Wildlife’and pond life’in your landscape

The presence of birds and other wildlife can dramatically enhance your enjoyment of your landscape. Although there might be a few critters you’d rather not invite over to feast on your shrubs! This is the second part of a two-part discussion of this fascinating topic. If you missed the first part, you can find it by going to my web site www.landsteward.org and clicking on “The Plant Man” in the index. Look for the column titled, “Making your landscape a bird and wildlife ‘magnet’.” To recap one of the main points, I said that all birds and wildlife have four basic needs that must be met: food, shelter, water and space. Cater to at least two of those needs ‘ food and water ‘ and you’re on your way to creating some kind of wildlife habitat, regardless of the size of your property. What about water’ Water features are becoming ever more popular among homeowners, and providing some kind of relatively fresh water tends to attract wildlife, as you might guess. Just about every garden center and many department stores carry a wide variety of bird baths manufactured from materials that range from stainless steel to marble to extruded plastic. Perhaps these products really should be called “bird bars” as your backyard visitors are as likely to quench their thirst as to rinse out their feathers. You need to place a bird bath in a relatively open area. This allows birds to keep a beady eye out for predators ‘ such as your neighbor’s tabby ‘ while they drink and splash. However, to enjoy the sight of your visitors, locate the bird bath where you can see it clearly from your kitchen or den window. The most practical bird baths are wide and fairly shallow, like oversized dinner plates. Check every couple of days to ensure the bath has about 2.5 inches of fresh water. Your bird bath will also serve to provide water for butterflies. Place a couple of flat stones in the bath with the surface just above the water line. You’ll soon see butterflies perched on the dry part of the stone while they slurp up the water. If you particularly enjoy the sight of colorful butterflies in your garden, you can find some previous columns and other articles on the subject at www.landsteward.org but as a brief reminder, butterflies are attracted to the following perennials: Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and Garden Phlox (Polemoniaceae paniculata). Adding some annuals, such as Zinnia, is also a good idea. And as I’ve suggested before, place one or two butterfly houses near your Buddleias and you’ll be providing food, water and lodging: an irresistible lure for butterflies. If your landscape occupies a greater area than just a modest back yard, you could create a more extensive water feature. This could be as simple as a large non-fancy pond in the style of a farmer’s watering hole. You might find that your pond attracts migrating ducks, geese and other wildfowl. A good starting point is this link http://www.deq.state.mi.us/documents/deq-ead-pondlwmd.pdf that is aimed mainly at the residents of Michigan but contains some very practical information regardless of your location. You’ll find a direct link from this column at my web site. You might prefer to build a more formal water garden or a small, raised fishpond. A large number of books are available on building fish ponds andwater gardens, and you can probably find some good ones at your local library or online. As with any standing water, be aware of the potential for your water feature to become a mosquito farm! Be sure to research the use of pumps, fountains and filtration systems to reduce the presence of the flying pests. Fish love to feast on mosquito larvae. Mosquitofish (a type of minnow, also known as Gambusia) devour mosquito larvae as if it was candy. However, fish are unable to reach sloping edges of ponds where mosquitoes breed, so it’s a good idea to build your pond with vertical sides. Speaking of pests, you might want to discourage deer from camping out on your land. It’s almost impossible to drive them away completely, but planting shrubs they don’t care to eat is a good start. As a general rule, spiny or thorny plants tend to go uneaten. A good choice would be Holly, Barberry or Colorado Spruce. Deer also seem to avoid trees and shrubs that have a strong or distinctive taste such as Marigold and Boxwood. You can find an entire column on dealing with pesky deer at this link: http://www.landsteward.org/page.cfm/1824 and you might also investigate products such as Plant Pro-Tec Garlic and Repellex liquid and tablets. As you can see, it’s quite simple to create a landscape that attracts birds and other wildlife for you to enjoy year round. The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org

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