Some gardens are entirely devoted to attracting wildlife. They tend to be filled with flowering plants, different types of berries and seeds, and native fruit-bearing trees. They often have cool features like small ponds, rock borders, and stumperies, all of which make great habitats for all sorts of animals.
When we think about it, these “wildlife” gardens are pretty similar to productive gardens for humans. Fruit trees, berry canes, and vegetable plants flower throughout the growing season. There are loads of native trees—crabapples, persimmons, mulberries, pawpaws, and more—that provide human food, and those are amongst the best to include in mixed orchards.
The obvious connection is that we could use our vegetable gardens and backyard orchards to attract wildlife. But, do these animals provide benefit or disservice to our gardens? Wildlife can bring a lot to the garden party.
1. Natural Fertility
It’s fairly common knowledge that different types of barnyard manure—horse, cow, chicken, sheep, etc.—make great soil amendments. They add a huge boost of nutrients and carry in all sorts of life, like earthworms. And, of course, we can readily buy bags of it from nurseries and garden centers. Unfortunately, this manure is sourced from the same feedlots and factory farms that are destroying the environment.
But wildlife produces manure, too. Birds and bats have extremely rich manures. Worm castings are amazing. All sorts of microorganisms and insects and arachnids can contribute to fertility as well. In other words, wildlife can help with that, and we can utilize things like bat houses, compost bins, and bird perches can be good ways to collect this resource.
2. Pest Control
Far too often do we sum up insects, birds, rodents, and other animals as garden pests. Crows stealing corn. Aphids eating lettuce. Voles chewing roots. Rabbits, deer, raccoons, and on and on the list goes. Animals, no doubt, like to eat just the way humans do, and sometimes that creates conflict.
However, other animals are predators of these pests. Dragonflies, ladybugs, and praying mantis love to eat pest insects, as do frogs and lizards. Hawks and owls chase voles and mice and the like, as do snakes. In short, a good mix of wildlife balances the equation, with some crops lost to pests but some pest-feeding predators. Then, everyone eats.
3. Soil Conditioning
Aside from adding nutrient-rich manure, many animals are also important for keeping soil naturally aerated and healthy. All those burrowing animals, from earthworms and ants to moles and voles, create air pockets throughout the soil, and those air pockets provide oxygen for other subterranean organisms and roots.
Of course, allowing these animals to have some space in the garden means that a gardener can save some of the labor of loosening soil and perhaps tilling. These animals open passageways for water to get beneath the surface and allow nutrients to be washed down deeper into the soil, where roots can have easier access to them.
4. Free Pollination
By now, with the craze of saving honeybees, most of us know that bees—and that extends to all wild bees, not just farmed honeybees—are crucial to food production for humans. Without them, all sorts of food would never be because the female flowers wouldn’t be pollinated.
But, bees are not the only wildlife that provides this service. Different birds can help with pollination, and butterflies and moths are also players in the game. Other pollinators include ants, wasps, hoverflies, bats, and more.
5. Local Biodiversity
More and more we are realizing that our local biodiversity, and thus global biodiversity, is steadily decreasing. In a world of cornfields, soybean crops, and palm oil plantations, our wildlands are disappearing, and the animals that rely on them are following suit.
In response, we are realizing we need to make wildlife corridors as well as create wildlife habitats in our developed areas. This biodiversity is important for keeping the planet going and flowing, and that includes keeping our gardens in good shape.
And, it’s that simple: Wildlife is good for the garden. Sometimes we may have to play games to protect this or that crop, but eradicating any animal will upset the natural balance of things and ultimately become a problem—a missing piece—in the ecosystem.
Lead Image Source : Karel Bock/Shutterstock.
What you can do
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Fighting for Wildlife supports approved wildlife conservation organizations, which spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising. When making a donation you can designate for which type of initiative it should be used – wildlife, oceans, forests or climate.