Restoring Wildlife Habitat
“If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20 million acre national park, nine times bigger than Yellowstone or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah National Park.”
Douglas W. Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope
Sycamore Land Trust has converted fields at many of our nature preserves to wildlife habitat, including at Amy Weingartner Branigin Peninsula Preserve, Touch the Earth Natural Area, Tangeman Woods, Porter West Preserve, Powell Preserve, and Columbia Mine at Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge.
The native wildflowers and grasses chosen for these planting are indigenous to South Central Indiana and thus are well suited to this climate, soil, and the mammals, birds, and insects that depend on them for survival. Native wildflowers provide nectar and pollen for a variety of insects, which in turn provide food for birds and small mammals. Seeds from native wildflowers and grasses also provide food, while the tall, dense foliage provides safe places to raise young and find winter shelter.
Restoring our land to its natural state is vital to the long-term survival of wildlife and protecting biodiversity.
Habitat Restoration Includes These Basic Steps
Site Assessment: Identify the site for wet or dry soil type and the amount of sun each day and choose plants adapted to those conditions. Decide on the goals for the restoration such as a pollinator garden for bees and butterflies or habitat for birds, mammals, or both.
Vegetation Removal: Remove existing weeds and undesired vegetation from the site to prevent aggressive weedy species or invasive species from out-competing native plants. Depending on the size of the site, this can be done with herbicide application or smothering existing vegetation.
Seedbed Preparation: Prepare a seedbed to ensure good seed- soil contact and promote germination of planted seeds. Select seed mixes and seeding methods that are well suited to the site and project goals. For small sites, consider hand planting plugs for quicker results. Establishment and Aftercare Control weeds and promote the establishment and growth of native plants through the first few years after seeding. Large sites may need to be mowed to control weeds.
Native and Invasive Species
Native plants are those flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees that are indigenous to a geographical region. Invasive species are plants that were introduced to a region that can spread prolifically, outcompeting native species and eventually dominating a landscape.
Garlic Mustard (Invasive) Alliaria petiolata
Invasive plants that are being controlled at our nature preserves include garlic mustard, Japanese stiltgrass, Asian bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and Japanese hops. Some invasive species were, or still are, popular ornamental plants used in landscaping. Invasive plants can crowd out native plants and do not support the insects, birds, and mammals that rely on natives.
Much of the restoration work being implemented focuses on controlling invasive plants so that native landscapes may once again flourish.
Choose Native Plants For Your Gardens
Help restore wildlife habitats by choosing to landscape with native plants best suited to your region. Being naturally suited for an area, native plants generally require minimal maintenance and watering once established. Here are some tips to help you establish a garden for wildlife:
- Choose native species (not cultivars) to provide the best food sources for wildlife.
- Choose at least two species that grow in each season and clump the same species together for visual impact.
- Source your plants or seeds locally for the greatest genetic diversity and adaptability for your ecoregion.
- Consider growing native grasses, shrubs, and trees that will provide shelter and nesting areas for birds and small mammals.
- Plants that have been chewed on are evidence that the garden is healthy, so please don’t spray pesticides.
- Spent blooms that are allowed to go to seed become a food source. Allow plants to overwinter without cutting down or tidying up the garden. This provides needed areas for insects, birds, and small mammals to find shelter and food over the winter months.
- Providing a water source, especially year round, is also an important feature of a wildlife garden. Keep your water sources healthy with frequent cleanings or consider a circulating water feature.
- Patience and persistence is important, especially during the first three years.
The following plants and many others can be adapted to the home wildlife garden and restoration projects:
Smooth Penstemon Penstemon digitalis
This adaptable, beautiful wildflower is an important early season food source. Many insects including long tongued bees, butterflies, sphinx moths, and hummingbirds sip nectar from the tubular flowers. Caterpillars of several moth species feed on the foliage.
Wild Rye Elymus spp.
A clump forming, cool season perennial grass with green or silver blue semi-evergreen blades that provide winter interest in the landscape. Well suited to wildlife gardens, wild rye serves as a host to caterpillars of several types of butterflies, moths, and skippers, while providing seeds to birds and small rodents.
Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea
This sturdy plant has a tap root that can extend 6 feet. Honey bees, native bees, wasps, butterflies, skippers, moths, and beetles seek nectar and pollen from the flowers.
Common Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum virginianum
A long blooming period and its deer resistance make all the native mints an attractive pollinator plant. Bees, butterflies, and song birds all love this easy-to-grow plant. The aromatic leaves and stems are unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
Also known as bee balm, this tall plant is easily grown in a sunny garden. Long tongued bees, butterflies like this Eastern tiger swallowtail, skippers, hummingbird moths, and hummingbirds sip nectar from the tubular shaped flowers. Caterpillars of several moth species feed on the foliage. The aromatic leaves and stems are unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
Common milkweed is known to feed over 450 insects including flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies. Milkweeds in general are of particular importance to the monarch butterfly since it is the only host plant for their caterpillars.
Gray Goldenrod Solidago nemoralis
All goldenrods are excellent plants for wildlife gardens, their blooms providing a late season food source. Native bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles and pollinating flies seek both nectar and pollen from the flowers while seeds are eaten by songbirds like the American goldfinch.
New England Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
This aster reaches heights of 6 feet and puts on a fall show when other plants flowers have faded. Along with goldenrods and native grasses, all the asters provide nectar for butterflies, skippers and bees, and are an important food source for migrating monarch butterflies.
Native Trees and Shrubs
White Oak Quercus alba
Host to about 450 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars, oak is one of the most beneficial plants to increase biodiversity in your yard.
Gray Dogwood Cornus racemosa
Pawpaw Asimina triloba
For more information on invasive plant control, planting with natives, and restoration work, contact: