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Ruth Correll: Planting for wildlife can benefit homeowner

Ruth Correll • Sep 27, 2017 at 9:19 AM

Enjoying wildlife viewing is a popular activity for many. Observing wildlife in one’s own backyard is not only enjoyable, but convenient, as well. 

Many benefits are realized when landscaping for wildlife. Obviously, wildlife will benefit from habitat enhancement, but you will benefit, as well. By landscaping for wildlife, you can benefit by conserving energy and reducing your heating and cooling bill. Craig Harper, Extension wildlife specialist, shared some important suggestions for success.

Wildlife has four basic requirements, food, cover, water and space. These four basic habitat requirements differ to some degree with each wildlife species. There is, however, overlap in many habitat requirements.

Realizing not all species have the same habitat requirements, a diversity of habitats and vegetative types will benefit more wildlife species than an area with homogenous vegetative cover. Increased plant diversity gives rise to increased animal diversity, where diversity is the number of species, not the number of individuals.

“Edge” is where two or more habitats come together. For example, an edge exists where your yard meets a woodlot. Many wildlife species are most often found here. Creating an irregular border with your yard and ornamental plantings is the easiest way to increase the amount of edge near your home. Edge is represented on both a horizontal and vertical plane. Vertical structure represents different layers of cover for protection, nesting, roosting and feeding. 

Various wildlife species “specialize” in being able to exploit a particular layer. Many small mammals and birds such as eastern towhees and brown thrashers feed on the ground around brush and low vegetation. Carolina wrens, northern cardinals and northern mockingbirds forage for food in low-growing shrubs and trees. Red-eyed vireos, scarlet tanagers and yellow-throated warblers forage in the canopy of mature stands. 

Some species prefer areas where visibility is good and the vegetation is not too dense. Others prefer areas with low-growing dense vegetation and reduced visibility.

Although every area is unique, most backyards need more wildlife-friendly plants arranged to increase interspersion and edge. Planting trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that are beneficial to wildlife usually is the single most important thing you can do to improve wildlife habitat around your home. 

Planting suitable plants in the appropriate places in the proper arrangement will benefit wildlife throughout the year. Food, cover and, to some degree, space will be provided automatically.

Planting for wildlife can be beneficial to the homeowner and wildlife alike. Planting conifers as a windbreak on the north and west sides of your property to protect from chilling winter storms also acts as insulators for birds and mammals, protecting them from bitter winds and freezing precipitation. Foraging spots often can be found under evergreens when snow covers the surrounding area.

On the south side of your property, plant deciduous trees that produce plenty of shade for a cooling effect in the summer. During winter, these trees will lose their leaves and allow the sun’s warming rays to reach your home and help reduce your heating bill.

Consider planting trees and shrubs native to Tennessee because native species are well adapted to the soils and climate of our area. There is less risk in native plants succumbing to drought and disease and they usually require less cultural attention than exotic species. Second, be aware of each plant species’ requirements for sunlight, soil type, moisture and pH.

Further, what better place is there to raise your children than one in which they can observe wildlife and learn about the natural world in their own backyard? In addition, the beauty created by your landscaping efforts may increase the value of your home and property. Contact your county Extension agent for additional information.

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson. Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or acorrell@utk.edu.

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