In June, 2007, the Wachiska Audubon Society will hold their annual “Wildlife Tour of Lincoln Gardens”. So what is this Habitat? How do you make one? As we pour cement over our soil for buildings, parking lots, and new homes the wildlife is pushed farther back.  There are estimates on how many species and plants and animals that becomes extinct every year.  People in town and cities like Lincoln can make a small dent in these losses by providing space in their yards by planning for wildlife.  We won’t be able to harbor tigers or lions but there is plenty of room for birds and butterflies.  Many people have never thought of Lady Bugs, Praying Mantis, and many other insects as friends, and a way to spend less money on pesticides, by encouraging their survival with plants.

          There is a registry for your yard if you are interested. They will send you a kit with ideas. To be eligible your yard needs to provide shelter, food, water, and places to reproduce. My yard has been registered for many years. I plant a BUTTERFLY garden and feed birds year round hoping the birds will eat my food and not eat all of my BUTTERFLY larvae (caterpillars). Have you ever watched a CARDINAL swing on a DILL plant as it searches for SWALLOW TAIL babies. I try to have a thick and large enough patch so some can escape.  DILL needs full sun, fertile soil with good drainage.  They produce huge numbers of seeds so once you have a patch it will try to enlarge.  Each fall I try to gather one or 2 pints of the seeds.  DILL is in the front and FENNEL in the back and I don’t want them to cross pollinate as the hybrid crop will lessen the DILL smell and flavor. I like the dark FENNEL as a contrasting color to green.  It has hollow stems where LADY BUGS spend the winter.  The foliage is lacy and looks good in vases with bright flowers.

          BUTTERFLIES need a puddle for water.  A bird bath bowl on the ground near a few rocks for a landing field works fine. A little mud, a little manure kept wet, gives them the “salts” they need. They actually have puddle parties and you can see them, usually males in large numbers. For example the YELLOW SULFUR BUTTERFLY is well known for this behavior. You can put over ripe fruit near the puddle to get even more BUTTERFLIES, or a little sugar or honey mixed in the mud.

          Some of our BUTTERFLIES migrate from further South so the large numbers are later in the summer.  Once I counted 75 MONARCHS on a patch of AUTUMN JOY SEDUM to rest for the night on their way back to Mexico in the fall.  PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLIES arrive in late May or early June. Some years there seems to be hundreds.  A few years ago they settled on my coneflowers for their egg laying and soon the larvae created ragged plants.  This has not happened again but every year I see small numbers in the fall.

In my yard their favorite plants are JOE PYE WEED, EUPATORIUM sp., the TALL NEW ENGLAND ASTERS, COSMOS, JUPITERS BEARD, MILKWEED, PHLOX, ZINNIAS and the tall, skinny BRAZIL VERBENEA (bonarensis). Native plants attract more as they seem to ignore the ones their ancestors never had. When planning your garden remember to plant nectar plants for the adults and nursery plants for their eggs and larvae. They are much fussier for the young than for the adults.  Some moths such LUNA and CERCROPIAN MOTHS never eat as they have no moth parts but go about immediately after hatching to start a new generation. But what gorgeous creatures they both are. Many think they are a HUMMINGBIRD or call them a HUMMINGBIRD MOTH.  Shady yards are not as popular as they can not fly unless warm enough so they like sunny areas to pick up heat.  

Birds also need an assortment of plants in order to be a success.  Trees and shrubs for nest building, and protection. I have a HAWK that visits quite often and the little guys disappear into the BLUE SPRUCE or the CEDAR TREES, which are trimmed so they grow closely together. During the winter I have any number of SPARROWS, SNOW BIRDS (JUNCOS) and CHICADEES that stay in a huge, round YEW that is also trimmed to create a snow less haven near the bird feeders on the patio.  There is a cat that would like to spend its time under there but my dogs check first thing every morning.  So generally in the winter I roll a number of my plant cages under there to keep him out.

          The last few years GRASSHOPPERS have appeared in the front yard but I have a pair of ROBINS and a pair of CARDINALS that keeps the numbers down.  To keep the birds around I try to keep my five bird baths filled in the summer time and one heated in the winter.  When the sprinklers are going it is fun to watch the birds drink, play, and bathe. Some are on the lawn, and some on the branches waiting for it to come around again.  BUTTERFLIES do not like sprinklers. 

Not all birds eat seeds as their main diet.  BLACKBIRDS, such as RED WINGED BLACKBIRDS, GRACKLES, and STARLINGS like to pull grubs out of the lawn.  They also love to eat onion tops and the tender onions if they can get to them.  In the backyard there is a SERVICEBERRY (Amilanchier) that produces fruit in late spring the same as my CRABAPPLE TREES.  The squirrels pick the APPLES before they are ripe, take a bite, and then drop them.  The birds and the butterflies seem to like them after they decay a little. Have you seen a drunken ROBIN that ate too many fermenting ones?  CEDAR WAXWINGS will have this happen occasionally from the HAWTHORNE berries.

          My compost never gets completely broken down but everything goes through a chipper so as soon as I can see what is up in the spring, I like to start using it to keep moisture in and weeds from germinating.  Immediately behind me are birds scratching and throwing pieces aside to find all the insects that spent the winter in the pile. Sometimes I have to go back over and take the compost off the path and put it back under the plants.  In the meantime the birds and their babies have breakfast as they reduce my “critter” population. 

I just received a new book from one of my seed catalogues call “Wildlife Friendly Plants” by Rosemary Creeser.  It is not a big book but has a plant directory naming and how to care for a wildlife habitat. She also names the plants that our “good bugs” like.

Copyright 2007