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Written by Terry Spraque   
Jan 01, 2017 at 12:00 PM

BACKYARD NATURALIZATION - Attracting Birds and Other Wildlife Species to Your Premises

 As environmental awareness increases, it is only to be expected that some of this interest might be directed to our own backyards. There are concerns about what we are putting on our properties to create that "perfect lawn." Do we need a perfect lawn? What can we do make our properties, be they large or small, more attractive to wildlife? And how much is too much of a good thing? This page will attempt to address the increasing interest we are taking these days in naturalization our backyards, how to attract wildlife, how to manage what we have, and how to dissuade those species we don't want. It is all about doing things "naturally", with native species of plants, natural fertilizers, composting - all those things all of us should have started doing much earlier in our lives. Watch this page regularly for more tips on how you can enhance your property and make it more attractive to wildlife. 

NOTE: "Mouse over" the photos for their identification
There is nothing like the sound of water to attract wildlife to your backyard, and a water garden is a worthwhile investment. Photo by Terry SpragueOne of the best investments we have ever made on our property was the construction of a small water garden. It is a relaxing place to pull up a lawn chair and just sit, and listen to the water trickling down the rocks, and the goldfish swimming around. However, a water garden does much more than just soothe our soul; it is also a drawing card to wildlife providing them with a place to drink, bathe and in some cases, breed. When landscaping your pond, using native plants will enhance its value for wildlife and help to preserve our natural heritage.
There are two basic methods of building a pond. You can dig a hole to your desired dimensions and add a liner to retain water; or use a moulded pond pool. If you decide you want to add fish or attract frogs, turtles, or other wildlife, the design of your pool is important. The water depth should be sufficient so the animals can survive winter freezing. There should also be a gradual slope at one end to allow entry and exit. Tadpoles and snails can be added to reduce algae.
The amount of sunlight reaching the pond and the pond depth will help you decide what plants to grow. Check to make sure runnoff from fertilizers will not reach your garden. This may result in an algae bloom. Leaves and debris which are not cleaned out will also cause algae problems. If possible, shallow ponds should be drained in the winter to prevent damage to the liner.
                                                       Moisture-Loving Plants
Contrary to popular belief, Monarch butterflies are more attracted to swamp milkweed, than they are to the common milkweed of open fields. Photo by Terry SpragueThese species should be planted around the outside of the pond where the soil is moist but not covered with water. The amount of sun and shade is important to some species.
Joe-Pye Weed   Eupatoruim macalautum
This plant requires full sun. It has clusters of purple pink flowers that bloom from June to August. It will grow from 0.6 to 1.8 metres in height.
Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis
A large perennial, reaching up to 1.5 m. The flower is a slender scarlet spike that blooms from July to August. It prefers partial sun to shade. It will attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to your garden.
Turtlehead Chelone glabra
A perennial with a white or pinkish tubular flower, blooming from August to September. It can grow from 0.3 to 0.9 m tall. The leaves are a larval food for the Monarch butterfly.
Additional Species:
  • Swamp Milkweed   Asclepias incarnata
  • Sensitive Fern Onoclea sensibilis
  • Swamp Aster Aster puniceus
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit   Arisaema triphyllum
                                       SHALLOW  WATER  PLANTS
These plants do well in water not exceeding 15 cm in depth. They are usually planted around the pond margin
Sweetflag   Acorus calamus
This plant has a dense spike of tiny flowers (spadix) approximately 5 cm to 9 cm in length. The fruits are small gelatinous berries. The plant reaches a height of 30 cm to 120 cm and flowers from May to August.
Pickerelweed   Pontederia cordata
Pickerelweed is an aquatic herb. It has a violet-blue flower spike that extends out of the water and long rhizomes that grow beneath the water. It blooms from June to November and produces seed-like fruit. It reaches a height of 30 to 60 cm.
Blue Flag   Iris versicolor
Blue Flag has beautiful violet-blue flowers surrounded by sword-like leaves. The flower is 6.3 to 10 cm in width and the plant reaches a height of 60 to 90 cm. Blooming occurs from May to August. The marsh marigold is a shallow water plant that will do well around built up edges of your water garden. Photo by Court Noxon
Bog Arum    Calla palustris
This is an interesting flower consisting of a dense spike of tiny yellow flowers 2.5 cm in length, partially wrapped inside a rolled spathe 5 cm long. The leaves are green and heart-shaped. The plant reaches a height of 15 to 30 cm. Blooming occurs from May to August. Fruit appears as red berries in late summer to early autumn.
Additional Species: 
  • Arrow Arum    Peltandro virginica
  • Arrowhead   Sagittaria latifolia 
  • Cattail    Typha augustifolia
  • Marsh Marigold   Caltha palustris 
  • Smartweed   Polygonum spp.
                                                    DEEP  WATER  PLANTS
These plants do well in water 25 to 90 cm in depth. They are usually placed in the middle of the pond.
White water lilies will provide welcome shade to any inhabitants in your water garden. Photo by Terry Sprague
White Water Lily    Nymphaea odorata
This plant is also known as fragrant water lily. It has floating leaves and white, aromatic flowers 6 to 11 cm across. Flowering occurs from June to September.
Water Star-grass   Heteranthera dubia
Water star-grass is a member of the pickerweed family. It has a pale yellow that reaches the water’s surface. The grass-like leaves remain submerged. Blooming occurs from June to September.
These are submerged deep water plants that oxygenate the water and help keep algae levels down by competing with them for dissolved nutrients. They help improve water quality for fish and provide protection for their young. They are especially important in ponds that are not equipped  with a pump or aerator. Place these plants at the bottom of your pond . A native species to consider is Canadian Pondweed   Elodea canadensis.
A good reference book about water gardens is The Ontario Naturalized Garden: The Complete Guide To Using Native Plants. Lorraine Johnson. Vancouver/Toronto: Whitecap Books, 1995

Don’t know where to go to obtain native trees and shrubs and wildflowers? Obviously you want to consult someone who is dedicated and knowledgeable in this field. Two great native plant nurseries in the local area:

1)  NATURAL THEMES, Frankford: Whether it’s gardening with native plants or attracting wildlife to your backyard, Natural Themes, is a good place to go for information and a selection of high quality, affordable plants. Owner and proprietor Beate (Bea) Heissler is well known in the Quinte area, having been involved as an educator at the H.R. Frink Centre, north of Belleville, for many years, Natural Themes offers a wide variety of woodland, meadow/prairie and wetland species including wildflowers, ferns, sedges, grasses, shrubs and vines as well as native deciduous and coniferous trees.  Natural Themes Website 

2) FULLER NATIVE AND RARE PLANTS, Belleville: Peter Fuller propagates and grows perennials, ferns, grasses and bulbs native within a 100-mile radius of the nursery. "We practise ethical seed collection and all plants are nursery propagated," says Peter Fuller. "We promote the conservation of wild plants and the maintenance of genetic diversity in plant populations. We provide advice and resources for using native plant material in home gardens." Fuller Native and Rare Plants website


Last Updated ( May 25, 2017 at 03:54 PM )
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