Creating & Managing a Certified Wildlife Habitat May 1, 2012 14:40

Close up of the Anna Pell House American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog in the Anna Pell House pond

I gave the attached PowerPoint presentation, "Creating & Managing a Certified Wildlife Habitat:  The Challenges & Joys of Gardening With and For Nature via National Wildlife Federation Guidelines", this past week at Newport in Bloom's 30th Anniversary annual Spring Gardening Workshop which was a part of Newport Arboretum Week.

I have included my notes from the presentation here in the following paragraphs to further illuminate the subject.

Why is it important to do this?  Many people equate wildlife habitats with large land tracts such as national parks, public spaces or African game reserves.  There is a tremendous loss of green space in built-up urban environments and small size plots such as household gardens, rooftop gardens, patios and even porch gardens become important.  An economy of scale can be created with numerous small habitats and wildlife corridors can be formed in the urban environment.  The collection of these small habitats evolves into sustainable gardening practices on a much larger scale which can have a potentially significant positive environmental impact.

In creating wildlife friendly gardens, we are attempting to mimic Mother Nature and use plants to provide the foundation for the habitat.

Four elements are needed for wildlife to survive and thrive:  food, water, shelter and places to raise young.  How and what you provide in your habitat defines what wildlife you attract in your garden.  The majority of the pictures in the presentation are from my garden at the Anna Pell House in Newport RI.  This was done intentionally to illustrate the fact that a relatively small, mature space can provide all of the elements that define an urban wildlife habitat.

Plant foods are a primary source of food for wildlife.  Feeders are a supplemental source to natural foods from the landscape.  The number of sources mentioned with the elements is merely the minimum number for certification.  Obviously, the more the merrier.

Water is critical for wildlife.  They need it to drink, bathe and survive.  A pedestal birdbath provides for birds and climbing animals.  A ground birdbath works for all animals including turtles, rabbits and amphibians.  If you have enough space, a water garden can attract water fowl and other wildlife.

Shelter is critical as it allows wildlife to be protected from the weather and predators.  Urban areas are filled with hedges that are living fences and ideal for wildlife.

In considering places to raise young, wildlife need a place for courtship, mating, bearing and raising young.  Dense plantings are suitable.

Native plants are the best choice for a wildlife friendly garden as native plants are in sync with wildlife through all four seasons.  For my garden, I have everything from rudbeckia, evening primrose, Solomon's Seal, wild honeysuckle, pussy willow, blueberry, phlox, iris, daylily, wild clematis, rhododendron, violets, allium, bee balm (monarda), New England aster, purple coneflower, ferns, mint, japonica, etc.

Finally, wildlife friendly gardening is all about sustainable gardening.  It is extremely important to focus on having very little lawn as it wastes resources including water, provides no cover and no place for young wildlife.  In addition, it functions well in a small urban space to have a minimal lawn. If you add in a rain barrel and a compost bin complete with red wriggler worms, you are all set for a beautiful garden that is a wildlife magnet.

Local wildlife in the urban garden consists of small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, and skunks, small amphibians, birds and insects including butterflies and the ever important bees which are critical to our food supply.

Establishing a wildlife habitat is not difficult and in fact most gardens have many of the elements already in place for certification.  It's about making a public commitment to wildlife friendly gardening and everything that implies regarding the intersection of the environment, all aspects of wildlife and our lives.  Along with your certificate, you can publicize your habitat with a yard sign made from recycled aluminum-how cool is that?

Due to size and upload time, the original PowerPoint file was saved as the PDF link below.  If you would like a copy of the PowerPoint presentation with all of the bells and whistles, just email me.  Enjoy!

NWF Habitat Presentation