Trees are Terrific
One small but important thing everyone can do for wildlife is plant a tree. Plan to include a number of different kinds in your ecology study centre.
Trees are amazing. They shelter and feed wildlife, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, absorb pollutants, control soil erosion, provide firewood, cut windy blasts and offer shade and a place to climb!
You can get seedlings from your district forester. You can buy tiny trees from a nursery, or to save money, transplant them from a friendly landowner's woodlot or the wild. Make sure you have permission first, of course.
There are many saplings sprouting in roadside country ditches that might make ideal transplants. Check with the local township office before digging!
You can take cuttings from local, living plants and transplant them to your schoolyard. You'll save money, and the local varieties are likely to flourish because they have adapted to conditions in your area.
Ask a district forester and wildlife expert for help in choosing the kind of trees and shrubs that are best for wildlife in your area.
Putting Down Roots
For best results, saplings taken from the wild should be less than one metre high. Small trees have a better chance of survival. Dig carefully around the little tree. Remove it gently from the ground with a ball of soil still wrapped around the roots. Be careful not to injure or break roots. Carry the tree to its new home in a burlap bag.
The hole you dig for transplanting should be wider than the root system and deep enough so it can be planted just a little deeper than it was before. The tinier the tree, the deeper it can go, up to three centimetres below its original starting point.
Remove the bag. If the roots are covered in soil that's mostly clay, it's best to wash them off with a garden hose.
Place the little tree in the newly dug hole, and pack the soil tightly in around the roots with your bare hands. Flood it with water, and pack it down again. Add more soil, and keep packing it down until mud gushes up whenever you press down. This makes sure any air pockets are filled with healthy soil.
The best transplanting time is early spring or late fall.
Preparing Your Cuttings
Here's how to handle slips from healthy trees: Snip cuttings from last year's growth in 20 to 25 centimetre lengths using pruning shears. Make a 45 degree angle cut at the bottom of the cutting. Be sure there is a living bud near the top of the cutting, but leave about one to two centimetres of stem above the bud.
Cuttings may be collected in winter and stored in airtight plastic bags in a freezer. (You can also collect them just before planting in spring.) Plant when the ground is thawed but before plant buds begin to open.
First, thaw your shoots. Presoak them in buckets of water for 24 hours. To plant, poke holes in the ground, and insert your cuttings until the top of the cutting is flush with the ground. Then pack soil around shoots with the heel of your foot. Don't forget to water them!
Dust is Dandy
Have you ever seen sparrows creating miniature dust storms? They love to squat in tine soil and fluff their feathers furiously. It looks like fun, but their dust baths also help control annoying parasites.
You can make a schoolyard dusting site with a circle of sandy soil in a patch about a half metre across. There are probably lots of natural dusting sites in rural schoolyards, but town and city birds may particularly appreciate a schoolyard dust bath!
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