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Wildlife Gardens: What are they all about?

As a former resident of LA, I recall a moment at a busy intersection when traffic was completely halted by a coyote. Stilled by fear, the coyote stood in the intersection for a full minute as cars honked and drivers hollered, before scampering up the street, across the sidewalk, and out of view. I remember wondering, for a fleeting moment, how a coyote had wandered down from the Santa Monica Hills into suburbia. I caught myself though, realizing that the homes, streets, and businesses of West LA were built upon land coyotes once roamed freely. Humans have encroached upon coyote habitat, not the other way around.

Coyotes of the LA area, along with countless other plant and animal species, have experienced major habitat loss due to human actions. Human development leads to habitat loss – a driving force behind the loss of biodiversity. (Biodiversity refers to the number of plant, insect, and animal species living in a given region). As homes are developed, streets are built, dams are created, and large swaths of forest are cut, plants and animals native to an area are left with less livable space and, consequently, are displaced or die out completely. An important question of recent decades has centered upon how to lessen and slow the loss of species.

One solution has been to grow wildlife gardens, favorable habitats for wildlife that are built into urban and suburban settings. According to The New Sunset Western Garden Book, these gardens include several essential components that all serve to make a garden desirable to birds, frogs, beneficial insects, and other native species. One major wildlife garden feature is flowering plants that attract beneficial pollinators and provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. Native bee species are examples of incredibly important pollinators. Without them, many flowers will not produce seed or fruit. It is common practice to avoid cutting back plants before they’ve gone to seed as many songbirds rely on these seeds as integral parts of their diet. Oftentimes wildlife gardens also include plants that feed butterfly larvae. Once such plant for California gardens is milkweed, the leaves of which serve as food for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. (Another note, we often grow native milkweed here at Clearwater Color!) Tall trees can provide shelter, food, and places to nest to many species while also shielding the rest of the garden from strong wind. Certain types of hedges and vines can play a similar role offering shelter, protection, and food to animals. While these plants can provide shelter, it is also common to arrange upturned pots, rock formations, nesting boxes, and bee boxes around the garden as additional shelter and protection. A final, important feature to consider is water. Ponds, small streams, and fountains attract birds and serve as essential living space for toads, frogs, turtles, and insects.

Here is something key to remember: although it may not be possible to transform your entire garden tomorrow, it is possible to transform it over time in small steps. Planting a native salvia, waiting to cut back sunflowers until they’ve gone to seed, and placing a bird feeder by a window are manageable changes that will make your home more inviting to wildlife in great need of suitable habitat.

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