Autumn Garden Activities for a Wildlife-Friendly Yard

i Oct 8, 2023 No Comments by

By Alison Hoover

Autumn is often busy with back-to-school, new schedules, and the rapidly approaching holidays, but fall in North Carolina is an ideal time to be out in the yard and garden. Fall is the perfect time to plant vegetables and bulbs in preparation for spring or prep your lawn for a healthy return in warmer weather. There’s also a lot you can do now to help ensure your yard is wildlife-friendly and help support local ecology. Here are 5 autumn garden activities to foster a wildlife-friendly yard:

  1. Focus on native plants which require less additional water and nutrients, meaning less overall maintenance and impact on the environment. Native plants also support the needs of local wildlife including birds, bugs, insects, and four-legged critters. If your goal is to create a wildlife sanctuary, aim for upward of 70% of all plants in your yard to be native. As the temperatures drop in the fall, you will need less water to help the roots get established. This makes autumn –– particularly September –– the ideal time to install native plants.
  2. Provide food sources with perennials and annuals that bloom throughout the entire growing season. Now is the time to plant bulbs and rip out shrubs or plants you plan to replace come spring. Native plants are best because they are key for encouraging the presence of insects and pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. You want to include nectar plants and host plants, giving these important creatures space to eat and breed.

    Shrubs and trees are also important food sources which double as shelter. You can also consider bird and hummingbird feeders. However, you want to be sure to offer quality seeds and sugar water as opposed to synthetic mixtures. You should also be aware that feeders can attract all sorts of wildlife, not just your intended audience. Be sure to change the food regularly, even on those chilly autumn mornings when you might rather stay inside.

  3. Create habitats and safe spaces for animals to sleep, eat, breed, and protect their young. To support a variety of animals, you want to incorporate layers of vegetation. This means including clusters of shrubs, small trees, tall trees, and evergreens. Evergreens are particularly important during the colder months as they provide shelter from winter winds. Trees are important for nesting animals as they provide protection from predators. Finally, large rocks offer a safe space for butterflies and other insects to sun themselves, which is an important part of their lifecycle.

    As you clean up your yard for winter, consider leaving the leaves under and around trees as they provide shelter and warmth for animals over the long winter. If you plan to do any trimming of trees or hedging of bushes, consider the impact you might have on nesting and burrowing animals. Look before you cut in case there is a shelter or nest already established.

  4. Provide water by incorporating at least one water source, be it a bird bath or a puddling dish. You won’t want to fill the container with water once winter approaches, but you should keep fresh water available as long as it’s safe to do so. If you don’t currently have a water source for animals, now is the time to determine where you’ll place it come spring. This is also the time to find fixtures on sale at the local home supply store.

    In the meantime, you can create a puddling dish by filling a saucer or shallow bowl with fresh water. As soon as the temperatures begin to rise again, you will want to provide water at all times. If your yard is large, try to offer multiple water sources. Throughout spring and summer, remember to change the water frequently so it stays clean and safe, and doesn’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

  5. Practice sustainable gardening to ensure a safe and healthy environment today and into the future. Native plants are part of this as they require less additional water, but you also should consider the materials and additives you use. While Americans are pretty enamored by our lawns, all of the fertilizers and chemicals used to make them thrive are terrible for other plants and animal life. Additionally, lawns offer little food or shelter, making them ornamental and not at all useful.

    Instead of adding chemicals, leave the cut grass and fallen leaves on the surface of your lawn. This will add adequate nitrogen and organic matter without introducing dangerous additives. While it isn’t necessary to rip out your lawn altogether, consider how your maintenance practices may impact or support the other efforts you’ve made to create a wildlife-friendly yard. Perhaps you can take autumn as an opportunity to tear out some grass and build a new flower bed for spring.

For a long time, we thought of our yards as simply outdoor spaces that needed to be maintained. With the looming effects of climate change and other results of human activity, we are beginning to see our yards as spaces where we can support wildlife and ecology. Each step toward welcoming and supporting nature is important, no matter how small it may seem.



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