Backyard Habitat Certification Manager Gaylen Beatty offers four tips for the fall planting season. It's a great time of year to build valuable wildlife habitat in your own backyard.
To date, the Backyard Habitat Certification Program, a partnership between Columbia Land Trust and Audubon Society of Portland, is working across four cities (Portland, Gresham, Fairview, and Lake Oswego) on almost 3,000 properties that cover over 670 urban acres, of which 203 acres are certified. We see our gardens as important components supporting larger conservation initiatives in our region while achieving ecologically significant habitat restoration right in our community.
September through March, weather permitting, is the best planting time because it gives roots a chance to grow before dry summer months. To get off to a good start, most plants will still need to be watered during the dry months in the first year or two after being planted. Long, deep, less-frequent watering sessions are better than brief, shallow, frequent watering.
When selecting native plants, it’s important to choose a variety of form, flower, foliage, and fruit. It’s also important to select species that provide food for insects and bloom throughout the growing season. If you’re planning any fall or winter installations, be sure to develop a concept for your garden that reduces grass with contiguous areas of naturescaping. Consider what natural areas are close by and the ways your garden can complement and expand those habitat corridors. If you already have a large native tree in your garden (or next door) think about understory natives in the same plant community. Before any planting project, amend the soil with compost as desired or necessary.
1. Leave the stems!
When creating urban gardens that support biodiversity, it’s important to consider the entire life cycle of beneficial insects and birds that will use your habitats throughout the year. Did you know many insects use the hollow stem of perennial plants to lay eggs to support the next generation of insects the following year? Cut and bundle your stems and let them stand up in your garden beds.
2. Leave the leaves!
Keeping leaf material on the ground in your planting beds will add organic material (for free!) and support decomposer insects, which are important for birds as a food source.
3. NOW is the Time!
Plant or transplant woody ornamentals and mature herbaceous perennials. Fall planting of trees, shrubs and perennials can encourage healthy root growth over the winter.
4. Think Like Mother Nature…Spread Your Seeds!
Native plants spread their seeds in the fall, seeds obtain soil contact during the fall and winter and then the seeds germinate in the spring. Many native seeds need stratification (the pre-germination treatment used to break the dormancy in seed). Winter temperatures and moisture can fulfill these requirements naturally.
Using native plants in a garden is a small step. But thousands of small steps are helping to bridge the gaps between habitat restoration areas on public and private lands. More important, building habitat enriches your experience and enjoyment of your little piece of land.
For native plant lists and nurseries, visit the Resources section of the Backyard Habitat Certification Program website, at www.backyardhabitats.org.