Do you enjoy nature, and watching wildlife? Do you wish there was a way to bring that experience to your own home? What if I told you that you can?
Consider creating a backyard wildlife garden. A backyard wildlife garden is simply a garden planted specifically to attract and support local wildlife. By simply choosing to plant native, beneficial plants, you can invite the creatures that you love to join you in your own backyard.
You may choose to plant for a more specific audience, such as a butterfly garden. This consists of native wildflowers that provide the nectar, shelter, and host plants needed for butterflies to flourish. Host plants are plants that specific butterfly larvae require to feed, grow, and pupate.
Example host plants:
- Milkweed hosts the larvae of the Monarch
- Aster hosts the larvae of the Pearl Crescent and Silvery Checkerspot
- False Indigo and Wild White Indigo host the larvae of the Dog Face Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, and Eastern Tailed-Blue
- Tickseed hosts the larvae of the Silvery Checkerspot Buckeye, and the ‘Karner’ Melissa Blue
- Black-Eyed Susan hosts the larvae of the Silvery Checkerspot
- Coriander, Dill and Parsley host the larvae of Swallowtails
- Cornflower host the larvae of the Painted Lady
- and there are many more…
Organizations such as the Save Our Monarchs Foundation and Monarch Watch provide free milkweed seeds to help bring back the dwindling Monarch Butterfly population. Monarchs are quickly losing their required food supply as milkweed is eradicated throughout the country. Monarchs require ‘milkweed waystations’ throughout their migration from the Northern part of the continent to mexico. No single monarch makes the entire journey, so they depend on milkweed being available to hatch the new generation to continue the migration.
Many other pollinators also benefit from your butterfly and wildlife gardens. Native pollinators are also struggling with the widespread use of pesticides and genetically modified crops that poison their specialized digestive systems. By planting native, organic wildflowers gardens you are providing your local pollinators with a safe, abundant food source to increase their populations. More pollinators means more healthy crops, more flowers, more trees, more life.
Want to take it a step further? Create an entire wildlife habitat in your backyard. Expand upon your butterfly garden and include things such as water sources, various food sources, places for creatures to hide, and safe places for animals to raise their young. You can help to reverse the affects of urban development on the local ecosystem by incorporating that ecosystem into your own property.
Creating a healthy and sustainable wildlife habitat also involves environmentally friendly gardening practices, such as:
- Composting kitchen waste to create nutrient rich soil
- Utilizing a rain barrel to reduce your use of chlorinated water in your garden
- Refraining from the use of pesticides that can harm wildlife
- Choosing organic gardening practices to limit the chemicals present in your habitat
Finally, once you’ve created your beautiful butterfly garden or wildlife habitat, you have the option to get your property certified.
The National Wildlife Federation has a Certified Wildlife Habitat program that allows you to certify your property if it provides the four basic requirements for wildlife to thrive; food, water, shelter, and places to raise young. You also have the option to purchase a yard sign, letting your friends and neighbors know that you support wildlife, and helping to encourage others to take action.
Monarch Watch has a similar certification program. You can have your butterfly garden certified as a Monarch Waystation, as long as it provides host plants for monarch caterpillars, as well as sufficient nectar plants for the butterflies. You once again have the option of purchasing a Monarch Waystation sign to let your friends and neighbors know about your efforts.
Backyard Wildlife Garden Event and Web Page
Interested in learning more about creating a backyard wildlife garden, or getting hands-on experience?
Join us on July 18th at 7pm in the Decorah Community Prairie, next to Aase Haugen Senior Center in Decorah, Iowa.
Visit our Facebook page for more information on upcoming events, and for regular tips, articles, and updates about wildlife gardens: Winneshiek County Wildlife Gardens
*Images and article by Nick Chill Photography