Make your backyard more wildlife-welcome
When we plan gardens and landscaping we often focus on our needs—is it aesthetically pleasing, low maintenance, full of the fruits and vegetables our families love? But where we see colorful flowers and lush foliage, animals and insects see sources of food, water and shelter. One piece of the coexistence puzzle is sharing our space, especially as cities continue to grow and erase wilderness. So let’s look out for the little guys and make our yards more hospitable.
The National Wildlife Federation says one of the most important components of a wildlife-friendly garden is native plants. Since they’ve been here practically forever, they’re already accustomed to San Diego’s climate—lots of sunshine, mostly mild temperatures, little rain—and the local birds, butterflies, bees, amphibians, reptiles and rodents we want to attract are accustomed to them.
Native plants are at the start of the food chain—berries, nuts, seeds and nectar nourish insects and small animals, which in turn become food for larger animals. Ideally, your garden would have a mix of spring- and summer-blooming flowers and leafy plants, along with shrubs and trees that produce berries through fall and winter.
Shrubs and thickets with bristly branches, like manzanita and juniper, double as a hiding place from predators. Think big, too. Trees like live oaks and evergreens are not only good for the environment, they’re perfect places for birds and squirrels to raise their young. Even dead trees can make for a good shelter.
Our Pollinator Pals
We rely on pollinators like bees, beetles, bats and butterflies more than we think. According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than 80 percent of flowering plants—including those that make fruits, vegetables and nuts—wouldn’t be able to reproduce without them. But pollinator populations are on the decline. Help them thrive by planting a variety of flowers that bloom anywhere from early spring through late fall. Try milkweed (a favorite of monarch butterflies), California poppies, redbud trees, hummingbird trumpets and night-blooming flowers—moths and bats need love too.
Don’t forget about water. Add a pond, a water garden, a birdbath—even a shallow dish of water will do.
Keep Pests Away
There are a few ways to narrow down the types of wildlife that will call your garden home. Dill, cilantro and parsley don’t just flavor food, they also attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, that prey on pests. Dill also repels tomato worms. Some species of birds and bats feast on the insects that would be noshing their way through your veggies. Bring them your way with native trees and shrubs where they can rest or raise their young. Bat and bird boxes work, too.
It’s important to seek out environmentally friendly ways to control pests. Crushed eggshells spread around plants will protect them from slugs and snails. Rags soaked in apple cider vinegar work for many animals, including skunks (although you might want to keep skunks around—they eat insects and mice). Placing cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil in gopher holes may encourage those critters to burrow elsewhere, and cayenne pepper deters rabbits and squirrels. No matter how fed up you get with pests, poison isn’t the solution—it can be detrimental to larger predators farther down the food chain, or to your pets in your own backyard.