Save the Wildlife, One Yard at a Time: Backyard Wildlife Habitats

As urban sprawl pushes wild things out, gardeners are creating backyard habitats to invite them back in.

| March/April 2009

  • Wild ginger, creeping Jenny and bubblers draw wildlife to Jack Landgrebe's lush Kansas garden.
    Photography By Diane Guthrie
  • With no lawn to mow, Barbara Guthrie and Ken Romdall can kick back and relax at their home near Seattle.
    Photography By Diane Guthrie
  • Poppies and rudbeckia splash across Tom and Mary Guthrie's meadow in the Cascade Mountains.
    Photography By Diane Guthrie
  • Cheryl Thomas cruises through her restored native Kansas prairie, ideal for wildlife.
    Photography By Diane Guthrie

All around the nation, gardeners are realizing the importance of creating a habitat where creatures and critters can live, find food and raise their young. With urban sprawl ever-growing, fewer and fewer habitats exist for our furry and feathered friends. Creating a backyard habitat is easier than you might think, and making a difference just takes a few simple changes. As an added bonus, native plantings require little to no watering or maintenance, making your yard eco-friendly and easy.

Here, we profile several urban wildlife habitats that employ a variety of methods to create critter-friendly yards and gardens. And these gardeners aren’t alone: The National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, launched in 1973, boasts more than 106,000 certified yards, farms, schools and even urban balconies. Add yours to the list!

Live on the lawn

Near Seattle, Barbara Guthrie and Ken Romdall have transformed their suburban lawn into a woodland brimming with white pine, big-leaf maple, hawthorns, gooseberries, currants, trillium and foxglove. A raccoon family and a small flock of band-tailed pigeons (a native bird in significant decline) reside here. Chickadees stop; butterflies glide past. “It’s a refuge in a place where city is all around us,” Barbara says.

Wildlife-friendly, native yards and gardens can have a big impact, not only supporting wildlife and biodiversity, but also helping keep waterways clean, reducing water use, eliminating carbon emissions from lawn-maintenance equipment and increasing carbon absorption. “If one percent of all homeowners nationwide were to practice green gardening concepts and garden for wildlife, what a difference it would make for the environment!” Barbara says.

When they decided to transform their yard 16 years ago, Barbara and Ken buried large swaths of lawn under layers of newspaper, soil and compost, then expanded those beds yearly. Today, wildlife abounds and the couple hasn’t mowed in a decade. “The birds are happy because we have supplied them with everything they need to raise a family, and we are happy because we no longer have a demanding lawn that needs mowing every week,” Barbara says.

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