Reading the Sierra Foothill Garden's post on creating habitat today was a timely reminder how important wildlife habitat is -- especially in the suburbs. And it bears repeating that it really doesn't take much to create a habitat garden.
Food means different things for different critters. Many birds and insects need the seeds and fruits of plants, like the manzanita berries in the photo above. Pollinators need blooming plants with nectar and pollen, and hummingbirds need hummingbird plants like this Salvia spatacea (hummingbird sage).
For raising their young, many birds need insects. I wondered why the hummingbirds were coming to the California fescue again and again until someone explained that they probably picked off small critters as a protein treat for the babies.
No Pesticides, No Herbicides
And I really mean NO. Do yourself and your family a favor and stop adding chemicals to your garden. Get a little tolerant of a few weeds, and enjoy seeing small nibbles on the plants in your garden. A plant that never shows insect damage is probably not a great habitat plant (neither is a plant that gets devoured; you don't want a single type of insect to take over).
Next time you're worried about a few small holes in a leaf, think of the leaf-cutter bee that might have used that plant material, or think of the hummingbird babies getting their protein snack.
Everybody needs shelter to be comfortable. For birds, that might mean a few trees or large bushes, or you might put up a bird house or two for cavity nesters. But other critters also need their habitat. Lizards love rocks, and a dry stream bed with plenty of rocks to bask in the sun is ideal.
Salamanders and other, smaller critters might enjoy a small log pile. Last time I used the term "small log pile" I received several comments regarding rats and other vermin, most likely from gardeners with much more space than I have. I really did mean small. 5 or 6 pieces of wood, 10 inches long, artfully -- well, maybe no so artfully -- arranged under the redwood tree, like this.
Maybe a mouse would find this pile big enough for a home, but anything larger most likely looks for a bigger pile than this.
Water is quite possibly the biggest contribution you can make to wildlife in the long dry season in California. I've placed birdbaths of different sizes in different parts of the garden.
The pot-and-saucer bird bath in the first picture of this post came about when I spotted a neighbor's cat having a look at my saucer in the ground. I realized I had to elevate the saucer to give the birds a better chance of escape.
Many of my bird baths include a rock or two to allow smaller birds easy access, and several include a solar fountain pump. Birds love the sound of running water, and it's refreshing for people as well. Mr. Mouse did a thorough and educational post about the solar fountains here, so I won't repeat the details.
Possibly the most important part of the wildlife habitat you create is that you enjoy your visitors. If you wander through your garden often, you'll notice what's still missing. You'll refill the bird bath, pull the weeds before the thought of herbicides enters anybody's head. You'll admire the butterflies and bumble bees. And you'll think of a few more perfect native plants for your garden. Truly a win-win situation!