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Making your backyard into a habitat for wildlife

PETER ALEXANDER
special to the daily
Special to the DailyCreating a more wildlife-friendly backyard is key if you want to attract critters from the area.
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With more wildlife space taken up for housing, you can make a difference by creating a habitat for native, indigenous wildlife in your own backyard. And, with an added sitting area, you can make your backyard habitat into an extension of your living room during the warmer months.

To make a habitat for wildlife, all you need are the following: food sources, water sources, places for cover, and sustainable gardening practices. Let’s start with food. You will need three types of plants or supplemental feeders: seeds from a plant, berries, nectar, foliage/twigs, nuts, fruits, sap, pollen, suet, bird feeder, squirrel feeder, hummingbird feeder, or a butterfly feeder. Many of the native plants we see every day are sources of food for wildlife, including flowers, shrubs and trees. Flowers can provide nectar for birds and butterflies, while also providing pollen for bees and other insects. A couple of flowers native to the high country that provide food for birds include Gaillardia, which is similar in shape to a sunflower, and the Rocky Mountain Penstemon, which will attract hummingbirds. For shrubs, chokecherry shrubs and currants provide fruit for birds, as well as cover for nesting.

Water is important for wildlife survival, and providing a source is as simple as installing a small bird bath, or creating a small pond. There are many options you can choose from to create a small pond that is easy to install and maintain, or you may want to create a small stream with a collecting pond at the bottom. Streams can be a bit more complicated, but the sound of the rushing water is soothing. With a little research, or a visit to your local gardening center, you can determine what will work best for you.

Providing cover can be as easy as putting up a birdhouse/nesting house, making a rock pile, planting dense shrubs or evergreens, or even just making a pile of logs. Cover is essential for wildlife to safely raise their young, and providing these shelters might help ensure the wildlife will return year after year.

Sustainable gardening, or maintaining your yard/habitat in an environmentally friendly way, will make your backyard habitat complete. Mulching maintains water in the soil and plants, water that might otherwise evaporate. As mulch breaks down, it provides nutrients to the soil which reduce the need for fertilizers. Reducing the lawn area in your yard decreases yard maintenance and chemical (fertilizer) use. Also, lawns provide little value for wildlife. Xeriscaping; reducing or eliminating the need for outdoor water use by using drought-tolerant plant material can also reduce time on maintenance. Removing invasive plant species and replacing with native plants helps restore the natural balance in your habitat. For sustainable gardening, you should be practicing two of the following: soil and water conservation, controlling exotic species, and organic practices. Scheduling a visit with your local gardening center and talking with someone knowledgeable about sustainable practices, will help you identify what will work best for you.

Once you have followed the steps above to create a backyard habitat, you can have your habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

To learn more about making your backyard into a habitat for wildlife, and certifying your yard, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s website at http://www.nwf.org/In-Your-Backyard.aspx. This website was used to help write this column.

This article was written by Peter Alexander of Neils Lunceford Landscape Design/Build (www.neilslunceford.com). Peter can be reached at (970) 468-0340, or at peteralexander@neilslunceford.com


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