It's important to arrange your plantings so that they provide maximum benefits for wildlife. Food, water, and shelter must be close together. Wild animals will only use a food source if there is an escape route nearby. They do not want to get caught in the middle of a field without somewhere to run and hide! The following are some of the most suitable planting arrangements for wildlife.
Green Travel Lanes
Wild animals often use what are called "travel lanes" to move from one place to another. Hedgerows, fence rows, windbreaks, and shelterbelts are among the many different kinds of green travel lanes for wildlife. Think of them as highways with places where animals can stop along the way to rest or have a snack. Find a place to establish a travel lane. Before you decide what to plant, determine which animals would benefit and how.
A hedgerow is a row of thick, bushy plants that provides both shelter and a passageway for animals to get across a field. Any bushy plant will make a good hedgerow, but the best type is one that bears fruit.
Consider planting an apple tree hedgerow. Or maybe there's already one nearby that you could improve. Overcrowding and shading by other trees and shrubs can reduce an apple tree's vigour and ability to bear fruit. You can help by starting an improvement project. It should include pruning, removing competing vegetation, and fertilizing. Consult local nursery staff for advice.
Fanciful Fence Rows
A fence row is a border with a fence. If you have a fence around or near your school, the grass probably gets cut right up to it. But by letting the grass grow, you can improve the area for wild animals. If you have a fence around your schoolyard, approach your principal and ask that vegetation be allowed to grow along it. Be prepared to explain why. Provide specific examples of how this would benefit wildlife and contribute to the greening of Canada.
White cedar is a good species to plant in fence rows to reduce erosion from wind and water. It also provides important cover for songbirds and game birds, as well as food and cover for rabbits and hares.
A windbreak is like a giant hedge made up of trees and shrubs growing one to five rows wide. A larger windbreak is called a shelterbelt. Both make great travel lanes for small wild animals and provide them with food and cover.
Windbreaks are often planted on farms to protect buildings, livestock, gardens, and orchards. Field windbreaks help prevent soil from drying out and blowing away. Planted in the right spot, they can reduce windy blasts in winter, which helps lower heating bills! When planted along roads and driveways, windbreaks trap snow and stop it from drifting.
Windbreaks are usually divided into three parts referred to as windward, middle (or centre), and leeward. The windward row is what the wind hits first, so it should be made up of dense- and fast-growing trees and shrubs that prevent snow from piling up in the centre. The middle row should be made up of tall and fast-growing trees that force winds to rise over the break. Finally, the leeward row should be made up of dense-growing trees and shrubs.
Find a spot that needs to be protected and prepare a report on how a windbreak would help. Outline what you would plant, in what arrangement, and why. How would it stop snow drifting and soil erosion, and how would it benefit wild animals?
Recommended Species for Windbreaks
- Red Ash: Performs well in all three rows but is best in the middle. Seeds are eaten by many birds and mammals.
- Manitoba Maple: Good in the middle or leeward row. Seeds are favoured winter food of several bird species, particularly evening grosbeaks. Willow: Used extensively in the middle or leeward row. Has little food value but is fast growing.
- Buffalo-berry: Most commonly used in the windward or leeward row. Has sharp spines at the tips of each branch, which make it a useful barrier. Wildlife uses it for cover and food.
- White Spruce: Used mostly in the middle row. Provides cover and protection for wildlife. Deer occasionally browse (nibble) on its lower branches, while other wildlife species munch on the cones. Birds and small mammals are also partial to the seeds.
Block plantings are several rows of trees and shrubs planted parallel to each other. They're often established on marginal land (land that isn't very good for farming) that is prone to erosion. Natural landscape features, such as existing trees, bluffs, streams, and rock piles, should be incorporated into the planting design.
Find a spot that could benefit from a block planting. Decide what to plant and draw a map showing where the plantings will go. Tree rows should be planted to follow the natural contours of the land and should be gently curved to protect wildlife from the elements and predators.
From a cross-sectional viewpoint, the planting design should look like a pyramid. Low-growing shrubby species should be planted at the ends, and taller species — like spruce trees — should be planted in the centre. This design provides a variety of nesting and perching heights for birds.
Clumps and Thickets
Clumps (clusters of trees) and thickets (dense bushes) provide an important edge for wildlife. The edge is the area where two types of plant communities meet. For example, hares like to live where brush and meadow meet, because there's such a good selection of food and shelter there.
You might be able to plant a clump or thicket in or near your schoolyard. Or maybe you could plan one somewhere else, such as at a nearby senior citizens' residence or hospital.
Habitat Enhancement Suggestions
Corridors: By clearing out strips of heavy brush, you can make corridors that will allow animals to penetrate the brush and browse there. Deer, in particular, will benefit from this. Avoid making straight lines, though, and save yourself some work by connecting existing clearings. Don't worry too much about pulling the brush out by the roots. If the corridors get used regularly, any new growth will be trampled or browsed.
Travel corridors are often lacking in urban areas, but they should be an integral part of planning for wildlife. Consider developing a wildlife planning policy for your community. Ravines, cemeteries, and shrubbed edges around groomed parkland can provide travel corridors for urban wildlife. What other places can you think of? Make a list and add them to your policy.
Ditches and Gullies: Drainage ditches and gullies provide cover and passageways for wildlife. Are there some nearby that you could inspect? To determine what species use the area, look for clues such as:
- Browsed grass and leaves.
- Tracks in mud.
- Pathways through meadows.
- Mouse tunnels, gopher holes, and mole mounds.
- Animal droppings.
- A pile of feathers indicating where a bird was eaten.
Ditches and gullies often contain lots of water. By planting berries, shrubs, and vines there, you'll be adding cover and food, thus completing the formula for attracting wildlife. But remember to get permission before you make any plans. Sometimes different authorities must be contacted about alterations to ditches.
Ravines: Ravines are also good places to improve. Is there one nearby that you could adopt? Planting on bare patches of soil will help prevent erosion.
Reclaim a Railway Corridor
Trains aren't as common as they used to be, and many communities have abandoned railway corridors. Has yours? If so, see if you could adopt at least part of it and make it into a "greenway" instead of a railway. Start a cleanup campaign and collect any garbage that has been left behind.
To improve the area for wildlife, plant flowers that appeal to butterflies and bees. Also plant some native berry-producing shrubs such as hawthorn. Because hawthorn hedges have dense branches, heavy foliage, and thorny defences, they make an excellent sanctuary for nesting birds. Game birds such as woodcock and grouse love to hide and rear their young amid the shrub's cover. And while fruit yields vary from year to year, there's usually an adequate supply of berries for birds like robins and cedar waxwings. White-tailed deer eat the shrub's leaves, twigs, and fruit.
There are many added benefits to a well-thought-out green plan for wildlife. Take soil conservation, for example. By covering sloping areas with plants that will attract wildlife, you can prevent soil erosion at the same time.
Soil is more likely to erode if there are few or no plants growing in it. Plants protect the soil from elements like strong winds and rain. Find a spot that is eroding and study ways to improve it. Keep in mind the following tips:
- The ideal erosion-stopper plant is one that germinates quickly and easily and has a dense, fibrous root system.
- Don't depend on one plant. Diversity is always best.
- Legumes foster lots of beneficial microorganisms that help create healthy soil.
- Combinations of grasses and legumes protect soils and provide nectar for bees and butterflies.
- Trees and shrubs such as raspberry and dogwood protect erodible slopes while providing important food and cover.
A Haven for Hummingbirds
Did you know that hummingbirds have a special liking for the colour red? You can enhance habitat for these intriguing birds by planting a garden that meets their particular needs.
Although hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers, you don't need to rely too much on colour when you're planning your hummingbird garden. The first hummingbirds to arrive in spring will eagerly search for flowers that are rich in nectar. And because there's so little in bloom in early spring, almost anything will do! Later on, as summer gets under way and more flowers blossom, hummingbirds are partial to such favourites as day-lilies, fireweed, cardinal flowers, wild geraniums, and phlox.
A Butterfly Garden
Like hummingbirds, butterflies are attracted to certain colours. Red, yellow, orange, and purple seem to be their favourites. Butterflies like some flowers for their nectar, but they'll only lay their eggs on plants that provide the right kind of food for caterpillars. Butterflies hatch as caterpillars from tiny eggs; then they change to pupae and finally to adults. By growing the right plants, you'll be providing habitat for generations of butterflies!
The following is a butterfly menu from which to choose what to plant. The items marked with an asterisk are also considered good plants for caterpillars.
- Queen Anne's-lace*
- White and red clover*
- Black-eyed Susan*
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