Habitats & Hedgerows: Why and How to Create Them

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Habitats & Hedgerows: Why and How to Create Them

Wildlife is an important part of any ecosystem.

Unfortunately, as we build communities, develop farmland, and expand our urban settings, much of native flora and fauna is displaced. With just a bit of planning, gardeners in the suburbs and cities as well as farmers in the field can easily provide respite to nature’s refugees.

While installing native plants seems like the first best step in rebuilding outdoor spaces for wildlife, it may be more important to start by renovating the soil. Although native plants may thrive in a forest adjacent to a new suburban development, odds are they will fail fast in the disturbed soils surrounding newer human dwellings. Consider amending soils with rich compost before you plant. This will build habitat for needed soil fungi, bacteria, worms and other creatures that help keep your soil healthy and well balanced.

Soil fungi, bacteria, worms and other creatures help keep your soil healthy and well balanced.

As you begin to design your wildlife-friendly habitat garden, take a look at nature before you begin purchasing plants and seeds. Places that attract small songbirds tend to be densely planted. A thick mixture of plants gives the little birds lots of options for quickly escaping larger birds of prey. Mixed plantings provide lots of roosting options for sleepy birds at night, too.  But take care not to over-plant. Instead, plan for the longer term. It may take a few years, but soon birds and other wildlife will flock to your growing garden spaces.

Next, realize that some plants are deciduous and others are evergreen. This is a key consideration when creating a privacy hedge. Mixing and layering the differing plant types should allow you to both create habitat and develop privacy around your home – whether seasonally or all year ‘round. Check out my article “Picking the Right Evergreen for Your Hedge”

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Although filling bird feeders can be fun, watching wildlife forage from living plants is even better. You will neither incur the added expense of buying bird food nor will you have the additional headache of keeping feeders clean. Plus, fresh food right out of the garden tastes great – to wildlife just like to people. And, while a seed will feed a bird or a squirrel, a shrub that produces nectar-rich flowers will attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. Then, when those pollinated flowers become fruits and seeds, birds will flock to the source. Peeling tree bark in winter may harbor tiny insect larvae, which becomes protein for hungry little birds. And those leaves and other flora detritus that fall to the ground are the forage your living soil uses to keep itself fed.

If your design allows, consider integrating water for wildlife. Break up the look in a long run of conifers by inserting a birdbath. Place a micro-sprayer head beside a twiggy shrub where birds can sip and preen. Or, develop your habitat garden near an existing water source to provide the protective surroundings wildlife needs to feel safe when drinking and bathing.
 
Mixing plants like this to create native settings isn’t only used in suburban garden settings. In farmland, creating hedgerows in otherwise cultivated fields creates wind and water breaks, as well as habitat for resident and migrating wildlife. And, in densely developed cities where high-rise apartments abound, even a small potted plant can make all the difference to wildlife struggling to make it in the big city.