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  • Writer's pictureCherie Claire

Bored at home? Turn your backyard into a wildlife paradise

When I first moved into my home my backyard was one giant lawn. To me, it was a blank canvas. I wanted to attract birds, butterflies, bugs, and other wildlife to my yard so I set out to replace my expanse of grass with something more conducive.

Amazingly enough, it wasn’t that difficult. It did take a while; I added plants and features as money and time allowed. Today, I’m happy with the influx of native and migratory birds and butterflies and the plants and trees that have grown up to create shelter.

It’s easy to turn your backyard — or front yard, for that matter — into an oasis for wildlife. All you really need is a water source, shelter, and food.

My advice is to divide up your yard into sections and tackle one at a time. For instance, I have a fence that stretches from the side of my house to the coulee at my property’s edge. There was nothing along the fence except a sprawling crepe myrtle and a live oak tree in the middle. I decided to plant butterfly and hummingbird plants along the first half of the fence between the crepe myrtle and the oak, a stretch that’s sunny while placing a couple of bird feeders from the myrtle’s branches. The plants took root fairly quickly and the birds and butterflies found my small garden in time.

Here are some things to consider:

Hummingbirds love sweet nectar and you can place feeders out to attract them, but specific plants give them what they need naturally. Some plants hummers love to visit are lantana, salvia, butterfly bush, honeysuckle, morning glory, trumpet vines and Monk’s cap, to name a few. Because hummers are territorial, you don’t want to hang feeders within sight of one another if you hang more than one.

Plant natives to attract birds and butterflies as well. In fact, go native as much as possible. This is the one thing I struggle with the most, since non-native plants that attract wildlife are much more accessible. But purchasing native plants helps everyone in the long run — it attracts and sustains local wildlife and usually only requires the amount of rain that routinely falls wherever you live. Plus it’s what used to be here and should be here again.

“Aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis) is a super cool plant,” Gaines said, of a Louisiana native example. “It was easy to grow and bloomed all summer long. It attracts all manner of pollinators and is a Monarch host plant. I would highly recommend this as a starter plant for someone wanting to add natives. It’s relatively easy to find for purchase too.”

“Birds love my native beautyberry plant,” said Louisiana Master Naturalist Tricia Hunt. “Also butterfly larva host plants — milkweed for the monarchs, dill attracted swallowtails.”

Be sure to include various water sources, such as a birdbath to your yard. Make sure to clean it regularly. Slow-moving water draws birds to the garden as well, whether it’s a simple pond, a fountain, or a dripper or mister on your birdbath.

“Provide small shallow containers of clean water at ground level,” advised Louisiana Master Naturalist Meadow Gaines Landry. “I just hit them with the hose to clean and refill when I water. I see lizards and butterflies drinking that don’t brave the birdbath.”

My grandfather made birdhouses as a hobby so I’m all about hanging houses for my feathered friends. If you truly want birds to use them, however, avoid the decorative ones and buy or build birdhouses that blend into the environment and are far away from the reach of predators. I can’t tell you where my birdhouses are anymore because they are high up and hidden from view.

Diversify bird feed to attract different types of birds. Fruit jelly, fruit, shelled peanuts, bark butter, are good elements to hang.

Don’t forget the bugs. We definitely need to keep our bee population happy, in addition to butterflies and moths, so plant things that they will love. I have a pocket garden around my mailbox with rosemary, lantana, milkweed and other flowers specifically for them.

Finally, it’s okay to let nature go wild, it’s her job.

“My favorite thing is to let something rot,” Gaines said. “We cut down a tree and I kept several of the cut sections to let them decay. My ‘mushroom stumps’ are covered in fungus and bugs! They change in different weather. Decay is a beautiful process not found in sterile ‘well kept’ suburban yards.”

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