Start With the Basics
Did you know that by planting certain species, you can help make wildlife more abundant? From caribou to robins to butterflies, a host of creatures will respond to your planting plan if it includes the habitat components they need for survival.
Where to Plant
Watch for a potential planting spot for wildlife. It could be your schoolyard, a ditch, a ravine, or even a whole street block! No matter where it is, remember that you must get permission to alter it.
Here are some points to consider before launching your project:
- Is the site already being used for other purposes?
- If so, would your project be compatible with those purposes?
- Are there existing trees and other plants that could form part of the planting scheme?
- What kind of wildlife would be attracted to this spot given the right sort of vegetation?
- What are the habitat needs of those species?
Habitat Planning Checklist
Like us, wild animals need four basic things to make a home: food, water, shelter, and space, all arranged just the way they like it. Their home is called wildlife habitat. Your chance of giving wildlife a boost is excellent if your green plan addresses each of these needs.
- Food: Every species of wildlife has unique food requirements. These requirements change from season to season and as animals grow older. To meet these changing needs, you should plant a variety of food sources like berries, fruits, nuts, acorns, grasses, legumes (such as peas and beans), and aquatic plants. And don't forget that your plants will attract insects that will appeal to birds and other creatures.
- Water: Animals need water year-round, so make sure they have access to some in winter. Springs, marshes, creeks, swamps, rivers, and lakes are all important water sources, but so are puddles, water fountains, and bird-baths. Dripping or flowing water is more attractive to wildlife than still water.
- Shelter: Wild animals need shelter, or cover, to protect themselves from predators and bad weather. Trees, shrubs, legumes, grasses, and flowers, as well as structures such as rock piles, brush piles, hollows in trees, and bird houses, are among the many forms of shelter that provide hiding places or spots to raise young. For example, hawks and other raptors love to hide in trees and swoop down to catch mice or other small animals on the ground.
- Space: Every wildlife species has unique space or territorial needs. For example, loons will defend up to 40 hectares of lake or wetland for their nesting territory, whereas a pair of ruffed grouse only needs about four hectares. And wood ducks and purple martins do not defend territories around their nests at all.
Plant Planning Checklist
The best plants to include in your green plan are those that will provide nutritious food and effective cover for wild animals. By thinking in terms of which plant species will provide the most benefits, you're sure to stay on the right track. Like animals, plants have four basic needs: soil, water, sun, and space. They also thrive on diversity and a suitable climate. Your green plan should take each of these factors into account.
- Soil: If you think soil is just a pile of dirt, think again. Healthy soil means healthy plants. Consult your local department of agriculture or a nearby garden centre to learn about soil in your area. Is the soil clay, loam, or sandy? (See "A Simple Soil Test") Is it acidic or alkaline? Is it deficient in nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, or potassium? Will it require fertilization? Knowing your soil is vital to the success of your green plan.
- Water: Newly planted trees and plants must be watered regularly so that their roots grow into the surrounding soil. Examine the soil around them to see if it's dry. Sandy soil, which usually drains quickly, needs more water than clay soil, which tends to hold moisture longer.
- Sun: Some plant varieties need more sun than others. For example, common elder, which provides nourishment for over 40 bird species, prefers full sunlight on rich, moist soil.
- Space: Trees and other plants need room in the earth for their roots to reach down and soak up water and nutrients. As they grow, they'll need more space, so keep these requirements in mind.
- Diversity: A wide diversity of plants is essential to a good green plan for wildlife. Mixing plants will help protect them from insect infestations and will attract a variety of wildlife.
- Climate: Every place on earth experiences a fairly regular pattern of weather that may change slightly from year to year. This average weather is what we call "climate." Select plants that are suited to the climate of your area. Choose hardy species that will live for years.
What to Plant
Before you get too far in your planning, you need to decide what kind of wildlife you want to attract. Be realistic — don't expect to see moose at a downtown site! Pick four or five species of wild animals found in your area and build your green plan around them. Find out what kinds of plants provide their favourite food and shelter. Will the plants grow in your area? What kind of soil, light, and water needs do they have?
A Simple Soil Test
Once you've picked your planting site, examine the soil's texture by squeezing it in your hand.
Loamy, well-structured soil that is rich in organic matter and highly fertile is best for planting. But soil that isn't loamy can often be improved through the addition of fertilizers and organic matter such as peat, manure, or compost.
You can have a soil sample analysed. Contact your local agriculture department for information on how to take a soil sample and where to send it. Plan ahead! The process could be time-consuming. The department will provide you with an easy-to-read report, including a list of recommended fertilizers. Don't forget to take the report with you when you go to choose what you want to plant.
Chart Your Territory
Print the Green Planning Chart on this page. You can use it in two ways: as a survey tool and as a research sheet.
- Survey Tool: Fill out the chart as you survey a site for wildlife. Under the appropriate headings for animals, write in the name of each species that visits the site and a brief description of the food, water, shelter, and space available to it. (See the red squirrel example provided on the chart.) Under the appropriate headings for plants, name each plant on the site and describe the soil, water, sun, and space available to it.
- Research Sheet: Begin by listing other kinds of animals you want to attract to the site. For each animal, describe the food, water, shelter, and space it requires for survival. Then find out what kinds of plants will provide the needed food and shelter. For each plant, describe the type of soil and the amount of water, sun, and space required. (See the red osier example provided on the chart.)
Survey Your Site
Use the Site Survey Chart to survey a potential site for wildlife. It will help you determine what can grow on the site. Remember that because the sun moves, a site that is shady in the morning might be sunny in the afternoon, so you might have to go back more than once. Note the time of the visit, how sunny or windy it is, what the soil feels like, and how wet or dry it is.
Map Before You Plant
Before you plant, make a map of your site. Include all of the following:
- Existing structures, such as your school, houses, sheds, barns, paths, roads, sidewalks, other paved areas, and retaining walls.
- Existing plants, such as trees, shrubs, flower-beds, and lawn areas.
- Significant natural features, such as large trees, waterways, parks, and wood lots.
On your map, identify which areas you plan to plant for wildlife and which ones will be left as they are. Make allowances for growth in years to come. Finally, decide how much money you can afford to spend and how much time you need to implement your scheme. Then get started!
A Wilderness Garden
Your wilderness garden is sure to attract a host of wildlife species if it emphasizes three important kinds of diversity: plant diversity, structural diversity, and vertical diversity.
- Plant Diversity: Include a wide mix of trees, shrubs, legumes, perennial flowers, annual flowers, and grasses. See the Plant for Wildlife Chart for suggested plants for your area.
- Structural Diversity: Include structures like feeders, nest boxes, logs, brush piles, and rock piles, as well as bird-baths and other water sources.
- Vertical Diversity:Include different levels of habitat for different species. For example, many species of birds use the tops of trees for nesting or for perching while waiting for prey. Other animals, such as burrowing owls and chipmunks, live on the ground or underground.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when you're deciding what to plant:
- Plan for clumps of plantings rather than single, scattered plants.
- Incorporate as many layers of vegetation as possible: large and small trees, shrubs, vines, and ground covers.
- Consider how tall trees will be at maturity.
- Plant large trees where they won't interfere with overhead power lines, buildings, or underground services.
- Locate plant beds away from areas where there is a lot of road salt and snow.
When you help keep Canada ever green for wildlife, you provide many added benefits for your school and community. For example, your green plan will:
- Provide food and shelter for wildlife.
- Prevent soil erosion.
- Absorb air pollutants.
- Provide oxygen.
- Conserve energy by providing summer shade and winter wind-break.
- Beautify your community.
- Transform barren, vacant property into a haven for wildlife.
© Canadian Wildlife Federation
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