Make your garden a super garden and local hotspot for biodiversity by encouraging wildlife and diversity.
Yvonne Gravier 2019
Domestic gardens are becoming more and more important to our biodiversity as threats to our wildlife continue to grow including, fragmentation of the landscape and the effects of global warming.
Even the smallest gardens can be a refuge for some of our declining species.
Even a boring lawn garden can be easily turned into a habitat garden.
I’ll be covering many things that you can do in your garden to encourage, birds, mammals (possums, bats) invertebrates, including worms and butterflies and other insects, lizards and frogs to live in your garden. This will range from the types of plants that could be incorporated and their arrangement, to more specific items e.g. ponds, rocks, wood etc.
We need to provide the best resources for our birds and other wildlife-natural food sources, shelter and breeding requirements. In a good wildlife garden you should find several types of birds, frogs, lizards, invertebrates, butterflies and native bees present. If you are lucky you may have small mammals too.
Why plant local natives?
- Local natives are adapted to our climatic conditions and soils.
- Our fauna is adapted perfectly to these plants. Perfect for pollination, perfect food supplies for all animals.
- Plants are unlikely to become pesky weeds in the garden or outside of it.
- Little or no watering required after establishment.
- Will often self seed providing plant generations for the future.
- In bushfire prone areas plants are adapted to bushfires, resprouting from ground level and trunks. There will be quick regrowth from the mature root system.
- The natives will have interesting colours and textures while providing shelter and other habitat.
Wildlife friendly guidelinesGeneral elements of a good wildlife friendly garden would be
- A variety of plants with differing forms, flower shape, colour, texture and seasonality
- Different layers and arrangements of vegetation
- Some small cleared areas
- Places to encourage breeding
- Water source
If you have pets, consider keeping dogs to one side of the garden with a solid fence to deter lizard movement to the dog’s side, and cats need to be kept indoors with outside caged runs.
Think about where your neighbours’ shrubs and trees are and plant yours nearby to make a thicket/corridors.
Every garden can add in a positive way to the biodiversity of your neighbourhood. To have an even greater positive impact try to get neighbours involved in neighbourhood precincts and think about corridors to local parks. This will create stepping stones for birds and other animals to move across the suburban landscape. It may help you to get a bird’s eye view of your neighbourhood on Google Earth.
A few logs or a pile of stones will give lizards and insects a great safe place to hide from birds. Larger wood is not a fire hazard. Pipes are useful shelters too. Try and keep lots of natural surfaces in your garden.
Consider possum log hollows, bat boxes and bird nesting boxes made to the correct specifications for individual bird’s needs. A native bee nursery (we invite native wasps and other insects to ours too) can provide nesting spaces, and its fun and informative for the kids. Easily made from mud, wood and reeds.
Don’t artificially feed animals and birds.
It can cause malnutrition, cause animals to lose skills (can’t teach young), creates hygiene issues, can spread disease. It can also cause imbalances in bird populations eg feeding magpies will encourage them to breed and having lots of magpies around will mean they will eat too many young small bird species. Water is ok to provide. It’s essential for life, and birds and animals can find it difficult to reach in our urban environments.
If you are thinking about relandscaping, make sure birds and other animals still have some habitat while the changes take place.
Even dead wood in trees provides important habitat. (perching & hunting spots for insect eating birds eg robins. If you’re lucky you may even have a hollow. If you are lucky enough to have a dead tree try and leave it or most of it standing (unless there are legitimate safety concerns)
Leave spent flowers and seed on flowering plants for birds and insects to eat. Mulch and decomposing twigs and leaves and rotting wood is great for insects and birds foraging.
Leave a patch of grass to seed for birds eg finches. Even leaving your lawn a little longer before mowing can really benefit wildlife. Its possible food and creates a place to hide for those tiny creatures. For encouraging wildlife keeping your garden messy is a good thing!
BirdsBirds need 4 basic things:
- A regular natural food supply. Plants flowering and seeding in different seasons are particularly good. Try to keep some wood, leaf litter and rocks on the ground to encourage insects. Keep some clearer area for insectivorous perching birds such as robins to hunt. This could be either soil crust, mosses or grass patches.
- Safe water, which could be a birdbath off the ground away from cats and dogs. Clean and fill regularly. Add a float or ask neighbors to fill if you are away. Bird baths should be relatively exposed so birds can look around but with safety shrubs to retreat into.
- Shelter and protection from cats and bad weather. A few shrubs and maybe a tree with dense foliage and twiggy or prickly branches. Aim for a variety of plant heights and structure.
- A secure place where they may breed. Many birds will build nest in shrubs when they feel safe. Prickles are good for nesting areas (consider nesting boxes for birds that like small hollows eg pardalotes).
Diets and related planting guidelines for birds you may find in Adelaide Hills and Plains gardens.
Nectar feeders- largerosellas, lorikeets, noisy miners, wattlebirds
PLANT- Eucalyptus, bottlebrushes (Callistemon), large Grevilleas, Melaleucas, Banksias
Nectar feeders –smalleastern spine bill, honeyeaters eg white plumed, yellow winged, brown headed, yellow faced, white-naped, crescent, singing (often coastal) (If you want small birds avoid hybrid natives that give large nectar feeders food all year long.) Large nectar feeders can become over abundant often to the detriment of smaller birds. Noisy minors can be discouraged by planting a thick understorey layer as they prefer open trees.
PLANT small Grevilleas, Hakeas, Melaleucas, Correas, and bottlebrushes, heaths, Eremophilas, Pimeleas, Banksias
Seed eatersfinches eg red browed, diamond firetails, zebra, goldfinches* sparrows*, bronzewing pigeons, crested pigeons, galahs, peaceful dove, parrots, cockatoos, quail, corellas
PLANT native grasses such as wallaby grass, windmill grass, Poa, bluegrass, kangaroo grass, and black head grass, also wattles, native lilac, peas, she-oaks and running postman, Linum, tea-tree, and Lomandras
Fruit eaterssilver eyes, mistletoe birds, lorikeets
PLANT ground-covers and shrubs, salt bushes, flax-lilies, Einadia, ruby saltbush, quandongs, be accepting of mistletoes, snottygobbles in larger gardens.
Invertebrates & insect eaters (as well as grubs, worms etc)rufous and golden whistlers, robins, blue wrens, pardalotes, thornbills, shrike thrush, swallows, martins, cuckoos, chats, wood swallows, white browed scrub wrens, grey fantails, willy wagtails, tree creepers, bee eaters, babblers, choughs, mudlarks, blackbirds*, magpies
PLANT ground dwelling and bush daisies, eucalypts, bulbs, christmas bush, fringe myrtle, lotus, pea-bushes, Sennas, Melaleucas, Callistemon, Pimeleas, Hibbertias, Cullen, saltbushes, climbers eg Convolvulus and Clematis.
Larger carnivoreskookaburras, other kingfishers, owls, magpies, currawongs, butcher birds, ravens, birds of prey
PLANT rushes and sedges, grasses, Lomandras, a variety of shrubs and ground storey and a tree. Encourage frogs, lizards, small birds and insects.
Mammals(including bats) have similar requirement, needing water, food, shelter and protection.
ButterfliesThe Adelaide region is still home to more than 40 species. We can all help protect these species by planting plants favoured by butterflies and their young in our gardens.
You cannot have beautiful butterflies without having caterpillars which are their immature stage.
Butterflies will drink nectar from many plants but caterpillars will only feed from preferred specific plants which are often different from their parents nectar plants. Adults will only lay their eggs on plants that their baby caterpillars will eat.
Just growing a colorful range of these preferred plants will attract butterflies and they will quite likely choose to breed in your garden
Try to supply shelter from the wind and some sunny basking rocks. If possible have a shallow pool or soak or even a damp spot preferably with a stone or pieces of wood to land on. It’s important for your garden to be free of chemicals or at least keep them to an absolute minimum.
Having a patch of native unmown grass is very inviting for butterflies too.
Other insects including native beesNative bees and all sorts of interesting insects can be encouraged by planting a wide variety of plants and providing a bee nursery or materials and space suitable for breeding. (a bee nursery is a place where insects can go to lay their eggs and often consists of wood drilled with various sized holes, raspberry canes or hollow bamboos etc (search internet for guidelines).
Some clear soil areas can also provide breeding hole sites. Soil crusts, lichens liverworts, mosses, mulch are also attractive to insects including various bugs and beetles. Your vegie garden pollination too will benefit from having blue banded bees around.
LizardsLizards need ground dwelling plants eg grasses and ground covers to move around and hide in.
Leaf litter is very important for lizards to hunt for insects and arthropods in.
Loose stone work, old pots, pipes, wood, and a few piles of rocks are great to have. Attract lots of insects as lizards need to eat too. Stumpies and blue tongues love eating flowers too. eg Convolvulus and Kennedia
FrogsBy having a pond and planting the right species around it you will encourage frogs to come naturally to your garden. Frog calls are wonderful to listen to but don’t place your pond too close to your or your neighbor’s bedrooms. (some people are kept awake by them).
Frogs need wet places to lay eggs and for their tadpoles to grow and damp sheltered places to move around feed and find mating partners. Frogs are used to places that dry out in the summer months and when necessary can either dig themselves into the ground or find rocks or wood to hide under over the dry period.
- A food source
- Clean water for breeding, egg development and tadpoles to grow.
- Protection in the form of hiding spots from birds, cats, foxes, dogs etc.
- Protection from the summer sun and drying temperatures.
The pond will be best in dappled shade, but a sunny position will also work.
Your pond will need rough sides to enable frogs to exit easily once they have changed from tadpoles. Large wide pieces of wood are also good for this. (this will also save a sleepy or other lizard if they happen to fall in).
Variations in depth are good with at least one deeper section so that the water doesn’t get too hot in summer.
Have some large rocks or wood near the pond to offer protection to the frogs. This will also encourage insects.
Add a couple of native pond plants to help feed the tadpoles. A slimy algal growth will slowly build up on the wood and sides of the pond. This is an important food for the tadpoles. (If the pond is new, cooked lettuce is a good alternative food for tadpoles.)
Be careful not to use or introduce pest plant species.
Rushes and other plants that need damp conditions can be planted in hidden tubs (buried just slightly under the ground beside plastic or fiber glass ponds). These can be kept moist over summer with a dripper system or hand watering.
If shaping your own pond a boggy section should be included.
It’s great if you can get plants to overhang on the edge of the water. This will offer extra protection to frogs calling from the water.
Be very careful when using any chemicals near your pond or where water may run off into your pond.
Fish such as Gambusia will live on frog eggs and tadpoles as do yabbies so be careful who shares their living space.
Have mulch close to the pond. This will attract insects as it breaks down and provide the frogs food.
Solar garden lights are good for attracting insects for frogs and bats.
Wildlife Hazards in your garden
- Soft netting on fruit trees can sadly trap lizards and snakes - make safe by having solid wire netting close to the ground
- Sticky traps for insects and mice can inadvertently catch lizards and small birds.
- Be very careful where you place spring type rat traps outside as blue tongue and sleepy lizards can be killed by these. Mouse traps can catch skinks and geckoes too
- Chemicals - use very infrequently or preferably not at all. Rat bait can kill other animals. Racumen is a rat bait which is a much safer alternative to birds and pets.
- Pets. Cats are naturally killers– Keep cats inside or in garden tunnels. Separation of dogs to a particular garden area may help save the lizards.
- Drowning of lizards and possums in ponds with no stones or wood, or with slippery plastic sides. Put wire mesh in entrances to rainwater tanks and keep tops covered.
- Traffic is a real threat to lizards particularly in your driveway area. When mowing check out areas ahead of time for larger lizards and don’t mow too low to the ground.
Get kids and grandkids involved.Help to pass on your knowledge to the younger generation.
Get the kids involved. Why not try:
- Imagine your garden as a wildlife reserve and you are the park ranger.
- Pretend you are an animal eg lizard what do you need. What sort of plants would you like etc.
- Hunt for butterfly eggs and watch the tiny caterpillars grow and eventually make that magical change into a butterfly.
- Record interesting observations, take photos.
Having the wildlife will also be of great benefit to you. It’s great for your wellbeing. You can create a haven for yourselves with bird and frog song. Enjoy the wildlife you have attracted. Probably most importantly help to preserve the biodiversity in the region.
Last Modified July 19th, 2021