Creating a Habitat for Wildlife
Creating a habitat for wildlife on an abandoned piece of land that has been left alone for many years is going to be quite challenging. But I see this challenge as no different from starting a garden in your own backyard when that backyard has been left to grow weeds for many years. The first thing you’re going to need to redo is remove all the weeds (if possible) until the ground is completely clear.
It may not be possible to remove all the weeds at once because they could be too deeply enrooted, and this process might take many years so it’s best to work in short segments. Leave alone those areas that are too difficult, start with the easiest areas so you’ll have success and then go back to the more difficult ones. One thing you can do about invasive plants is remove the flowers before they go to seeds. Even if you cannot remove that particular plant, you can at least stop it from spreading so fast. It is also useful to identify those invasive plants, look them up on the Internet and discover the best methods for removal of that particular plant.
Then you’re going to need to enrich and improve the soil to make it easier to continue to battle the weeds. Every year weeds will come back, if those weeds have been allowed to go to seed. It will take a number of years for all the existing weeds in the soil to germinate and eventually stop coming back. When I had a garden in San Francisco it was practically 100% weed free. Every day I would check and make sure there were no weeds that were hidden behind fences or cracks in some way in which they could create seeds. The weeds themselves are not the problem, as much as the weed seeds are a problem.
You might think to yourself that native plants aren’t going to need any compost because they don’t just grow in nature? A large number of invasive plants have entered the environment. The ground may be poor quality soil because of all the invasive plants on it could have caused an erosion of the soil in such a way that the soil will be extremely hard. The native plants cannot get started because they won’t have enough natural compost. Furthermore, the compost will soften soil which means when you go to remove those weeds which will soon create seeds and create a great big problem for you will be easier to remove. It takes a long time to create healthy soil, but you can take a few shortcuts. If you’re able to remove some of the topsoil that is rocky and filled with weeds and clay and then place some soil (that you might buy at a nursery or a big box store) or you can simply use soil amendments. The best way is to dig the compost in a little bit at least and dig in even more if you’re planting larger plants than small grass or ground covers.
Or you could simply place compost on top of the soil and let it slowly create a good soil but this will take many years. The method you choose is gonna depend on how big and area you’re working with. If it’s a very small area like a small garden bed it’s easy to simply dig out bad soil applying new soil mix in all the soils together and then start planting. The first year is gonna have a lot of weeds that you’ll have to remove each and every one of those weeds before it makes seeds. And the second year will have less weeds and each subsequent year you’re going to have less. If you allow even one weed to be overlooked, you can end up right back where you started from. If you go on vacation for a couple of months you’re out of luck because you’re gonna have to start all over again from scratch. If you do go on vacation, you’re gonna want a house sitter to remove the weeds before they go to seed.
A very large area like several acres you might need some heavy equipment to remove weedy trees Poison Ivy, Bush honeysuckle, Honeysuckle vine, Russian olives these are just a few of the invasive non-native plants that are taking over Missouri. There are even some native plants that are not recommended because they are too evasive but almost every native plant is not going to be a problem compared to typical lawn weeds like the dandelion and quark grass and also sledge if you have a lawn some of these weeds might migrate out into the existing land and create more problems for you.
Poison oak and Poison Ivy represent a really special problem. You will want to cut down invasive vines that are growing up trees some of them are poison oak and then you have to be really careful if you touch them if you do you have to wash your skin very quickly to prevent an outbreak or you have to always be wearing gloves you cannot burn poison oak and Poison Ivy because if you do it’s going to emit smoke that is going to be extremely hazardous to your lungs.
Start by removing the trees that you don’t want to select the trees that you wish to keep and trying to improve conditions for other trees by removing some more invasive trees that are growing next to them and shading them out by not giving them enough light. Then when you plant native plants make sure that you’ve dug a big enough hole for that plant and that you have used good quality soil or you have enriched the soil that you have to make it good quality. You have to tend and water the plants to get them established. Once your native plants are established you probably will not have to water them provided that there is not a drought and provided that there is rain. These Native planting will become self-efficient overtime. The first few years new plantings will be vulnerable to stress because they are not established. A well-established plant has been established for as much as five years and looks strong and healthy. If a drought or a heat wave comes, that plant is going to be in great shape to withstand it.
Some insects could be harmful such as acids or spider mites. Well established plants will not be so subject to dying if they get a little bit of insect damage but a plant in poor condition will quickly succumb to an invasion of insects. You should also plant plants that work with native pollinator insects and butterflies. Although caterpillars are destructive, they should be allowed to complete their life cycle on certain plants set aside for this purpose. You will want to research the different butterflies in your area and see which plants you may plant to provide them with nourishment. Certain butterflies only can nest upon or drink from certain plants in particular so if you’ve planted the wrong kind of plant it won’t attract the kinds of butterflies that you are trying to conserve. Pollinator insects are part of the life cycle. If there are no caterpillars, animals that eat caterpillars such as birds will suffer. Everything is connected, you can’t eliminate one thing without having an effect on something else.
I noticed that my Prairie Willows which are planted to create a small shrub scape (in which native bobwhite quail could potentially live) came down with a black fungal infection which was probably black smut. I was able to treat it with a fungicide which stopped the fungal infection from killing the plant. Please do not treat flowering plants that are in bloom because bees are going to be collecting pollen from them. If you must do so, it is necessary to first remove all the flowers before you treat those plants for any pests and diseases. Remember that if you treat a plant with chemicals maybe an animal might come and eat that plant and then that might have a harmful effect on the animal. Furthermore, those toxins will enter the environment and potentially be harmful. There was a scandal involving a certain pesticide that caused birds eggs to become soft and made the eggs crack. This is just an example of how chemicals and pesticides can ruin a natural habitat. Also, you don’t wanna have plastic on your land you do not want to use plastic to block weeds because as this plastic decays it leeches toxins into your environment. Furthermore, so-called landscape fabric is one of the worst ways to have a healthy garden. These kinds of gardens and landscaping are often found in strip malls and outside of fast-food restaurants.
Plant native trees that are helpful to the animals because they provide fruit and nuts for the animals and possibly nesting sites for birds and other animals. You want to be mindful of providing nesting places and burrows for animals like foxes and rabbits who also need holes and hollow logs and things to provide them with shelter. We cleared large amounts of wood and twigs and place them in piles. We found that rabbits moved in. When you’re clearing something like that you have to check to make sure there’s not any baby animals that would be left helpless if those twigs were removed. These brush piles can be very helpful, and they will slowly decay overtime creating more compost for the soil.
Use a plow or a tiller or some sort machine for clearing away invasive plants and softening the soil and tilling soil amendments into that soil. If these things are available to you can use them but if not, you can work your way around it. You can do a lot with hard work and a shovel if you are physically able to do that. And a lot of this just depends on how large the site you’re working with as to how you’ll make a determination of the best way to clear it.
It would be great if you could get a water source on the land. You might add lake. Maybe you could try to dig a lake? This seems really complicated and it definitely is you might need heavy equipment to do so, if you just dig a hole, it’s possible that water could drain out of that hole. There are different methods of building lakes and or small ponds that you might be able to keep fish. It would be nice if you kept some fish in a pond. It would provide water for the animals and the fish would also provide food for animals that eat fish, and it would also be helpful for frogs and turtles. There are a large number of instructional videos on YouTube which show the process of digging a pond or a lake step-by-step. The Missouri Wildflower Nursery also a lake that they’ve dug on their grounds to water their plants because it was gonna be difficult to water so many plants trying to use your hose and the water that comes from your house. The hoses won’t be long enough, furthermore hose water is filled with chlorine and possibly salts and other harmful things that are optimal but even subprime water is better than no water at all under drought conditions. A lake would help you to collect rainwater; and also you can collect rainwater in different types of rain barrels and catchment basins. Although when I had a lot of catchment basements out to provide water for animals and to collect rainwater for plants a frog jumped into it and accidentally drowned before I discovered him. I felt guilty about that and I thought I might have to revise the bassinets to the point in which I should provide a ramp for the frogs to climb out. You can see YouTube for building ramps that small animals can climb out of water.
There are several ways to get compost you can buy it or you can make your own using Starbucks coffee grounds or coffee grounds another coffee shop that will give them to you and add food scraps create a compost pile or a compost bin. You’ll want to add fallen leaves in the fall. Good healthy soil is caused by fallen leaves touching the ground. in the natural state. As these leaves decay, they create a top layer on the soil which is called the O layer or the organic layer. In many circumstances you’ll find there is no organic layer or there’s not enough organic layer and should make compost.
What if you can’t get any compost or you can’t get enough compost, or you don’t want to do any type of composting or soil improvement? I’m not sure how well it would work to simply place your seeds upon the ground that has been removed from weeds, because the soil may be too hard for the plants to be able to get a foothold. It depends on what you are planting. Grass seeds don’t take a lot of root space, but other plants need to be able to penetrate the soil for the tap roots to become established. Sometimes the soil is just too hard, and the plant is not going to become well rooted and then it’s simply gonna perish on the first hot day.
Upkeep and Maintenance
Once you’ve got your native trees, native shrubs, native flowers and groundcovers established all you have to do and it will be easy compared to the initial work of creating your native habitat. Remember any soil that is bare will probably end up having some plants growing on it and you have to make sure that the plants there are natives and not weeds. Even one small patch of weeds on your property will contaminate the entire rest of the yard because weeds are blown by the wind, they are carried by birds there are so many ways that they can travel. Cover all bear soil with a thick layer of mulch to prevent weed germination until you decide what you wish to plant in that particular area. Also, around the trunks of trees it is good to put some mulch to help the tree and to prevent weeds from growing right next to the tree.
I have read in another blog a number of practical steps that might be useful. I decided I’m going to list them here.
The first step is plant selection. You need to plant sun-loving plants in sunny areas obviously, but you have to consider if nearby trees will create shade. Small trees may later grow to be large trees which men later create shade so the plants that you plant may not then do so well once they’re in the shade they won’t be able to get enough light. That being said, most Missouri natives like a combination of morning sun and afternoon shade. They want the restoration of morning sun, yet they do not want the hot baking afternoon sun. You have to select the place where you plant each plant not simply based on esthetics but where that plant has the best chance to be successful.
Step two is to clear out all the weeds. However, it may not be possible to do this all at once because you don’t want to strip the land bare. If you already have animals living on that land, you’ll need to do it in small sections. This process will take many years. So, you’ll select an area in which you want to start. You’ll have some idea of what plants you wanna plant there and what the soil is like. If it’s a slope instead of flat that’s going to present a special problem as sometimes the old layer of soil which is organic may be washed away by runoff on slopes.
Step three would be to plant your native seeds and your native shrubs and bushes also some of which you might not wanna grow from seeds, but you may buy from a nursery such as tree saplings.
If you plant your natives seeds in the spring, they may not germinate until the following spring, so most people recommend that you sow your seeds in the fall. Before you plant your seeds, you need to look up on the Internet what the most favorable conditions for germination are for that particular plant. Some plants require winter stratification, some seeds require soaking. Some seeds only like to be on the surface whereas others like to be slightly buried to a greater or lesser degree in order to be at the optimal level for maximum germination.
The third step will be caring for what plants that you have planted. You may have to continually revise your plantings if some plants are unsuccessful, and others are more successful. You can change and revise continually your plantings. You’ll be trying to introduce new things, seeing how they do and maintaining the earlier plantings.
I hope that this year I will be able to have some success and be able to share through blogs videos and photos how the restoration project is going. Please feel to leave a comment or a question.