Downeast Audubon Yarding Workshop

Tips for supporting wildlife in your yard

Downeast Audubon’s director, Leslie Clapp gave a tour of her extensive gardens to show ways that we may support wildlife in our yards, from the ground up to the canopy.

  • Grow less lawn.
  • See what you have by growing out your lawn, and work with it.
  • Plant a variety of plant species with a succession of bloom and fruit time.
  • Layering: think about planting layers of perennials, shrubs trees and a canopy.
  • Keep dead trees if they are in a safe place to stand.
  • Keep woody trimmings and use them by building wood and brush piles to provide cover for small shy birds; you can make them beautiful and attract sparrows finches and cardinals.
  • Growing thickets like rose or forsythia attract catbirds
  • Use mulch! Maintains moisture in the ground, holds back weeds and it breaks down every year. Nothing organic leaves the property. If the material is diseased or weedy, it goes to the back.
  • Put up windbreaks, especially in winter around feeders.
  • Provide birdhouses and feeders.
  • Keep clean water available, especially in drought conditions. This can be done in birdbaths or as a recirculating stream.
  • Plant native plants and maintain an open field meadow of perennials. Wildlife has evolved with native plants. Some people complain about native plants getting ‘buggy’, but this is good because the bugs feed the birds!
  • Make and use compost
  • Leave plants standing through the winter. Stop deadheading in mid September at the latest so the plants can produce seed to feed the birds.
  • Keep your cats indoors.
  • Mowing is necessary to keep an open field in Maine. Don’t mow in the summer! It takes food away from wildlife. Mow late, in November and alternate parts of the meadow so that there are sections left standing. Goldenrod gauls, for example, are good winter food for woodpeckers.

 

Canadian Ry Grass in the meadow is showy and provides good nourishment for birds
Squirrel grass is a showy native grass which grows a bit lower
Echinacia purpurea is native to the prairie, provide nourishing seed for birds and is medicinal for humans.
Native high bush blueberries are nutritious for birds and tasty for humans
Millet is the foundation of many bird seed mixes, but grows beautifully if you leave it standing in the garden. The grains are easy to harvest and make a good porridge too.
Native button bush produces an interesting bloom
Ornamental Raspberry is a beautiful native with very showy flowers. The fruit is edible for humans, tho it is quite small. Birds love to eat it in the protection of the large foliage.
The Sargent crabapple may be grown as a tree or as a shrub as shown here. In shrub form it offers great protection for birds. Water birds especially love this one with protection branching out over the pond.
The fruit from a Sargent crabapple is a perfect size for birds. If the fruit is too large, they can’t eat it!
Tropical looking Staghorn Sumac is indeed related to the tropical family of Cashews. The pioneer plant shows vibrant color in the fall and the fruit makes for a nourishing tea. The birds go crazy over the seeds.
Native filbert or hazelnut is a delicacy for humans and rich in nutrients for local wildlife.
Mountain Ash produces beautiful fruit and may encourage some types of birds to stay over the winter in years that it produces in abundance.

 

Hugel CULTURE demonstration

The first season at the SEED barn involved a lot of work taking down invasive plants and folding them back into the earth in a Hugelkultur fashion. Mid way through the season, the Blue Hill and Brooklin Garden Clubs visited the grounds in a demonstration on how we are using available materials to build Hugelkultures. Conversation on why it is important to address invasive plants ensued since many invasives are initially introduced as decorative garden plants. Bringing attention to the fact that many nurseries, especially in the big box stores, continue to sell invasive plants is important to know for avid gardeners.  Below, we see an example of a Hugelkultur bed in the second season as new plants become established. An introduction to the SEED Library offered members new ideas on what native plants could potentially be worked into the landscape. The tour ended with a description of how to tie in an aquaponic system into the small scale terracing approach developed by grandpa in the new greenhouse.

 

Germination

Returning Native Plants to the Maine landscape

Sowing seeds in January, Grandpa studies the instructions on the Wild Seed Project packets

Growing wildlife habitat promotes the presence of pollinators, which in turn supports the cultivation of the food we grow. Upon our arrival in Maine, we began an assessment of our property from a wildlife habitat perspective. Observations unfolded over the first season as we focused on renovating the barn and building a greenhouse. As an historic property, we are graced with established trees and many native shrubs that were planted over the century and a half this land was tended. However, the bulk of our property is like so many around here; large lawns that are kept mowed. Essentially this is like a vast desert for pollinators! So we decided to begin restoration with restoring meadows and open woodlands with pollinator friendly native plants. The reason we focus on native plants is because they have evolved with the wildlife so that the rhythms of both compliment each other’s needs through the seasons.

Talking with local folks who have restored and maintain open meadow habitat, we took the first step of returning natives to the landscape simply by growing out our grass. Most natives are perennials and will happily grow out and produce seed if given the chance. Things here grow so well, in fact, that it is nearly impossible to sow seeds directly in the ground without them being taken over. To augment the collection of native plants already present, germinating seeds in pots to introduce as plugs into established meadows is key.

Most wildflower seeds need a period of cold to germinate. While seeds may be fooled in a refrigerator, really the best approach is to follow the natural cycle and sow them outside. The Wild Seed Project has full instructions on how to germinate wild seeds. We had success by storing them under the cedar tree, facing west so that they were warmed by the afternoon sun as spring emerged.

When sowing seeds, they can be crowded. The seedlings may be transplanted into larger pots after they have germinated, or directly planted into a bit of cleared ground as long as we make sure to weed them out as needed when they are young. They will take a couple of years to become established enough to produce seed.

Native plant nursery under the cedar tree. The vast green desert of mowed lawn can be seen beyond. Over the winter, we had a screen over the box to protect the seeds from wildlife. As spring emerged, we started taking plants out to adjust to their future home.
Germination! Tiny seeds flourish.
In addition to sowing packaged seeds, we picked up a few red oak seeds that were germinating like mad in 2017. Placing the germinated seeds gently into the ground to grow in a new tree nursery, we plan to distribute the young trees to help return a native canopy to areas that need it.