Action: Enhance Backyard Habitats
Enhancing a backyard can be a great and easy project for families, schools, businesses, and communities! An Eco Friendly garden can reduce maintenance cost (no mowing!) increase property values (Trees = $). By creating natural habitats, we also contribute to local wildlife conservation and stewardship.
There are many projects available, for any age group. Going at your own pace, enjoying nature, and creating something with lasting benefits is the ultimate goal. Below are listed a few tips and tricks for your Backyard Habitat! If your SAM community would like more information on how to enhance community green spaces contact us here.
Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction - E.O. Wilson
Make a plan!
There are many great ideas for enhancing backyard habitats. Before you start, draw out a plan of what you hope to accomplish. Are you interested in birds, bugs, native plants? Take a look at our sample backyard habitat below and check out our resources section at the bottom of this page for links to suppliers and informational resources (Please note we don't endorse any particular suppliers and cannot guarantee products).
Habitats provide the necessities of life so they ALL include the following:
The 4 basic needs of any wildlife habitat are food, water, cover, and nesting. Keep those in mind when creating habitat in your backyard!
Planting your Habitat
There are many plants to choose from when creating habitat for wildlife. From trees to shrubs, flowering to fruiting, your choices will depend on what wildlife you want to attract. Many butterflies like Joe-pye weed, wintering birds will eat mountain ash berries, and bees are most attracted to purple flowers. Keep in mind the 4 elements of any habitat, (food, water, cover and nesting) when choosing plants!
Trees and Shrubs an important element of backyard habitats they can provide shelter and nesting areas for a large number of wildlife. Flowering, fruiting, seed and nut trees/shrubs provide food for wildlife. Coniferous trees can provide year round shelter as they don't lose their leaves in the winter. Deciduous trees can provide shelter and shade in the summer and leaf litter can be an important habitat for many bugs and insects.
Native Plants! Planting native species will ensure success in your habitat. These plants will already be adapted to the growing conditions and will produce food, shelter, and nesting areas compatible with local wildlife.
Think in layers a backyard habitat should have levels of multi-storied foliage for shelter and food. Plant shrubs next to small trees, small trees next to larger trees etc. This will create clusters of diverse habitat because some plants will provide shelter while others will provide food.
Nectar Rich Plants are Wildlife Favorites! Hummingbirds are attracted to red tubular flowers, and butterflies enjoy a lunch of brightly colored flowers. Having a diverse mix of flowering plants will ensure a great diversity of wildlife in your habitat.
Plant around Water Features Insects and birds that are attracted to water and will appreciate the shelter provided by water loving plants. Water features will also attract a more diverse wildlife population.
Snags are beautiful! A snags are dead trees, and they provide habitat for insects (a bug hotel!), and in turn these insects provide food for many bird species. Think low maintenance and leave dead and dying trees in your habitat.
Butterflies, Birds, and Bugs OH MY!
Wildlife come in many different forms. Creating a habitat for them not only helps to conserve, but it also plays a big role in our own food security as many are important pollinators. Creating wildlife gardens can be done at home, school, work, or as part of a community initiative.
Nearly 300 species of butterflies inhabit Canada, and in Newfoundland and Labrador 55 species have been recorded. These include:
White Veined Arctic
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
Images from inaturalist.org
Overwintering Butterflies: Family Nymphalidae
This family of butterflies actually spends the winter in Newfoundland hibernating in rock and tree crevices. These butterflies have a longer life span and can live 10 months or more. We can encourage this natural behavior by creating Butterfly Shelters . These shelters can be constructed by stacking logs in piles in a backyard habitat. Landscape fabric can be used in between the layers of logs to provide even more dark, dry, and secluded cavities for butterflies to hibernate.
Image from eco-art.org
TIPS for Creating a Butterfly Haven
Choose a sunny spot that is sheltered from prevailing winds
Put a light colored rock in your garden where the sun first appears to create a 'sunning' spot
Plant a diversity of blooms to attract the greatest variety of butterflies
Small space? no problem try filling planters with nectar-rich flowers
Select native flowers abundant in nectar
Include a mixture of early and late bloomers
Remember to provide a source of water for butterflies such as a shallow dish or bird bath
Butterflies prefer plants with large petals that provide a perch
They are attracted to red, orange, and yellow flowers
Remember butterflies start out as caterpillars, and most caterpillars are leaf eaters, so don't worry about a few damaged leaves
When creating bird habitat in your backyard keep in mind the 4 elements of a habitat: Food, Water, Cover, Nesting. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides in your garden as they can be harmful to birds and the food they eat. Provide a small bird bath or pond for birds to drink and bathe in. Also consider planting layers of shrubs with different textures. Some trees, such as conifers can provide excellent cover, where as smaller deciduous shrubs can provide areas for nesting either in the tree or on the ground. Many birds also will use birds houses and next boxes. Follow this link for the plans for a swallow box.
Features of a good birdhouse include:
Construction with Bird Safe Materials: Untreated wood keep birds healthy and galvanized screws allow for easy access opposed to nails or staples
Allows for Water to Drain Away: Sloped roof, recessed floors and drainage holes keeps birds dry and happy
Regulates Temperature: Using thick walls help insulate nests, and ventilation holes allow for heat to escape in the summer
Keep Predators OUT! No perches, and predator guards can keep squirrels, weasels, and cats out
The Right Size Entrance: different birds require different size entrance holes, while excluding predators and unwanted bird occupants
Helps Fledglings Leave the Nest: Rough interior walls, interior grooves give fledglings some traction when climbing out of the nest
Planting Native and Naturalized Species to attract Birds!
If you want to attract particular bird species to your yard you have to provide them with their favorite foods! See the list below for just a few examples!
Balsam fir - Blue jays, Robins, Sparrows, Tanagers
Spruce trees - Sparrows, Warblers, Pine Siskins, Nuthatchs, Crossbills
Larch trees - White winged Crossbills, Chickadees
Mountain Ash - Cedar Waxwings
Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sp.) - Robins, Thrushes, Vireos, Juncos, Kingbirds, Warblers
Juniper - Thrushes, Flickers, Warblers, Sparrows
Amelanchier species - Robins, Waxwings, Grosbeaks
Crabapples (Malus sp. ) - Robins, Thrushes, Catbirds, Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks
Northern Bayberry - Catbirds
Viburnum sp. - Robins, Finches, Catbirds, Waxwings
Black-capped chickadee in Larch, Pippy Park
Bugs and Bees: Gardening with Pollinators
Bugs and bees play vital roles in backyard habitat as pollinators, decomposers, and food sources for other wildlife. Encouraging beneficial insects to enjoy your habitat will in turn attract other wildlife, and keep populations of 'bad' bugs in check. Canada is home to many different bee species, some live above ground and some below, but every species is beneficial to plants!
Here are some tips and tricks for keeping your backyard habitat a haven for insect pollinators:
Plant Flowering Plants: Flowers produce sugar (nectar) and protein (pollen), the main diet for adult insects and birds!
Variety is the Spice of Life: There is no single best combination of flowers for wild bees, but see what works in your geographic area and avoid mono cultures of a single flower, this will only suite a small number of species
Think Local: Native plants attract native pollinators. Visit local nurseries to get advise on what is native or visit Digital Flora NL
Bees love back yards: They are more likely to live where there is a greater diversity of flowering plants than on a single crop farm
Keep the Food Chain Healthy: Don't use chemical pesticides or herbicides in your garden this will disrupt the food chain by damaging microbes in the soil that are consumed by insects, birds that consume the insects, and eventually back to us!
Go Natural: leave piles of leaves and fallen trees for bugs and insects to decompose
Backyard Nuisances Provide Services: wasps and fly species are pollinators at adults, and as larvae they control other insect pests
Weeds are Beautiful: Many weedy species are the favorite food of native pollinators
Honey Bee in backyard, St. John's, NL
Build A Bug Hotel
Building a bug hotel can be a great project for a garden, school, or community! It is a great way to interact with wildlife in the winter, and by encouraging the right kind of bugs it will help with the pollination of your backyard habitat in the spring. A bug hotel is made up of a variety of natural materials of different shapes and sizes, housed in a wooden structure. They can be large elaborate works of garden art, and they can be small and made of recycled materials. Here are some tips and tricks from the Fletcher Wildlife Garden when making your own bug hotel!
Use Natural Materials: Paint, stain, and pressure treated wood can interfere with the natural food chain
Location, Location, Location: Set up a bug hotel near flowering plants. Also many bees prefer sunny spots, so face your bug hotel in full sun, and protected from wind and rain
Hygiene is important: Replace frequently used tunnels and materials every year to reduce the chance of transmitting disease
Vary Tunnel Size: By having a variety of sized materials you bug hotel will support a larger diversity of species
Age Before Beauty: use old weather logs as they look more like snags that would be naturally used by insects
Ladybugs Hibernate: provide them with dry twigs and leaves that will make their winter cozy
Recycled materials: recycled wire screening and bricks can help keep smaller materials in place
Avoid Resinous Wood Species: Holes drilled in spruce and pine may fill in with resin, stick with maple and birch
Natural Hollow Stems: Use the hollow stems of native plant species in bundles to create tubes, try Wild parsnip species