Enjoying Nature in My Own Backyard

I am a big nature fan and enjoy visiting natural areas near and far to watch wildlife. However, to me nature isn’t a destination I must travel to see… it’s part of my everyday world and I really enjoy the plants and animals that share my backyard with me.

I live in an older neighborhood with quarter-acre lots, where my backyard abuts 100 acres of relatively undeveloped land with a network of small creeks. Although beautiful, this area doesn’t support the range of wildlife one would expect to find in a 100-acre wood. The negatives include a powerline, which bisects the area, and poor stormwater management.

The surrounding neighborhoods were built before developers were required to address stormwater runoff, so the impacts are huge and virtually no stream critters can survive these conditions. This means that the animals that eat creek critters also can’t survive and so on. Every spring I hear a wood thrush back there, but he only stays a couple days and then moves on in search of a higher quality habitat.

Even so, the woods are a significant asset to my backyard habitat. Plants are a key to success, and what you plant does matter. One of the first mistakes I made was to plant some Chinese wisteria, a non-native plant. The state list says it is “moderately invasive,” but mine started to run amok almost immediately. More than 15 years later, I’m still trying to get rid of it and have developed a strong fondness for native species.

I started off planting mostly flowers, perennials that return year after year, and had some successes. But plants are not only important food sources, they also provide shelter from the elements, places for wildlife to hide from predators, rest and nest.

Once I started planting trees and shrubs, I noticed real improvements in my backyard wildlife diversity. Over the years, I’ve added about a dozen trees and more than 30 shrubs … and I still have way too much grass to mow.

I like butterflies, so I’ve included plants for nectar and also host plants, where butterflies can lay their eggs. To date I’ve seen more than 40 different butterfly species in my quarter-acre back yard.

I also like birds, so I plant species with berries and supplement with bird feeders filled with suet and a mix of seeds, fruit and nuts (everyone loves trail mix!). Woodpeckers are frequent visitors, six different species stop by regularly. Last year a yellow-rumped warbler nested in a tree right outside an upstairs window. Early this spring I was delighted when more than 30 migrating bluebirds stopped by for a few days.

Water is the other key component of successful backyard habitats. Birdbaths that are about 3 inches deep are one easy way to make sure wildlife can get a good drink of clean water. In my backyard, stormwater from my neighbors runs off along the back of my lot. My son has dug a hole that holds some of the runoff during the spring, when it’s a regular hotspot for birds, dragonflies and frogs. I’m thinking I would like to improve the situation and keep the water throughout the year. This will be a little more difficult now that my diggers have gone off to college, but I’m sure I’ll think of something!

I’m always interested in hearing more about what works… and what doesn’t, and hope you’ll join in to share your backyard news!

– Kim


2 comments so far

  1. kgotthardt on

    You back yard sounds lovely! And did you take that beautiful photo?

  2. nhnursery on

    My wife and I are passionate about attracting wildlife to our yard also. We have placed bird feeders and houses in both the back yard and side yards. We planted a butterfly garden right outside our kitchen window so we can easily watch the butterflies light on the plants.

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