Enlightened Landscaping
American Outdoor Guide|February 2022
"Choose the right things to plant to benefit wildlife and yourself"
By Dana Benner

I usually wake up well before daylight. With a cup of coffee in hand, I step outside, where I collect my thoughts and prepare for the upcoming day. It's a peaceful time, when the sounds that greet me are the hoots of the barred owl in a nearby tree. Sometimes, I see a fox family, kits and all, move across the yard after a night of hunting. Occasionally, a skunk or raccoon will amble past as they head for home (the skunk lives under the shed, and the raccoon lives somewhere farther into the woods).

You might be asking yourself, What does all this have to do with landscaping? It's very simple: Encouraging wildlife to visit your property will benefit you, both physically and mentally. Physically, you'll benefit by having bees, butterflies and hummingbirds visit your crops-and thus increase your harvest.

Mentally, having wildlife around has a calming effect. Studies have shown that animal contact, no matter how fleeting, reduces stress and lowers your blood pressure. Why do you think people have the desire to visit zoos? Seeing wildlife makes you feel as if you're really part of the world around you. It makes you feel reconnected; it gives you peace of mind.

None of these animals would be around here-certainly not in the numbers they are-if I didn't landscape and manage my property with the environment in mind. Part of that management revolves around the plants that I've added, or have been encouraged to, and how and where I plant them.

REASONS TO PLANT

There are many reasons people choose certain plants over others. Some people are hunters; they might clear natural forest and then plant fields of introduced crops to entice deer into the fields. Other people spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on annuals (flowers that last only one season). Still others want lush, green lawns, exotic trees and ornamental shrubs. Lastly, there are people like me who plant with the environment including wildlife-in mind.

GOING NATIVE

At a minimum, all animals, including humans, need three things: food, water and shelter. No matter where you live-whether it's the Desert Southwest or the forests of the Northeast-if you're going to landscape with the environment, you need to keep those three things in mind.

Your best bet is to stick to the plants that are naturally found in your area. In fact, areas in the same geographic region could have subtle differences. For example, southern New Hampshire is different than northern New Hampshire. There are different species of animals and trees and a different climate.

Why is this important? Well, animals, birds and insects are naturally programmed to eat certain things and make their homes in and around certain species of trees, bushes and grasses. Another reason is that the plants have evolved to thrive in certain areas better than in others-certain climate, certain soil type, etc.

For you, the property owner, the benefit is less upkeep. Native plants need less watering, less pruning, less fertilizer (if any). All this equals less money spent and fewer worries.

Exotics, on the other hand, are a different story. Just as prickly pear cactus would not survive in my area, you wouldn't plant a sugar maple in Arizona. With that being said, some exotics have almost become “natives over the years. Cases in point are apple, pear and other forms of fruit trees. All these trees provide food for wildlife and humans alike.

MORE NATIVE PLANT BENEFITS

The benefits to you as the landowner are numerous:

• Not only do you provide food for wildlife, you also provide food for your family.

• You save money on cooling and heating costs, because trees and some other plants provide shade in the summer and windbreaks in the winter.

• You encourage pollinators to your garden.

• Some plants have medicinal properties.

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