“You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this (Gardening for Wildlife),” says Sarah Coulber with Canadian Wildlife Federation (CSF). “These little simple choices we make have great potential for doing good both near and far.”
In her own yard, she uses an old glass pie pan for water, which is one of the four key elements to support wildlife. The others are food, shelter, and earth-friendly gardening practices.
It also doesn’t have to look messy, she adds. It’s about “incorporating elements of nature in your garden,” which can be in whatever style you want.
The most important gardening practice is avoiding pesticides, says Coulber. Also, don’t buy seeds or plants which have been sprayed with neonicotinoids (neonics). These plants can produce seeds which harm wildlife.
Other gardening practices are composting, mulching, and leaving seed heads and stalks up through winter for food and shelter.
Bees and other pollinators are important for plants to reproduce.
Honey bees are an introduced species, she adds. Most native bees and wasps are solitary, and many nest in broken stalks. A rule of thumb is to leave at least 15 cm (six inches). Since most of these insects aren’t territorial, they don’t sting or bite.
“Native species support insects and insects support the birds,” says Coulber. “Our native species are perfectly designed for our wildlife and climate.”
In Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Backyard, Douglas W. Tallamy cites one of his studies. It found that chickadee parents fed their babies thousands of insects. Even birds that don’t normally eat insects feed them to their young and caterpillars provide the most nutrients for the least amount of work.
Caterpillars, butterflies, and moths often rely on specific native species for food and shelter, says Tallamy. Also, native berries have the correct fat to sugar ratio for native birds.
Plants provide both food and shelter, so it is important to plant a diversity of plants, says Coulber. This means trees, shrubs, blooming plants which provide nectar and pollen, and ones that produce berries or seeds. Flowers should be different shapes, colours, and bloom at different times.
Tallamy suggests to group trees like they would in the forest, so that their roots can grow together to provide stability. Also, leave leaves on the ground and plant shrubs and plants underneath the trees to mimic nature and add more shelter and food sources. A butterfly may eat one plant as a caterpillar, another as a butterfly, and spend the winter buried in fallen leaves.
Both CFW and Alberta Native Plant Council have information about native plants.
and has a small grant program for native plant projects done in Alberta. The grant application period won’t start until January 1 2022 and runs until February 28, 2022.
Here are some other suggestions from Coulber.
When it comes to water, for birds it should be shallow. For insects, it should be shallow with a few stones in it for them to perch on. In either case, the container should be washed frequently. Some butterflies suck food and minerals from mud puddles or damp soil.
As much as possible, decrease the amount of lawn as this is a dead space which very few insects or birds can use. It also takes a lot of energy to maintain with mowing and or watering.
Leave dead trees if it is safe to do so, as they provide shelter, food, nesting places, and perches for various birds. These include owls, bats, and further east wood ducks.
Avoid invasive species, many of which are still sold in nurseries. For more information on invasive species see, www.abinvasives.ca.