Living with NatureProject Summary
This project focuses on planting a garden with native plants and creating natural habitats that will attract wildlife and provide breeding and feeding areas for a wide variety of species. If an area for planting is not available, the principles of a natural garden can be learned. Also, the project discusses means of avoiding any lethal methods to control insects or animals with which one can come into contact in one's home or back yard, including Raccoons in garbage pails, deer munching shrubbery or moles burrowing in garden plots.
The ecological problems presented by green lawns (see previous project) have brought many people to realize that many gardens and yards tend to reflect a lack of ecological knowledge and concern, and fail to preserve a natural environment and maintain wildlife habitat. This subject has resulted in many books and even garden magazine articles, but only a small minority of homeowners have abandoned the green lawn or reduced its size, making it a small part of one's yard rather than the dominant component. The long-term goal of converting lawns to natural environments is to provide wildlife with habitat it has lost in recent times, a period during which housing developments gobbled up millions of acres of woodland and pastures. Also, lack of tolerance for wildlife has increased, with homeowners moving into areas only recently converted to housing to be dismayed and often fearful when they find wildlife in the back yard. These animals were the original tenants of the land, and we are the invaders, but few homeowners seem to realize this fact and want nature to be tamed and non-invasive. Common sense approaches to this potential conflicts will be explored.
o Conversion of a yard from grass to natural vegetation can be done at once by digging up the entire lawn, excavating at least 2 feet to aerate and compost the soil, and replanting. A natural garden can also be planted gradually, plot by plot. The most important step is preparing the soil by enriching it with natural compost and organic fertilizers so that soil microorganisms and invertebrates, such as earthworms, can flourish and plants will have a better likelihood of surviving. Acidity testing is important to create a soil condition to which the type of plants used will adjust. Conifers, mountain laurel, rhododendron and related plants require high acidity, while grasslands and meadows tend to be more alkaline. Use no pesticides or artificial chemicals. Also to be avoided are bug zappers. These electric units that hang outside and electrocute insects have been shown to kill thousands of useful insects, such as moths, but almost no mosquitoes, for which they are intended (see Wildlife Conservation magazine, July/August 1997). A school class can utilize a plot of land of varying size according to the amount of time and effort it can expend. Many of the books listed below provide clear guidelines to follow in establishing a garden with native plants. Plan the garden to conform to the regional ecosystems, and use only plants native to the area. Some of the suggestions made in various books and articles include planting non-native plants to attract butterflies or birds. This should be avoided, and such plants should be removed. Consult guides to native plants to determine whether a species is indigenous. The best sources for native plants are organizations, such as the New England Wild Flower Society in Framingham, Massachusetts, that propagate all plants sold and recommend that no wild plants be dug up from woodlands or other natural habitats. The most coveted and delicate species, such as damp woodland trilliums and lady slippers, will almost surely die if transplanted from the wild, as they live in a symbiosis with fungi. Moreover, they require many years to mature and are rare in the wild. The habitat established--whether a woodland, small pond with water plants, prairie with wildflowers, desert landscape with cacti or marsh--should be compatible with local vegetation. It might consist of recreating a habitat destroyed by developers on the very site. If the lot is completely open without shade trees or even bushes, it is not possible to establish a woodland environment immediately. The planting will have to be transitional, using species that would naturally seed in such areas, such as birch and ground cover plants in northern and mountainous areas. Whichever habitat is chosen, carefully record which plants are introduced and their survival on a regular basis.
o If you are creating a butterfly garden, follow instructions such as provided in the booklet, "Butterfly Gardening in New England," to establish shrub plants for the larvae, fragrant flowers to provide nectar for adults, a damp area for moisture and mineral feeding, and tangles of vegetation for the caterpillars. Keep in mind the locality. Host plants differ in each region of the country. In an open environment, a field of native goldenrod, milkweed and a diverse selection of plants would have the best likelihood of survival and attract butterflies of many species. Many butterflies specialize in a particular type of host plants, and only these can be planted. Flowers that attract many species of butterflies are a good introduction to such a project. When the flowers have appeared, spend an hour each sunny afternoon recording the species and numbers of butterflies that come to feed. Later in the season, try to find eggs, chrysalids and caterpillars among the vegetation. A good source for more information on this subject is A World for Butterflies. Photograph them. Note also other types of wildlife that come, whether birds, small rodents or other species. Write a report on the project, recording the successes and failures from beginning to end. The flowers may be left indefinitely, as they are perennials.
o Animals such as Raccoons, squirrels, deer, skunk, moles and rabbits are often seen as pests to be eliminated if they cause damage, eat prize plants or vegetables, or create burrows in the soil. What seems to be a major problem that can only result in trying to eliminate the animals can be solved or attitudes changed so that wildlife is better tolerated. Living With Wildlife, a book published by the Sierra Club, is based on the experiences of the California Center for Wildlife, a wildlife rehabilitation and education center with more than 200 volunteers and a professional staff. They receive more than 12,000 calls a year from people who have problems dealing with animal nuisances. Many problems, such as animals eating garden vegetables, can be solved with fencing, having garbage cans that cannot be opened by animals or are placed behind barriers, and spraying bushes and vegetation with substances and odors that repel animals. For example, to "raccoon-proof" a garbage can, fasten the lid securely with rope, bungee cords, chain or even weights. Secure the handle to a metal or wooden stake driven into the ground to prevent it from being rolled around. Store cans in wooden bins or in a locked shed or garage. Certain smells, such as ammonia, repel animals and can be sprayed on bushes or garbage cans. This book gives specific advice as well as encouraging a tolerant and positive attitude toward wildlife, reflecting the knowledge that we have entered their territory, not the opposite. If one's home has destroyed important habitat for wildlife, it is important to consider recreating it by allowing brush and shrubs to grow, instead of neat flower beds, to provide habitat for turtles, rabbits and groundhogs to share the property. Consider that a graceful deer in one's yard is a privilege to see. To protect special trees or fruit, spray them with repellants that contain milk, and hang bags of human hair. Most people choose to share their yards with deer and other wildlife, planting vegetation for them. It is also important to be tolerant of predators, such as bear, Cougar, Coyote and wolves, while staying far away from them. These predators, especially Cougar and Wolves, play an important role in regulating populations and maintaining the strength of deer and other ungulates. The overpopulation of deer in many parts of the country can be blamed on direct persecution of large predators. These predators should never be fed or approached, however, but allowed to exist as vital components in ecosystems. Few people are aware that Coyotes and foxes are important consumers of mice. A key factor in developing tolerance of wildlife is to understand their need to survive and to learn about and respect their natural behavior.
Books and Publications
Adams, George. 1994. Birdscaping Your Garden. A Practical Guide to Backyard
Birds and the Plants That Attract Them. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA.
Adler, Bill, Jr. 1992. Outwitting Critters. A Humane Guide for Confronting
Devious Animals and Winning. Lyons and Burford, Publishers, New York.
California Center for Wildlife with Diana Landau and Shelley Stump. 1994.
Living With Wildlife. How to Enjoy, Cope with, and Protect North America's
Wild Creatures Around Your Home and Theirs. A Sierra Club Book, San
Harper, Peter. 1994. The Natural Garden Book. A Holistic Approach to
Gardening. Simon & Schuster, New York.
Knopf, Jim, Sally Wasowski, John K. Boring, Glenn Keater, Jane Scott and Erica
Glasener. 1995. Natural Gardening. The Nature Company and Time-Life
Books, New York.
Merilees, Bill. 1989. Attracting Backyard Wildlife. A Guide for Nature-
Lovers. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, MN.
New England Wild Flower Society. 2000. Butterfly Gardening in New England.
New England Wild Flower Society and Garden Club Federation of
Massachusetts, 180 Hemenway Road, Framingham, MA 01701 (www.newfs.org).
Schappert, Phil. 2000. A World for Butterflies. Their Lives, Behavior and
Future. Firefly Books, Buffalo, NY.
Schenk, George. 1997. Moss Gardening; Including Lichen, Liverworts and
Other Miniatures. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Schneck, Marcus. 1992. Your Backyard Wildlife Garden. Rodale Press, Emmaus,
Sweden, James van. 1997. Gardening with Nature. Random House, New York.