Make plans now to garden with habitat in mind

Proper preparation helps people do their part for the planet

Posted 2/26/19

Evergreens, deciduous trees, berry bushes, grasses, flowers for all seasons — one can surround oneself with growing things for a great part of the year in Colorado where we live. Nourishment ensues …

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Make plans now to garden with habitat in mind

Proper preparation helps people do their part for the planet

Posted

Evergreens, deciduous trees, berry bushes, grasses, flowers for all seasons — one can surround oneself with growing things for a great part of the year in Colorado where we live. Nourishment ensues for all concerned: gardener and assorted visitors.

Despite blazing sun and cold nights, a great variety of plants will grow happily here and they will invite birds and pollinators to visit and live with you.

Food, water, cover and places to raise young are required — probably many readers’ yards already contain these ingredients for a National Wildlife Federation “Certified Wildlife Habitat” that is one more puzzle piece in place for replenishing resources for visiting birds, butterflies and possibly other small creatures. See nwf.org for information.

The NWF also encourages Schoolyard Habitats (there are more than 7,000 across the nation and a parent might want to help with a project at a neighborhood school, in addition to considering the home’s surroundings).

I would want to encourage neighborhood organizations to make information available to residents — both new and longtime.

As our metro area fills with more concrete and housing, food for wildlife decreases monthly. And gardening here is tricky if a new neighbor has come from the Midwest or a coast. Offer some help, please.

February/early March is the time of year when impatient gardeners leaf through catalogues, research online for new varieties of plants and search for shoots of spring bulbs emerging from the earth after snow melts.

Hopefully, our new plant choices will form with wildlife needs in mind: berry bushes to feed birds, trees that provide shelter and perhaps also food, flowers especially attractive to pollinators passing by, perhaps some milkweed plants to house and feed a Monarch butterfly’s striped caterpillars and especially important — a year-round source of water.

A shallow clay dish will work, as will a more handsome birdbath or perhaps a fountain in warm weather. (When it is ringed with chatty robins, drinking and splashing, adults and children will be delighted.)

Garden shops, hardware stores and specialty spots like Wild Birds Unlimited will have a variety of devices to keep water from freezing. This is as important as food.

Food sources include seeds, berries, nectar, nuts, fruits, sap, pollen and foliage and twigs — you don’t get to choose which one — sharing is what it’s about!

A feeder with birdseed is certainly welcomed by feathered friends — and of course, the resident squirrel family, but if one considers the entire yard as a potential resource for food and shelter, the rewards can be expanded — for gardener and critters!

Resources for information are plentiful: public gardens (Hudson Gardens, Chatfield Farms, Denver Botanic Gardens) … public parks, nurseries, county extension services, garden clubs and more, depending on how one wishes to access information.

Of course, NO pesticide is a cardinal rule here, which may result in some chewed-on leaves and blossoms, but hungry birds will consume those insects if a garden invites them to hang around.

An added attraction is the host of migrating birds that pass by in summer and fall. I really believe they remember a spot that was welcoming. Keep binoculars and bird book handy near a window and teach kids to enjoy “let’s look it up.”

Start with a bit of research and perhaps a particular corner of your yard. How much sun is there? Is the soil reasonably workable? Perhaps soil should be tested if the property is new to you.

Check a local nursery, where employees know what is what — and where a proposed purchase will grow happily — and choose a few shrubs that will provide berries (Western sandcherry, elderberry, one of several currants, wild rose) — see lists on the CSU Extension site and that of the Native Plant Society.

If the property is new, a careful consideration of trees is in order and soil amendment will no doubt be necessary. If there are none, start one or two trees if possible-they are slow to mature.

The City of Littleton holds an annual sale. See website to order.) Of course, if there are already a bunch of trees, get acquainted with them and any particular needs they might have.

A selection of native perennials will mix well with some colorful annuals to attract pollinators and brighten a gardener’s flower bed — or pots. Garden club members and other neighbors usually are happy to share plants once established and may want to suggest favorites that do well in your immediate vicinity.

Beware of what are considered “aggressive” plants — those that want to take over a garden (think mint — put a barrier around it!)

Learn when a particular variety blooms, color and size and plan placement. There’s lots of help out there online and in print, as well as at your local nursery.

Pay particular attention to predicted future size and shape of trees and shrubs. We’ve all seen huge evergreens smashed up against a house! A native shrub that provides handsome leaves, nice flowers and, later, berries will be a good investment as you water, fertilize and talk to it.

Consider the native Oregon grape/holly with its evergreen leaves, yellow blooms and berries, for example, or chokecherry and know that birds will plant more of them where they wish, once the food source is established. (You may disagree on avian placement.)

If establishment of a Certified Wildlife Habitat appeals, see information on the NWF website. Application forms are available and there is a $20 registration fee. Which also provides a subscription to the nice NWF magazine.

For an additional $30, one can obtain an aluminum sign for your yard (or there’s a pricier wall plaque — but I’d prefer to invest in plants.)

Low-water plants are the way to go, versus those that require daily watering.

Some communities regulate landscape appearance, so be familiar with rules in your neighborhood, if any.

Think spring!

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