Living in Florida often means sharing space with creatures that dazzle us on a daily basis. Blue jays, cardinals, owls and woodpeckers. Butterflies, bees, lizards and more. It’s a zoo out there.
But not everyone’s garden is so kind to Florida’s wildlife. We asked Katherine Clements, the ecology and natural resources teacher at the The Sarasota County Office of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciencesand Karen Willey, the nature center manager and climate change point person for the Sarasota Audubon Society, for some tips on how your garden, and even your balcony, can positively impact our natural environment. Here’s what they had to say:
Provide a water source for animals.
“It can be as simple as setting down a bowl of water that you clean every few days, because standing water can invite mosquitoes,” Willey says.
Q: Does my pool count as a water source?
If your pool isn’t caged, you may see ducks and other birds come to bathe, assuming they’ve found a pond. But “salt and chlorine-treated pools aren’t the healthiest for them,” Clements says. Hanging flags or other deterrent decorations can help keep them away.
Landscape lighting may seem inviting to you, but their brilliance deters animals.
“If you really want relief, use a motion sensor and point it toward the doorway, not the yard or at food or water sources,” Willey says.
Install bird and bat boxes†
“Bat boxes are excellent because the bat population is declining,” Clements says. “But there are specific ways to build and place them. Also, different bird species have different requirements for bird houseslike an owl versus a woodpecker.” Doing a little research before choosing one is recommended.
Also: Keep a brush pile.
“At an angle you can’t easily see, pile yard waste to provide habitat for small animals,” Willey says. “Don’t remove dead trees – or live ones! Insurance companies are increasingly urging them to be pruned around homes, but trimming can misdirect their growth, and the insects that come to dead trees become great food for woodpeckers.”
Rethink your lawn.
“Limit lawns — they’re not a great habitat for much of anything,” Willey says. Using native ground covers, such as sunshine mimosa, is more wildlife-friendly.
When thinking of landscape architecture, think of vertical stratification. Diversity is ideal.
“A mix of plants, shrubs and trees provides places for wildlife to seek cover and shelter,” says Clements. “Open areas offer no protection from predators and are too vulnerable to much wildlife.”
“Avoid the ‘Florida-friendly’ labels on plants,” Willey says. Those labels indicate that certain plants can grow in Florida, but they aren’t necessarily native, and animals prefer the plants and trees they’ve evolved with over time.
“Remove invasive species, too,” Clements says. “They do not provide a good habitat and often have a negative effect on wildlife.”
“Focus on plants that produce berries so you have fertile flowers, such as beauty berry, wild coffee, Simpson stopper, and firebush,” Willey says. “Anything orange or red will attract hummingbirds to your yard.”
“Walter’s viburnum and elderberries are potted native shrubs and they have berries,” Clements says.
Q: Should I feed birds?
“There are different schools of thought about that,” says Clements. “The most important thing is that you have to keep up with it, because birds and wildlife will learn to depend on it. Consider it if you live there all year round.”
While it’s best for birds to eat what they’ve evolved to eat, if you’re using a feeder, make sure it’s filled and clean.
If you live in a condo and only have a balcony, you can still attract wildlife.
“Place native wildflowers in pots that will provide a habitat for pollinators, which is declining,” says Clements. “Homeowners’ associations may not allow bird feeders or houses, so check with them first, but even a tree in pots can be a great resting place for birds.”
Reduce the use of pesticides.
These can harm wildlife, especially the insects and pollinators that are such an important part of the food chain.
Manage your pets.
“Dogs can injure and scare wildlife, so it’s best to keep them on a leash. And cats are the biggest killer of native birds — keeping them indoors is safer for both parties,” Clements says.
Check out the Spring Wildflower Festival and Plant Sale, which runs from 9am to 3pm on Saturday, April 23rd Sweet Bay Nursery10824 Erie Road, Parrish.
These useful and effective tips are part of the Green Living Toolkit† Over the past year, the region’s sustainability experts at the Southwest Florida Science and Environment Council have put together dozens of sustainable living solutions. The Green Living Toolkit is an essential guide for people in Sarasota and Manatee counties interested in renewable energy and food, waste recovery, water conservation, and nature – all gathered in one place.