Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: It’s a Good Time to Plan Your Backyard Wildlife Garden

While I was attempting to deal with an extreme case of cabin fever this the past Sunday,  I thought it would be as good a time as any to scour through all my native plant books and plan for additions to my Certified Wildlife Garden come spring.

As I was watching the ice fall out my window visions of  Orioles feeding on my Trumpet vine, Monarch caterpillars munching on milkweed and Hummingbirds visiting my Cardinal Flower  were dancing in my head.


Honestly sometimes I am not sure which I love more, our birds or our native plants. But after a long day of trying to spot warblers about 80 feet high in a tree I think for sure it is plants; at least they don’t fly away when I am trying to ID them or take their picture

I am often asked,  “why should anyone start a Bergen County Audubon Certified Wildlife Garden in the first place? Is it really that important? And what is the big deal about native plants anyway?”

Unfortunately we know all too well as residents of New Jersey that we lose more and more natural habitat every year to development. The habitat we are left with has become  fragmented, sliced and diced, and divided up by houses, roads and commercial expansion which now makes our  backyard habitats even more important than ever for migrating birds, and survival for butterflies and pollinators.

The home environments have become vital stepping stones and reststops for birds that may be passing through your little backyard stopping for food, water and resting just long enough to continue their long journey to their breeding or wintering grounds thousands of miles away.

Your yard could also be the only nesting place for birds such as the tiny House Wren, Woodpeckers and Chickadees for miles around. Your backyard habitat may be one of the last places that have milkweed in your neighborhood, the only plant that enables the regal Monarch Butterfly to survive.

All BCAS Certified Gardens should provide food, water, shelter and places to raise young, and native plants are the best place to begin. The true foundation of any habitat, whether it is in the rain forest of Brazil or a backyard in New Jersey, are the native plants. Our plants and wildlife have evolved for eons together. They recognize them and depend on them.

Our natives get their berries when our wildlife needs them most. They attract the insects that are so important to our nesting birds, and native plants make the backyard a healthier place for both you and our wildlife by requiring less water, fertilizers and pesticides. The use of non-native plants puts a halt to this ecosystem. The circle of life comes to an abrupt end but introducing natives will be like turning on a light switch in a dark room. Plant them and the birds, butterflies and pollinators will come…and keep coming.

A few of my favorite natives that can be introduced into your backyard this spring are Serviceberry, Winterberry Holly  and Arrowwood Viburnums. All will produce berries for everything from Orioles to Cedar Waxwings at precisely the time when our birds need them the most.

Cardinal Flower and Monarda are magnets for the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds which will return to the same backyards every year after an arduous journey north. Milkweed is survival for the Monarch butterfly which desperately needs our help. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata), which has a beautiful flower, but more importantly will allow the Monarchs to lay their eggs and carry on their lifecycle.

Creating a Certified Wildlife Garden is empowering. It is something positive that we can accomplish for the environment now, this year. We won’t need to write letters to the Governor or our congressman. We don’t have to bother signing online petitions or carry a protest sign. We just need to add  native plants to our backyard and we have made our New Jersey cco-system a better place, not only for wildlife but for our families and future generations

The Scottish-American naturalist, author, conservationist and environmental philosopher John Muir once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” That could not be more true when it comes to our own backyards.

For more information on how to certify you home, school, business or church as a Bergen Audubon Certified Wildlife Garden, go to  The program is free and you will be issued a free sign and certificate once your property is certified.

For a great new resource to research what native plants will work best in your backyard go to

Bergen County Audubon Society also has a Native Plant that you can print to help you on your journey to restore the ecosystem of your backyard –


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *