If you are thinking of making changes to your yard this year, why not consider the local wildlife in your plans? Adding features such as water sources or making modifications such as replacing a high-maintenance lawn with native landscaping can make your yard a more inviting place for birds, mammals, pollinating insects, and people too. Here are 5 ideas to get started.
1. Add a water source.
This can be as simple as a terra-cotta dish placed under a rain gutter, or you can get more elaborate and install a fountain or mini-pond with a pump. To fill the dish or water feature, catch the water from the sink or shower as it warms up and use that water instead of a hose. This way you can conserve water and provide it for wildlife at the same time.
2. Rethink the lawn.
Traditional manicured lawns don't provide much benefit to wildlife. Many use up precious water and require maintenance with chemicals that can harm beneficial organisms as well as pests. If you want to keep the look and function of a lawn, but without the environmental drawbacks, consider replacing the grass with a drought-tolerant groundcover. There are even some options that are California natives.
3. Plant a native tree.
Trees have many benefits- not only do they add to the aesthetic appeal of a yard, but they also help clean the air and provide wildlife cover. Some even provide food, for humans as well as wildlife. Native trees often use less water than their nonnative counterparts, and provide greater benefits to wildlife. If you have space for a relatively large tree, consider planting a Catalina cherry (Prunus illicifolia), which provides several benefits to wildlife at once: it provides food and cover to birds, is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies, and produces nectar that pollinators feed on. Its fruit can be eaten by people too. Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is another example of a native, wildlife-friendly tree, and is often visited by birds in the winter.
4. Modify your fences.
An ideal wildlife-friendly yard would be bordered by a native hedge instead of a fence, so that animals could more easily pass through to neighboring spaces. However, many people want more separation from neighbors than a hedge alone provides. To make your fence less of a barrier to wildlife, one option is to plant a native hedge against it to make it easier for critters to climb over it. You can also cut holes in the bottom to allow animals such as skunks to get through- this may not work if you have pets though, because it could allow them to escape. Avoid using fencing materials that could entangle or injure animals, such as barbed wire or flexible netting.
5. Cut down on hardscape.
Some backyard landscapes include more hardscape than is needed or wanted. Perhaps the previous owners had put in a concrete patio that you never use, or the driveway is wider than it has to be. Removing hardscape can be expensive, but the ecological and aesthetic benefits are often worth the cost.