Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gardening on the wild side

Lawrence yard a certified refuge for county’s critters

Lawrence resident Jenna Coker's yard has been certified as a National Urban Wildlife Retreat by the National Wildlife Federation. The East Lawrence landscape qualifies because it provides food, water and shelter for wildlife, and adheres to sustainable gardening practices.

Lawrence resident Jenna Coker's yard has been certified as a National Urban Wildlife Retreat by the National Wildlife Federation. The East Lawrence landscape qualifies because it provides food, water and shelter for wildlife, and adheres to sustainable gardening practices.

September 20, 2007

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Top 10 native plants for Kansas

1. Northern white cedar - aromatic evergreen tree

2. Black oak - medium to large tree

3. Northern hackberry - tree bearing fruit in the fall

4. Cranberry viburnum - dense, upright shrub

5. Gray dogwood - deciduous shrub

6. Common chokecherry - shrub or small tree

7. Swamp milkweed - pink flowers in summer

8. Wild columbine - also known as red columbine

9. Cup-plant - 3-foot to 6-foot tall perennial

10. New England aster - flowers in the autumn

Source: National Wildlife Federation

In 1973, an issue of National Wildlife magazine encouraged people to landscape their yards and gardens in a more sustainable, natural way - keeping in mind the effects their gardens have on local wildlife.

The response to that article was so huge that the National Wildlife Federation began the Backyard Wildlife Habitat program the same year. Homeowners can actually certify their yards as National Urban Wildlife Retreats.

There are so few places on Earth untouched by humans and, as a result, habitat loss is the No. 1 threat to wildlife. Cougars showing up in Lawrence neighborhoods and black bears invading homes in Aspen, Colo., are just a few of the instances that demonstrate how crucial it is that we all learn to live together.

Jenna Coker already gets it. The Lawrence resident has one of the 74,000 certified yards in the NWF program.

She was reading a copy of Ranger Rick at the doctor's office when she came across an advertisement inviting people to apply.

"I already fed the birds year-round. I left my coneflowers for the birds; I left my apricots, pears and walnuts for the critters," she says. "So it was a natural fit for me to see what I could attract and what was already there that I hadn't noticed."

So what does it take to have a certified Urban Wildlife Retreat? The NWF requires the following to consider your yard fit for Earth's wilder species.

Provide food

This can be done in many ways, including feeding birds, having a water garden where fish and amphibians thrive, planting flora that is native and nourishes our local wildlife.

Provide water

There needs to be a constant source of clean water for wildlife to drink, bathe in and for reproduction. This could include a feature like a naturally occurring pond, lake or wetland, or human-made birdbaths, ponds or rain gardens.

Provide ample places for cover

Wildlife require places to hide in order to feel safe from people, predators and the weather. They also need a place to raise their offspring. Try using logs, brush and rocks, bird houses, bat houses and ponds for amphibians and fish.

Practice sustainable gardening

This can be accomplished in several ways.

¢ Mulching: Mulching reduces water use, and when mulch breaks down it sends nutrients into the earth, reducing the need for fertilizers.

¢ Reducing lawn areas: Lawns eat up water and generally require many chemicals, and mowers are a plague on the environment, emitting terrible fumes and noise.

¢ Xeriscaping: Xeriscaping is a landscaping method that uses drought-tolerant, native plants.

¢ Rain barrels: Using rain barrels saves money, reduces water consumption, is a great form of recycling and is a pure water source for plants.

¢ Replacing invasive, non-native plants with native flora: Wildlife enjoy munching on native plants; it's a simple way to protect the balance of the local ecosystem.

Once you've accomplished these steps, you may certify your garden with the NWF. They will send you a personal certificate, a free membership with a year's magazine subscription, your name will be listed in the NWF's national registry of certified habitats and you can also receive a yard sign to prove your efforts.

"I thought it would be cool to be recognized for my hard work," Coker says. "I love playing in the dirt. I also love seeing hummingbirds at my columbine in the early spring, or in the dead of winter seeing gold finches at my coneflowers.

"I decided someone should help the critters, not realizing that I had been helping them all along by leaving the fruits from my tree."

- Jennifer Oldridge, a Kansas University graduate, is an avid gardener who previously operated a landscaping business.

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