Give Wildlife an Edge
Plant an Edge
Edges are wonderful examples of biodiversity in action. Wildlife loves to live on the edge! Your property may not have room for a large edge, but even on a small scale you can achieve great results. As you already learned in this guide, an edge is where one type of habitat meets and blends with another. The two merging habitats create a distinct third edge habitat. Different species of wildlife thrive in each of these environments.
- An edge doesn’t have to be large to attract wildlife. A few trees surrounded by a ring of shrubs, then encircled by wildflowers and grasses, and finally bordered by an open lawn is quite satisfactory. Such an arrangement provides several small edge environments for wildlife.
- If you’re cramped for space, you can plant edges just at the sides of your backyard, where some trees may already grow. If you plant borders of shrubs alongside them, then wildflowers, grasses, and open lawn, you’ll create small edges for a wonderful array of wildlife.
- Make the most of even a small space with the help of the "layered" look! Plant trees with vines twining up their trunks and with shrubs below, then surround them with a final layer of native grasses and wildflowers.
- It’s important to arrange your plantings so they provide maximum benefits for wildlife. Food, water, and shelter must be available nearby. Wild animals are more likely to use a food source if there’s an escape route close by. They know better than to get caught in the middle of an open lot with nowhere to run and hide!
- Water the plants, shrubs, and trees in your edge habitat regularly until they’re well established.
- Weed out any undesirable vegetation.
Plant a Downtown Edge
Even in a paved city lot with scant space, you can create habitats that attract insects, birds, and small mammals.
- Dig up a strip of asphalt along your yard fence. A 15-cm-wide strip of earth will be enough to make a difference for wildlife.
- Plant climbing vines such as scarlet runner beans, grapevine, virgin’s bower, bittersweet, or dropmore scarlet trumpet honeysuckle vine. All these species will give wildlife a boost with their berries and blooms. Birds often nest in the leafy cover provided by grapevine and Virginia creeper.
- Be patient. It will take time before wildlife discovers your sprouting habitat. Your downtown edge may only attract beetles and spiders, but it’s still an important habitat.
- Water the plants until they’re well established, then only during dry spells.
- Weed the edge habitat regularly.
Plant a Fruit-bearing Hedgerow
A fruit-bearing hedgerow is a row of thick, bushy plants that provides wildlife with shelter and a passageway to get from place to place — preferably with snacks along the way. Any bushy plant will make a good hedgerow, but the best type is one that bears fruit. A hedgerow makes a yard both private and beautiful. It will also attract birds to your feeder and pollinators to your garden.
Hedgerows and fence rows can also attract the natural enemies of certain pests you may wish to eliminate from your backyard. For example, by planting a hedgerow with fruit that appeals to insect-eating animals, you can help control bugs that would otherwise make short work of your vegetable garden.
Hedgerows also act as small wind-breaks, protecting soil from erosion and reducing the loss of moisture from the earth. A thick hedgerow can slow down or even stop the flow of water between two areas by helping the soil soak up moisture.
- If you have a large enough lot, design a hedgerow for your backyard.
- Make a list of shrubs and trees that will attract wildlife and grow well in your area.
- Map out your property. Measure the border area where the hedge will stand. It should be at least 3 m wide when fully grown. Mark the measurements on your map.
- Estimate how much space each plant will require. You may have to check with a nursery or do a bit of library research. Close spacing between plants (but not too close) is best. That way, it will take less time for the hedge to grow thick.
- Plot on the map where the plants should be placed, using a legend with a different symbol for each variety of shrub or tree. Determine how many of each type will be needed for your hedgerow.
- Water the shrubs and trees in your hedgerow regularly until they’re well established.
- Replace dead or diseased plants as needed and weed out any undesirable vegetation.
Improve a Hedgerow
A hedgerow that already exists can make an excellent project too. Here’s a short list of ideas on how to improve a hedgerow for wildlife:
- Add more coniferous or deciduous bushes to thicken a hedge that’s too thin.
- Extend a hedge so it connects with another hedge, clump, or thicket and provides better travel lanes for wildlife.
- Trim a hedge to make it grow bushier.
- Let a hedgerow widen naturally. Wild creatures are happiest with hedges at least 3 m wide.
- Consider planting or improving an apple tree hedgerow. Overcrowding and shading by other trees and shrubs can reduce an apple tree’s vigour and ability to bear fruit. Your improvement project should include pruning, removing competing vegetation, and fertilizing. (Consult a local nursery for advice.)
- Replace dead plants as needed and weed out any undesirable vegetation.
- Prune or trim the hedgerow to encourage healthy growth.
- Water the new shrubs and trees in your hedgerow regularly until they’re well established.
Fix up a Fence Row
A fence row is any fenced border around a lot. Whether it’s used for privacy or to keep pets out of trouble with neighbours, a fence row is a great place to plant for wildlife.
Fence rows, like hedgerows, can attract the natural enemies of certain bugs you may prefer not to have on your property. They also act as small wind-breaks, preventing soil erosion and reducing moisture loss from the earth.
A fence row can be easily improved for wildlife. Here’s how:
- Avoid mowing too close and allow grass to grow freely in a wide strip alongside the fence row.
- Plant vines here and there to provide a greater variety of food and shelter.
- Scatter a few shrubs or a tree or two along the fence row to attract wildlife. (See the Plant Encyclopedia for tips on suitable plants.)
- To reduce erosion from wind and water, white cedar is a good species to plant alongside a fence row. It also provides important cover for songbirds and game birds, as well as food and shelter for rabbits and hares. White cedar is available in most parts of the country, except for the Prairies.
- Weed the fence row habitat regularly.
- Replace dead plants as needed.
- Water the new shrubs and trees along your fence row regularly until they’re well established.
Start a Wind-break
If you have a large lot and plenty of get-up-and-go, a wind-break may be the perfect project for you. A wind-break is like a giant hedge made up of trees and shrubs growing one to five rows wide. It can make a great travel lane for small wild animals and provide them with food and cover. Planted in the right spot, a wind-break can also prevent soil from drying out and blowing away, protect gardens, and reduce windy blasts in winter, thereby lowering heating bills. When planted along roads and driveways, windbreaks trap snow and stop it from drifting.
Wind-breaks are usually divided into three parts, referred to as windward, centre, and lee-ward. The windward row is what the wind hits first. It should be made up of dense, fast-growing trees and shrubs that prevent snow from piling up in the middle of the wind-break. The centre row should be made up of tall, fast-growing trees that force wind to rise over the wind-break. Finally, the leeward row should be made up of dense-growing trees and shrubs.
It’s also a good idea to consult with your local departments of wildlife, agriculture, and forestry for information about your plan. (Sometimes it’s best to leave natural areas unchanged, and these departments may advise you as such.) An agriculture official should have lots of designs and helpful ideas for wind-breaks. A local forester may recommend the most suitable species of vegetation for your area and offer you advice on planting and spacing. A wildlife biologist can suggest modifications to your design that will appeal to local birds and other animals.
- Draw a map of the area where your wind-break will stand, including such features as buildings, roads, creeks, and existing vegetation. Figure out which way the prevailing wind blows and indicate this direction on your map. Show where you wish to locate the trees and shrubs.
- Estimate the number and cost of the various types of plants you ’II need. Your wind-break will consist of at least three rows of native trees and shrubs. Use both coniferous and deciduous species for a variety of food and shelter.
- Plant rows of shrubs along both of the outside borders, taller trees on the inside. (Viewed from the end, your finished windbreak will look like an upside-down "V".)
- Space your shrubs and trees so they’ll have enough room to grow while providing plenty of shelter.
- Plant the trees or shrubs in each row in a pattern alternating with the ones in neighbouring rows.
- Plant your rows in a line perpendicular to the prevailing wind and upwind from the space you want to protect. Think crooked! Gently zigzagging rows will appeal to wildlife.
- Water the new shrubs and trees in your wind-break regularly, until they’re well established.
- Replace dead trees and shrubs if necessary. But leave mature snag trees standing as potential nesting sites for birds and other wildlife.
Here are some recommended species for your wind-break:
- Red ashperforms well in all three rows but is best in the middle. Many birds and mammals eat its seeds.
- Manitoba mapleis a good choice for the centre or leeward row. Its seeds are a favourite winter food of several bird species, particularly evening grosbeaks.
- Willowcan be used extensively in the middle or leeward row. Although most willow species have little food value, they can be a food source for caterpillars; their fuzzy blossoms may provide half-starved bees with pollen and nectar in early spring. They also grow fast and provide plenty of shelter.
- Buffalo-berryis most commonly used in the windward or leeward row. It has sharp spines at the tip of each branch, making it a useful barrier. It provides cover and food for wildlife.
- White spruce is most suitable for the middle row. It provides cover and protection for wildlife. Deer occasionally graze on its lower branches, while other wildlife species munch on its cones. Birds and small mammals also like its seeds.