and rest from the summer heat.

For more ideas, you can check out the National Wildlife Federation website, which has a helpful “Certify Your Garden” checklist: www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Certify. Additionally, the University of Minnesota Extension offers a wide variety of helpful online resources to help you choose plants for your home landscape at extension.umn.edu/lawns-and-landscapes/landscape-design.

Have fun creating a refuge for you and your wildlife neighbours!

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