Living in an environmentally friendly way and practising Ecological Landscaping, primarily through the use of indigenous plants, will entice all sorts of wildlife to your garden and provide a functional ecosystem that will contribute to the ecology of the broader area in which you live. A string of such properties can go a long way to reducing the effects of habitat fragmentation by creating pathways made up of green stepping stones between green areas in the city. These pathways greatly benefit genetic and species richness in all areas of the city through connecting populations and reducing pressure on isolated sites.
Why plant indigenous?
Indigenous animals are far more likely to inhabit a property if the property contains indigenous plants that can provide these animals with the best resources. Indigenous gardening may not create the archetypal western idea of a beautiful garden but it brings with it a wilder, more alive and vibrant environment that can ultimately sustain itself. Remember, however, that it will require a substantial amount of work, and time, to get an already transformed area of land to a point where it becomes a self-sustaining, functional ecosystem.
While planting indigenous is preferable to planting exotic, it is still important to select plants from your specific region, as they have adapted to the area’s specific rainfall patterns and weather conditions. Also ensure that the plant is suitable for the amount of sun it will be exposed to.
Some species, be it herbs, vegetables, trees, shrubs or grasses, grow more successfully when planted next to certain other species. This is known as companion planting. There are, however, plant combinations that have a detrimental effect on each other, or out compete each other for resources. So, if you are not companion planting, you should at least consider designing your garden so that plants near each other are non-competing.
Attracting wildlife to your garden
As with humans, plants and animals have a hierarchy of needs, and at the base of this hierarchy are food, water, cover and space.
To cater to as wide a variety of species as possible, you will want to diversify the types of food items available in your garden. To cover all your bases you should ensure that there is green vegetation, fruit, seeds, insects, nuts and nectar rich flowers. This will attract many species of birds and bats, small mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians (provided they can get into the property), and other necessary micro-organisms. It is also helpful to ensure that food items are available at different and appropriate heights – particularly if you are hoping to attract a certain species. You may want to use bird feeders in winter periods when food availability is low.
Having a permanent source of clean water in your garden will make it irresistible to wildlife, provided it is safe from predators and undisturbed. It is also advisable that water sources are designed in such a way that animals can get in and out of the water easily, as animals often drown in even small bodies of water if the sides are steep or slippery and they cannot get out.
Garden wildlife also needs sufficient cover from the elements, as well as from each other (and domestic creatures such as dogs, cats, and children). Adding items such as rocks can help create shelter for small species. It is advisable also not to be too tidy and to let your grass grow a little bit, particularly around the edges of beds and water features – this will provide a perfect habitat for smaller organisms. When landscaping does not allow for natural nesting opportunities, it may be useful to install some artificial structures such as bird or bat boxes, yet there are no guarantees that these will be utilised by desired species. Any artificial houses must be accessible and ensure minimal disturbance by children and predators (including domestic animals).
Different wildlife species require different sizes and types of habitat. Use of space in Ecological Landscaping is very important to ensure that animals have a variety of options, including space that is relatively undisturbed by human activity.
Some other ideas
- Give your dog or cat a bell to reduce the threat they pose to indigenous wildlife
- Erect barriers around young plants and remove them once the plants have become more established and are more resilient to disturbance by children, animals and wildlife
- Make certain areas more inviting for children and pets so that they don’t disturb wildlife habitats
Being water wise
Following the basic principles of Ecological Landscaping will automatically assist you in saving water but there are many other things you can do to decrease your water usage, which will in turn contribute to maintaining our country’s natural water balance. The first step in living a water-wise lifestyle in your house and garden is to conserve municipal water by using it sparingly – not leaving taps to run and fixing any leaks in taps or pipes. But there are multiple other simple ways in which you can contribute further:
- Reuse grey water from sinks and bathtubs to water non-food plants
- Harvest free rainwater in rain tanks (such as JoJo Tanks)
- Remove declared alien invader plants
- Select appropriate grass types
- Zone your garden into different hydro zones and group plants according to their water usage requirements
- Use compost, manure and water retentive polymers
- Mulch, mulch, mulch! This allows the water to slowly percolate into the soil and not evaporate too quickly
- Irrigate efficiently by applying the right amount of water at the right time. Watering during the hottest time of the day is extremely wasteful because the moisture evaporates almost immediately and very little water actually reaching the plant roots
- Use innovative watering techniques such as drip irrigation, soaker hoses, installed timers or cut-off valves
Rand Water has wonderful tips on how to save water on their website – www.randwater.co.za
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