How do I create a Backyards 4 Wildlife garden?
Use Indigenous Plants
The best way to ensure the survival of your plants is to use provenance native plants that have been sourced from local seeds or cuttings. This means they are already adapted to your area’s climatic conditions and they are also less likely to be susceptible to local diseases and insect attacks.
Use a Range of Plant Heights
- An important feature of habitat restoration is to include structural diversity that would mimic pre-European Adelaide vegetation. Different animals utilise different layers, so providing all five heights in your garden will attract more wildlife. You should endeavour to have:
Upperstorey: Tall trees such as eucalypts, native pines, and tall wattles;
- Middlestorey: Small trees and tall shrubs like low wattles, banksias, sheoaks, tea trees, sweet bursaria and bottlebrushes;
- Shrub layer: Medium shrubs that range from 0.5 to 1 metres, like hakeas, correas and hopbushes;
- Understorey: Low shrubs (<0.5m) and other understorey plants like lilies, grasses, creepers and orchids; and
- Ground Covers: Ground cover plants and leaf matter, mulch, fallen branches, logs and rocks. Just remember that you need to source rocks and logs from an appropriate supplier and not from bushland where they are important to our remaining wildlife.
Flowers during all seasons
In an unspoilt area of bushland there will be a range of landforms, for example swamps, grassy plains, sand ridges and hillsides. The plants within various habitats often flower at different times of the year, thereby providing a year-round source of food for the native wildlife. As the bushland of the Adelaide area was progressively cleared, most of these habitats were lost and with it a source of food for part of the year. This resulted in the loss of species that relied on these food sources - why stay if your food or resting place had been destroyed?
In creating your backyard for wildlife try to plant a variety of local native plants and ensure that you have something in flower in each season of the year. A garden that is in full bloom in spring may look great, but will not provide food for nectar-feeding birds and butterflies during the other seasons. Autumn and winter-flowering plants are often the ones that are missing from our gardens, so try to include some of these in your BFW. Native plant guides will indicate the flowering time and mature size of plants. Choose a variety of plants that flower across the seasons to provide food for fauna and colour for your garden. Autumn and winter-flowering plants are often missing from our gardens so try to include banksias, grevilleas, and eremophilas, to name a few.
Be a Responsible Pet Owner
It is estimated that around 70% of Australian households have one or more pets. Whilst cats and dogs are great companions it must be remembered that they can threaten and kill our native wildlife. Furthermore, the large number of pets in urban areas compared to the relatively small populations of native species means the impacts of irresponsible pet ownership can be devastating.
Dogs are capable of killing lizards, possums and small mammals. Dogs running free in bushland can damage native plants, especially small ones such as lilies and orchids. They can also chase ground and water birds away from their nests, disturb wildlife, introduce weed seeds (attached to their coats) and their droppings can introduce high nutrient levels that promote weed species growth over natives.
Cats are natural hunters and even those that are well fed are capable of killing large numbers of birds, lizards, frogs and insects when allowed to roam. Over 30 animals including skinks, dragons, a finch and a mouse were found in one feral cat’s gut after a day of hunting! Research has also shown that feral cats in the Roxby Downs arid region have preyed on 54 species of native vertebrates, including: six mammals, 34 reptiles, 13 birds and one frog. Keep a bell collar on them if they are let out during the day and definitely keep cats in overnight.
Have your cats and dogs desexed. Keeping cats indoors or confined to a caged outdoor area is recommended. However, dogs need space to run. An option in a backyard is to fence off a section from your dog and turn this area into a wildlife friendly space that will help give visiting animals a better chance of avoiding trouble.
Unwanted pets should never be abandoned or released into bushland as they will potentially go wild and kill many native animals in their search for food. Either find them a new home or take them to one of the animal welfare organizations. Likewise fish, especially goldfish which are a carp, should never be released into any water ways as they pose a serious threat to native species and the health of our freshwater systems.
Alternative Uses to Chemicals
Use non-chemical approaches whenever you can to limit the impacts of chemicals on the soil health and its microbial communities. Herbicides, pesticides and fungicides should be used with due care as they can have deadly effects on native plants and animals as well as pollute surrounding waterways. Safer non-chemical alternatives include white oil, which smothers rather than poisons, and is digestible by humans with no ill affects.However, it is also important to remember the many benefits of predator insects. When you spray chemicals you may also be killing the insects that help to eliminate unwanted pests. There are alternatives to the use of chemicals for controlling weeds and other pests. These include the use of:
- Plant competition
- Biological control agents
- Hoeing, cultivation or other mechanical methods
- Rotation of garden beds
- Grazing, mowing or slashing
- Quarantine or sanitation practices
However chemical sprays, when used minimally and safely can give reliable and quick results. The safe use of chemicals is not difficult provided you follow a few basic rules:
- Read and understand the label, taking special note of the rate of application, preparation instructions and safety directions.
- Make sure the chemical is designed to control the pest you are using it against.
- Do not spray in adverse weather conditions, e.g. on windy days.
- Avoid spraying when fatigued to ensure careful and purposeful application.
- Be particularly careful when using chemicals near waterways or storm-water drains to prevent runoff and harmful contamination.
- Take appropriate personal safety precautions.
- Store your chemicals in a dry, cool shed or cupboard dedicated to that purpose. They must be kept in sound original containers that are fully labelled and tightly sealed.
Check out the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board factsheets on ‘Responsible Chemical Use’.