In addition to the feathered acts, butterflies, native bees, grasshoppers, lizards and spiders spin out their lives in plain view for us to see. Often a higher concentration of wild beings can be observed in a back yard rich in native plantings than in the wild itself.
Plants and animals have evolved an interlocking system of timing where plants flower and set seeds just as the wildlife is raising their young. Insect life flourishes at the same time that bird parents are seeking protein rich food for their rapidly growing young. Nature’s cycles are well timed and efficient.
Like most things in life, attracting wildlife with native planting has some do’s and don’ts.
Do: Remember that animals live at varying heights from the ground. Some birds choose to perch high in the treetops, others nest in thick shrubs at eye level. Try to include at least one native tree in your wildlife habitat along with a few mid-sized shrubs and ground covers. This will provide homes for the widest range of critters.
Do: Think about the varieties of foods birds and pollinators need. This includes seeds, nectar, fruit, berries and insects. Try to provide a diversity of options and look for plants that bloom and fruit at different times of the year.
Do: Provide a water feature that offers clean, fresh water in a location that the animals can safely access. This does not include swimming pools! Moving water is best, fountains, bubblers, and ponds are all terrific. Provide shallow water with a rough substrate underfoot. Even water in a pot saucer works if it’s cleaned frequently to discourage the spread of disease.
Do: Make everyone more comfortable by setting aside your tidy tendencies. Allow the branches of your shrubs to go a little wild, to reach to the ground. This provides shelter, roosting and hiding places. Allowing leaf litter to accumulate provides shelter for even the tiniest life including soil organisms.
Do: Develop a tolerance for bugs. Use organic products for those you just can’t stomach or get out and hand pick the marauders. Bug hunting will provide more wildlife viewing opportunities!
Do: Allow your blooming plants to go to seed. This is food! Consider leaving some dead branches or even a branch pile for critters to shelter in. Just remember not to poke around in your branch pile with bare hands.
Don’t trim trees and shrubs in early spring and summer as birds nest in the desert from February through August.
Don’t forget to enjoy your wildlife garden and to invite others over to see what you have accomplished. Celebrate the seasons!
Don’t bite off more than is comfortable: This is a process that can happen over time. Each native plant you add will provide a home or food for someone. Remember if you offer food, water and shelter your yard can be certified a Wildlife Habitat by National Wildlife Federation.
Wildlife habitat plant list from Arizona Game and Fish: http://www.azgfd.gov/pdfs/w_c/landscaping/PlanningHabitat.pdf