When it's cold and snowy outside in Canada, it's nice to dream of spring. For gardeners, it's the ideal time to sit back and plan the perfect outdoor space.
For those who want to make their space wildlife friendly, now's the time to plan for that too. Homeowners don't need large properties in order to help wildlife. Urban gardens can provide the necessities -- elements such as food, water and shelter. Once your wildlife friendly garden is done, you can apply for a certificate to recognize your hard work.
"By introducing native plants and some strategic design features to your garden, you can provide patches of natural habitat for many species," says Nature Conservancy Canada. "A well-designed backyard can offer birds and pollinators like butterflies more living space, feeding opportunities and the safety of cover from predators. By enhancing and restoring natural elements in your garden, you'll make the urban landscape more wildlife friendly."
Where to begin? The North American Native Plant Society suggests starting small, "maybe even with a single plant." The society recommends a native fern or hedge rather than a hosta for a shady spot. In the northeast, a Redbud or Pagoda Dogwood is an ideal small tree for a city garden. The society also says a native tall grass such as Indian Grass or Big Bluestern is ideal for the back of a sunny border.
The society offers a list of native plants www.nanps.org/index.php/gardening/native-plants-to-know and a database of plants at naps.com.
For pollinators, the main thing you can do is to eliminate your use of pesticides, says Seeds of Diversity, which offers a variety of programs such as Pollinator Canada that encourages bee friendly gardening.
"Secondly, because habitat loss is one of the largest stressors responsible for the decline of our bee-loved pollinators, the next best thing you can do is plant for them. Do what you can. Plant just one species or plant a field. Plant native species or plant species that you know are laden with pollen and nectar," Seeds of Diversity says.
In order to qualify for certification by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, in addition to providing food, water and shelter, you also need to have at least one plant native to your area and use "earth-friendly gardening practices in maintaining it".
The federation's Backyard Habitat Certification Program "recognizes the amazing efforts Canadians are taking to meet the habitat needs of wildlife, and allows individuals to have their property certified by officially designating their gardens as wildlife friendly."
Homeowners interested in having their homes certified must send a sketch of the property, at least five photos and a $10 application fee along with a completed application. Once their properties are certified, homeowners are able to purchase a sign to display on their property, the Wildlife Federation says. "Certified properties can raise awareness in their communities of the importance of gardening with wildlife in mind and that it can be done beautifully in any garden style you like…A diversity of plants will attract the greatest variety of wildlife and meet their needs o n many levels including food."
Nature Conservancy Canada suggests homeowners consider the types of plants native to their garden, as well as to think about how the garden should look and feel. Other considerations include features such as small ponds (with trickling water to attract birds and frogs) and brush piles to provide shelter to migrating birds in the spring and fall. Bee, bat, squirrel and bird houses can also be added to provide shelter.
Check with your municipality to see if they offer programs. Richmond Hill, Ont. has a Healthy Yards Program that helps homeowners care for their lawn, trees and gardens. It also offers residents a chance to buy subsidized native plant kits and rain barrels every spring.
"Native plant is a term used to describe plants that occur naturally and have existed for many years in a given area," the municipality says. "They are adapted to local climate and soil conditions and therefore require less water and maintenance. They improve local biodiversity by providing habitat and food for birds, mammals and insects."
Nature Conservancy Canada says, "Contact your local gardening or nature club about plants and invasive species that are known to be of concern in your area and avoid buying them. If they are already present, remove them."