Creating Habitat: Water and Shelter
By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
In our last article, we talked about the importance of planting native plants in your yard to enhance habitat for urban wildlife particularly pollinators.
In addition to native plants what else enhances habitat? Let’s look at the resources of water and shelter in more detail.
Water can be provided in a variety of ways from small ponds to commercial bird baths. Insects generally prefer shallow water, so a barely wet surface or even damp mud attracts them. Birds prefer a deeper water depth; add some flat rocks for them to choose what depth they prefer. Cleanliness is key. Mosquitos breed in standing water so keep your water feature mosquito free by emptying it daily or by keeping the water moving with a fountain. Mosquito dunks are also effective. I use the rainwater I collect as the source for one of my water features; it drips daily into a large stone which dries out by midmorning.
And water sources do not have to be fancy or expensive! A plastic jug with a small hole in it, dripping into a shallow container is all that is needed. You can turn any plastic bucket or a plastic container into a water feature. If you want to go fancy, try making a solar powered water feature.
As with food, remember to provide shelter across seasons and for different life stages. Animals need shelter from hot and cold temperature extremes, to hide from predators or to be hidden as a predator. The cover needed for a fledgling, a beetle larva or an adult butterfly is different than the cover needed for a bird to nest or a turtle to hibernate. If you use artificial shelters such as commercial or homemade bee houses remember to clean them after each season so you are not passing on parasites and disease. Shelter also comes in a variety of plant sizes and shapes from grasses to forbs to shrubs and trees.
If you are interested in attracting native bees, save your hollow plant stems when you take down your garden. They can be re-purposed into a bee nest bundle for leaf cutter bees. And the best part is that after the adult bee emerges, the plant stems can be thrown away or composted!
Turn off your house lights at night so that night flying moth and insect behaviors are not disrupted. If you absolutely must have a light use a yellow bulb. Until you notice who shares your yard with you, you may never know what wonders await.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.