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Don’t let nature get in the way of your garden

Canada geese have arrived back into the area and are enjoying the open waters once again on the James River, as seen March 30. John Zvirovski / Forum News Service

With spring well under-way, much of the wildlife is returning to the area to make an appearance. Some of them are present throughout the year such as the squirrels that thrive on the seeds hanging from the trees and certain types of birds that are tolerant of our temperatures and enjoy native food sources in the gardens and surrounding areas. Many others migrate back or come out of hibernation to make their presence known once it warms. As nice as it is to see them around our yards and gardens, what is it that really attracts certain types over others into our spaces?

One of the predominant visitors to our gardens is the birds. They are attracted by numerous things that grow in the yard. Many are after proteins and seek out earthworms from the moist earth either after a fresh rain or a recent watering by the garden hose, such as the robins. Other birds, like the finches, are attracted to the seeds that are produced by weeds and numerous flowers that bloom throughout the season.

Many birds enjoy fruit and berries that are produced in the trees and bushes. Robins, blue jays, cedar wax wings and cardinals thrive on crabapples, currants and raspberries, among many other numerous fruits.

Hummingbirds and butterflies visit due to many of the high nectar-producing blooms which they crave. Trumpet-shaped and tubular flowers are some of their favorites.

Larger birds in the area, such as the owls and hawks, may be seeking out the rodents that find refuge in the lushness of the gardens. They seek out mice, voles, rats and other small mammals to feed upon. They are the natural predators that tend to come out in the evenings and during the night to get rid of the animals we don’t much care for in the yard. Some of the larger ones will even do away with some of the rabbits in the yard, proving that there is a natural cycle for everything.

Rabbits are attracted to the new and tender growth during springtime, as there are few food sources around that early in the season. It’s not that they crave tulips and the first hints of lettuce and spinach coming up in the early months, it is just the best food available at that time. Once June and July arrive, there are many other food sources for them and they don’t seem to bother the garden as much. Often times they enjoy eating the leaves of the dandelions as they are high in vitamins and nutrients.

If you are near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and ponds, other birds such as ducks, geese, pelicans and mergansers will visit the yard, often just to eat the grass and weeds. Of course, pelicans will feed on the fish resources in the waterways. I think they like to observe the paradise you have created and just want to be a part of it. Water bodies also bring along insects, which attract other bird species like flycatchers, swallows and terns along with the mystical dragonflies that almost seem prehistoric.

Of course, with sources of water one will also attract muskrats, beaver, painted turtles and snapping turtles. Of the three types, it is the beaver you want to keep an eye out for as they will go after all your woody plant materials in late summer and fall to gear up for the winter season. They don’t do it to damage what you have grown, but they do it to survive. A simple wire barrier around the bases can prevent most damage from occurring.

If you notice skunks and raccoon in your area, chances are you have numerous grubs in the lawn. Skunks love to dig in the lawn at night to find those white grubs leaving thumb-sized holes in the yard. Raccoons will seek out various types of garbage laying around or go after the vegetable crops that are beginning to ripen. They especially enjoy the corn and know the precise day before harvest to go into the stand and clean it out in a rapid fashion. Since they are nocturnal animals, they will do this all at night while you are in a deep sleep thinking about the bountiful harvest that will be gone come morning.

Deer visit yards at random and usually come from an adjacent forested area. As the others, often time they seek out tender greens or to just nibble on some tree or shrub vegetation. Rarely do they cause any damage, unless it is winter time when food is scarce. As with any of the visitors that come into the garden, overall they are fun to watch and enjoyable to have around.

Making your garden a sanctuary where you can sit and relax after a difficult day at work has many advantages. It is a place that will take your cares away and allow you to clear your thoughts. Making your garden attractive to wildlife is the ultimate compliment, as it means you have created an additional habitat that encourages visitors of all types of life to enjoy and sometimes reside. The addition of birdhouses, feeders and bee hives will also encourage a good balance of beneficial activity within the gardens. Not only will all of this enhance the balance of nature, but it will also establish a sense of balance and harmony within your own lives.

Encourage more of our natural environment to be a part of your created landscape. Together they will create a unified blend of our region’s natural flora and fauna.