Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Spring Gardening Tips To Help Wildlife

Beautiful Spring weather is just about here and diehard gardeners, including myself, can’t wait to get outside and get their hands and shovels into the dirt.  But before we do that it is very important that we recognize and understand that our backyard gardens are in reality wildlife habitats.

In fact there are many scientists that believe that  if we are to save migrating birds, butterflies and pollinators, we will need to change the way we think about our gardens and transform our old ways of gardening into new methods that keep wildlife in mind.

As we speak our backyards are coming alive with migratory birds, some traveling all the way from Central and South America. Pollinators will soon be emerging from the ground and butterflies will be coming to life, all in search of a healthy and vital place to live, eat and thrive. Keeping them in mind this spring while tending the garden will mean survival for many of these important and beautiful native species.

Here are just a few gardening tips that will allow people and wildlife to live to together in a happy and healthy home.

  • Avoid pesticides and herbicides –Go Organic !

Even if you are not a person in tune with nature we all can understand that pesticides, insecticides and herbicides are not good for people as well as wildlife. When all things are allowed to balance out there is very little need for any chemicals to be used. So Go Organic whenever possible and don’t fret when you see a few holes in your leaves. That is just a sign that nature is working as it always has.

  • Avoid planting invasives and remove the ones you have!

Next to the bulldozer invasive plants are the worst thing that can happen to an ecosystem. Invasive plants take over a habitat and choke out beneficial native plants that our wildlife depend  on to live. And although it may not seems like it, your backyard invasives are escaping into nature centers all over our area and hurting our bird and butterfly populations. If you don’t believe that grab a pair of gloves and shovel and join our volunteers working at local sites removing these insidious and damaging plants.

  • Use native plants!

Our birds and butterflies have evolved together with our native plants. Native plants are the foundation of a healthy wildlife habitat. They get the flowers, fruit and berries at exactly the right time when our wildlife needs them the most . The good news is native plants are much easier to find and they are easy to grow, after all they are native to your backyards!

  • Leaves the leaves

I often get questions like, “Why don’t I see the butterflies, lightning bugs and bumble bees like I did when I was a kid?” One of the big reasons is that we don’t leave the leaf litter where it belongs, on the ground . This is one of the most important things to consider in our backyards. The leaf layer provides food for many bird species. It is a place where moths and butterflies overwinter and also shelter beneficial creatures like toads and snakes.So leave the leaves please!

  • Avoid pruning in spring

I get many panicked calls when a homeowner decides to prune his trees and shrubs in spring when birds are nesting. Sadly many times it is too late and the baby birds are lost before the gardener knows what has happened.  Even if you think you don’t see any active nests you have to assume one is there since birds do a great job when hiding to protect their nest. If possible keep dead trees up, even if it’s only a few feet high. Dead snags provide food, shelter and nesting places for many bird species.

  • Don’t be a neat and tidy gardener

Keep in mind by pruning shrubs and raking up leaves in fall you might be tossing out next year’s butterfly population. Many butterflies overwinter as a chrysalis or deposit eggs so making everything look just right can wind up just plain wrong .

By keeping our birds and butterflies in mind this spring we will be creating a better place not only for wildlife but for our own human families also. I will be writing future blogs on my favorite native trees, shrubs  and flowers, so stay tuned.

Audubon Native Plant database


Invasive plant info

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