Want to make a commitment to healthy gardening practices for people, wildlife, and the environment? You can do so by having your garden certified as a wildlife habitat. Then watch your garden come to life with buzzing, chirping, humming, and natural beauty. The best national garden certification program is done by The National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat. This certification allows home gardeners to be involved in conservation of our natural resources. It is also a fantastic way for children to become interested in outdoor activities. For many years, there has been a focus on having a perfect lawn and an immaculate garden – neither of which entices wildlife to visit. A certified wildlife habitat does not mean your garden has to be messy or unattractive. This certification means that you have chosen to share your space with wildlife and that you are sensitive to your local ecology. In fact, you will be making thoughtful choices.
Possible certification spaces include school grounds, entire neighborhoods, places of worship, as well as home gardens. The city of Austin, Texas, is certified! The first step is to pay a $20 fee to apply for certification. Once certified, the garden receives a plaque to denote its official designation as a certified habitat. To qualify there are five areas of focus: water, food, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices.
Clean water is essential for the following wildlife needs — bathing, drinking, breeding and egg-laying, finding food, and raising young. A birdbath is ample as long as the water is changed regularly, a small garden pond works well or an upside-down trash can top filled with water and some rocks. Water invites frogs, salamanders, dragonflies, hummingbirds, butterflies, and lightening bugs. Butterflies drink from puddles while frogs, toads, dragonflies, and damselflies lay their eggs in water. Allow plants around the water feature, such as ferns, to grow without pruning and leave fallen leaves as a source of protection and additional habitat.
Food for wildlife happens naturally when native plants are used – their berries, nuts, seeds, nectar, pollen, and insects will fulfill their needs. For example, hummingbirds love the nectar on flowers but they also eat gnats, mosquitoes, thrips and spiders. Leaving dead trees and/or fallen branches is a great way to provide insects that wildlife will feast on. Supplementing with feeders is also a good idea.
Creating cover is needed so wildlife can find shelter during extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain, snow, or heat. In order to achieve cover, you need dense shrubs or thickets, brush piles, rock piles, or the creation of an insect hotel (I wrote about how to make them in a previous article). Create an attractive insect hotel as it will be another element of beauty. I have a friend who created a hibernacula using stone as a place of refuge that creatures seek out during severe weather conditions. A dry stone wall also provides excellent cover.
Favorite places to raise young are often mature trees, dead trees, shrubs, or even nesting boxes. Remember to provide nesting materials by not pruning back too hard in the fall. For example, it is important to protect fledgling birds from cats and other predators. Butterfly larvae need to eat plants such as milkweed, parsley, fennel, and dill – so grow plenty of these plants.
Using sustainable gardening practices means that no toxic pesticides or chemical fertilizers can be used. Add compost to build up your soil. Removal of invasive plants, such as English ivy, will provide room for native plants, which are essential for wildlife to thrive. Delay deadheading on plants so that wildlife can eat the seeds. Promote diversity in your garden by planting a variety of native and non-invasive plants.
I hope you will decide to transform your garden into a sanctuary. Your outdoor space will be filled with abundant life for your family to enjoy!