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Designing Your Yard for Wildlife

By Jeff VanderMeer

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Are you currently in a mode of pushing back against the landscape or working with the
landscape?


Kindness and close observation are two important qualities with regard to designing a yard for wildlife. Kindness refers to always trying to live in harmony with wildlife and to find imaginative and organic ways to do so. Close observation refers to knowing your yard and what lives in it well enough that you both do no unintentional harm and so you can help to the fullest extent.


What if your yard could not just be useful to wildlife, but the kind of sanctuary where wildlife feels safe, contented, and happy?


“Wildlife” should mean, as much as possible, the widest variety of organisms, from mammals and birds to insects and invertebrates.
 

General Questions to Ask
 

  • How well do I know my yard already?

  • How does it currently serve or not serve wildlife?

  • What are the 2 or 3 major ways I can better serve wildlife?

  • What are the 2 or 3 things I can stop doing that will benefit wildlife?

 

Specific Things to Do

  • Conduct a tree survey of your yard and become familiar with the wildlife those trees

  • support. (Use the app PictureThis, which is 98% accurate.)

  • Use the tree survey to determine which trees are invasive and should be removed, but do so at a time that will not harm wildlife (nesting birds, etc.).

  • Choose one or two areas for “wildlife enrichment” and focus on them first rather than attempt wholesale change across the entire yard (to avoid unintended consequences).

  • Understand how wildlife travels through your yard and remove impediments (like unnecessary fencing) while providing enrichment along those paths. (CamPark trail cams are cheap but durable and high quality—invest in a couple to know what nocturnal wildlife uses your yard.)

Preconditions for Success (as many as possible)

 

  • No use of pesticides or herbicides or lawn treatments in the yard. (Spot application of herbicides only, in limited ways, for example on a tree stump.)

  • Limited or no outside lights at night (disrupts lifecycles of nocturnal animals and insects).

  • Put out water sources (birdbaths, some at ground level for box turtles, etc.)

  • Discourage feral cats.

  • Do not feed wildlife (except birds; exception, check re guidelines re avian flu)

  • Make your house secure by making sure there is no access to attics or crawlspaces.

Ways to See Your Yard

 

  • “Passive zones” encourage the preexisting native plants and trees and require only weeding out of invasive plants. This will preserve areas already likely of high value to wildlife.

  • “Restoration” of part of whatever landscape you live in to what it would be like in an rural/ wilderness state. For example, our ravine would be most like the Garden of Eden Trail near the Apalachicola River. Thinking of restoration as plants in the right combination with one another helps build up complex ecosystems, which creates a more complex biosphere.

  • “Seasonal Richness” refers to having food in the yard for wildlife every season of the year. This approach may require some Florida friendly plants and trees. (For example, we keep camelias for their value in early winter to pollinators.)

 

Creative Fixes to Wildlife Conflicts

A willingness to find a solution that does not require lethal intervention or relocation goes a long way; the right mental attitude and the right analysis of the problem’s actual severity make a difference. (If a rabbit eats some of your vegetables, should it be World War III?)

  • Armadillos love moist ground, so supersaturate areas you don’t mind them digging; protect sensitive plantings with logs around them of at least 10 inches in diameter and armadillos will usually dig elsewhere.

  • Raccoons like to dig up new plantings; plant loosely if possible the first time and the dug up plant will usually not be damaged and the raccoon’s curiosity will be satisfied.

  • Don’t like yellow jacket ground nests? Put a dab of peanut butter at the mouth after dark (the wasps sleep at night) and within a week raccoons, opossums, or sharks… I mean armadillos drawn by the smell will find the nest and eat all the wasps.

 

What creative, organic solutions can you find to help your relationship with wildlife?

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