Healthy Backyard Options
A healthy yard is not really a “yard” at all. It is your habitat, an extension of your home and part of a larger ecological region. It can be beautiful, a source of peacefulness, and the center of wondrous enjoyment. It can show you the wonders and idiosyncrasies of nature’s creatures. But over the years it can also serve the purpose of expanding one’s appreciation of nature, of seeing relationships in the natural world, of sitting quietly on the patio and watching the chipmunks scoot by your feet, or a humming bird edging its beak into the opening of a trumpet vine. It can be a place to:
- Attract birds, bees and butterflies
- Emphasis on native plants and conservation
- For your kids to play
- To relax and read a good book
To attract birds to your backyard, remember that birds need food, water and shelter.
- Food: Many backyard birds are insect eaters and the insects love plants, bushes, and tree leaves. So, plant a lot of foliage in a combination, that supplies food year-round. Of course, other birds love nuts, seeds, fruit, or nectar, depending on the species and these items can be supplemented through the use of bird feeders.
- Water: Birds need water for drinking and for bathing. Bird baths are a simple, popular way to provide water, with endless designs available at garden centers and wild bird supply stores. Birds are attracted to the sound of running water and a spewing, drip, or misting feature will increase the number of visitors. Water heaters will keep the water free from ice during the winter months. The creation of ponds and water gardens will take some work, but done well, they can attract many species. Ponds for birds should be shallow, with gently sloping shorelines.
- Shelter: Birds need places where they can hide from predators and inclement weather. Native trees and shrubs of different densities and heights give birds’ places of retreat and safety. In winter, evergreens (esp. Hemlocks), and yews, can provide dense thicket which will offer critical cover.
Native plants are those species that were present locally when the first settlers arrived. These plants have evolved over thousands of years to be able to live on rainwater alone, without adding fertilizer. Their deep roots help infiltrate rain where it falls and carry the moisture deep into the ground to replenish our aquifers, cleaning it as it goes. By simply choosing native plants for our yards, we can restore vital habitat for birds, help them adapt and survive. Native landscaping is a key tool in increasing bird diversity and abundance. To survive, native birds need native plants and the insects that have co-evolved with them.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30 to 60 percent of fresh water in American cities is used for watering lawns. However, native plants have adapted to thrive in their regional landscape, without added water or nutrients. With climate change models predicting increased episodes of extreme drought such as California is experiencing, it’s a good time to shift to water-wise yards and native plants (from American Audubon Society).
Rain barrels are simply large containers that capture storm water from your roof that would otherwise be lost as runoff. Rain water is a precious fresh water resource and it doesn’t make sense to treat it like a waste product by straining our sewers systems. There is a finite amount of fresh water on earth and we can all take steps to protect it, starting with collecting it where it falls! By catching and keeping the rainwater that falls in your yard, you reduce flooding and keep pollutants out of rivers and streams, you’re left with clean water that is perfect for watering your garden, washing your car, and offsetting household water usage in many other ways.
Think about installing a variety of landscapes, equipment, configurations, and natural resources that encourages exploration, creativity, physical activity, interaction, a connection to the land … or just a place to play “Cops & Robbers.”
Check out your local library, and after 5 minutes of silence in your backyard, birds and other critters will emerge and start to arrive. It is a wonderful feeling sharing the same space with curious and timid creatures in nature.
A. Chalet Nursery and Garden Center
Address: 3132 Lake Avenue, Wilmette, IL 60091
Landscape direct: 847-688-0561
B. Wild Birds Unlimited
Address: 1891 2nd St, Highland Park, IL 60035