4 Simple Steps For Turning Your Yard Over To The Wild Things

Being a passionate environmentalist – albeit a deeply flawed one- and the father of a one year old girl presents some pretty huge challenges. It’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming onslaught of bad news regarding the natural world. It’s hard, in short, not to feel hopeless. At the same time, there’s this ecstatic, tiny, wild-woman tearing around my house, exploding with  tales and adventures yet written. Her future, and the future of the planet, is not cast in stone. And the truth is, its dangerous and lazy to assume we have any idea what life on earth will look like 100 years from now. Sure, we can extrapolate, but we can’t know.  Therefore, we, as parents, have to raise our kids to think- and act- beyond the current seeming reality. And to do that, we have to present working models for a new possibility, models which, in this case just might prevent global collapse. We desperately need to get beyond, “Holy shit, WHAT HAVE WE DONE!!??”, and switch into, “Ok, what can we do?” And then we have to ask, “What is our sphere of influence?” I’m not the president, and on a great day, about 20 people read my blog, so for me, the answer is simple: “Create wildlife habitat where we live.” Call it my high horse. Here’s why:

As this article in Grist plainly illustrates, the natural world is undergoing what can safely be called an apocalypse. Therefore, re-creating plant and animal habitat, mindfully creating”wild” green space within urban areas may well be our last hope for maintaining biodiversity on our rapidly declining planet. This alone can’t reverse global warming, sure, but if just one in ten homes adopted this discipline the impact could be staggering. And, I am attracted and challenged by the idea that we are a point where we can retrofit different, but still rich, bio-diverse “wilderness” in our over-developed towns and cities. When we read about climate change, the scale of the damage is so massive, most of us feel helpless. But retrofitting your property to be drought tolerant and wild-life friendly will no doubt help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help restore animal and songbird populations, and create pollinator habitat essential for our existence.

Admittedly, daring to trumpet my own progress on this front is an outrageous act for a neophyte gardener with only one year under his belt. But, my bigger offense would be failing to offer any roadmap for creating habitat, and for that, I apologize. Allow me to make reparations now:

There are many good sites out there that will guide the transformation of your lifeless desert of grass and concrete back into a teeming wilderness. The very simple plan I’ve posted here is offered by the National Wildlife Federation

Be sure to click on each of the four steps below to get in-depth information and links to each part of the process. 

Step 1: Provide Food for Wildlife

(click on the link for specifics)

Mixed seeds attract warblers, finches, fly catchers and many other birds
Mixed seeds attract warblers, finches, fly catchers and many other birds

The title says it all: Feed birds, bees, butterflies, rabbits, lizards, etc the things they need, with respect to where you live. You can fine tune your property (err, habitat), to be more bird friendly than, say, butterfly-friendly, but remember, the point here is to create as rich and bio-diverse a habitat as possible.  You’re trying to support the native ecosystem that pre-dated your mid-century 3 bedroom…or apartment or shot-gun shack. The more bio-diverse, the more stable, and the more powerfully you support the larger ecosystem that hosts you.

Step 2: Supply Water For Wildlife

(click on the link for specifics)

Finch Spa, or, Bird Bath, made in Mexico
Finch Spa, or, Bird Bath, made in Mexico

Even here in drought-embattled Southern California, there are many low-impact ways to bring water to wildlife. The link above lays it all out, from bird-baths to ponds, but whatever you choose, keep it simple and keep it fresh, and keep it mindful of what your region can support.

Step 3: Create Cover For Wildlife

(click on the link for specifics)

Jacaranda, Orange Jessamine, Fig, Podacarpus,   Lavender, Salvia, and many other provide cover from low to high.
Jacaranda, Orange Jessamine, Fig, Podacarpus, Lavender, Salvia, and many other provide cover from low to high.

Animals will naturally inhabit places that provide refuge from weather and predators. Cover comes in the form of bird-houses, low bushes, trees, rock-piles, deadfall, etc. The more levels you offer cover on, the richer and more diverse your retrofitted wilderness.

Step 4: Provide Cover For Wildlife to Raise Their Young

(click on the link for specifics)

As humanity intrudes on native habitat, breeding grounds get destroyed, by any number of causes. Providing cover for the things you attract can encourage them to breed and, in some cases, repopulate their numbers.

Monarch Butterfly chrysalis amongst the Pomegranate thistle
Monarch Butterfly chrysalis amongst the Pomegranate thistle

And finally:

Other resources for pollinator and Wildlife planting, by region:

Pollinator.Org- Guides for Planting, by region

Xerces.Org- Pollinator Resource, by region

Planting for Wildlife

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