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Conservation in Your Yard
There are many ways you can integrate native plant and pollinator conservation in your yard. By planting native trees and wildflowers, you can look forward to hearing and seeing birds and other wildlife at your home.
A More Natural Yard
Many people consider options to move away from a high maintenance, mowed lawn to a yard that requires less work and offers a diversity of floral beauty. The good news is that you can have the best of both worlds because indigenous sedges, grasses, and other flowering prairie plants need little long-term maintenance and they provide also habitat needed by native and migratory animals. Prioritizing conservation in your yard creates oases of habitat to support native birds, butterflies, bees, and other creatures throughout your yard.
An easy way to start is to determine how much grass lawn your family needs to play or relax. It’s likely that you have spaces that aren’t used and could become small gardens. Those hard-to-mow corners or edges are especially perfect for small gardens. One easy way to begin is by planting a patch of milkweed, which monarch butterflies, that are in decline, eat as young caterpillars. If you do need a large space for activities, consider reducing or not using insecticides. They kill all insects, both pesky and beneficial.
Bird Conservation in Your Yard
The best way to provide for birds is to plant native plants that attract native insects for native birds to eat. Plants such as cherry, dogwood, serviceberry, and chokecherry provide excellent food for birds. Others, such as viburnum and juniper shrubs, provide locations and material for nesting. Hackberry trees provide fruit throughout winter, Hawthorn trees offer birds nesting protection specifically because of their thorns. Trees such as maple, tamarack, and birch provide seeds that birds eat. Wildflowers, such as asters, black-eyed Susans, wild strawberry, purple coneflowers, and sunflowers offer habitat for both insects and birds. Consult the National Audubon Society Native Plants Guide to learn which plants might work best in your yard.
Allowing organic material to remain in your yard over winter can help birds come springtime. Birds can find food in yard remnants, compost heaps, or eat the insects they attract. Twigs, grasses, branches, and even the lichen that grows on them can become nesting material. If you have large windows, placing clear decals of predator birds can help ensure that birds do not crash into your windows, injuring or killing themselves in the process.
Native pollinators provide the crucial service of pollinating plants that surround us – including the fruits and vegetables we eat! In Wisconsin, we have 500 identified species of native bees that work hard to pollinate the plants we rely on. Most native bees are difficult to see and often go unnoticed. All native bees are considered keystone members of our ecosystem, meaning they significantly alter the habitat around them and affect other organisms – in a positive way. Bees support native plant communities that provide food and shelter for wildlife. When plants are pollinated, they produce seeds, nuts, and berries that feed birds and help plants propagate. Native bees not only support native habitats, but they also play an important role in pollinating food crops like apples, blueberries, cranberries, squash, and many more.
To support safe bee habitat, leave large sunny spots on the ground free of mulch and untouched by shovels. Leaving standing dead trees is always great for wildlife habitat, but logs (without bark) and branches are hospitable as well. Gardeners often unintentionally destroy nesting bee sites when digging in the soil, mulching a flower bed, using pesticides, and by keeping a garden too tidy. After pruning shrubs, assume there are bee larvae inside them and don’t be self-conscious about keeping debris piles and other “messy” spots in your garden. Educate your neighbors of your goals of conservation in your yard and many bees will thank you!