Small Spaces, Great Places---in Your Own Backyard

Depending on where you live in Cuyahoga County, you may have room for a tiny garden or a whole lot more. When it comes to gardening—and the potential benefits of creating wonderful habitat for wildlife, size doesn’t really restrict your ability to provide great spaces.

Since 2006, the Cuyahoga SWCD has teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) volunteers to provide Habitat Stewards Training. The training is a total of 24 hours, held in seven sessions. Upon completion of all 24 hours of training, participants will receive certification as Habitat Stewards. To date, 115 backyard habitat enthusiasts have gone through the program and some of those now have a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat yard.

It is not too early to consider registration for the next series of classes, which begins on September 14. Sessions will be held at the Don Umerley Civic Center, 21016 Hilliard Road in Rocky River. Topics that will be covered include habitat, landscaping, native plants, birds, reptiles, insects, and more. The interactive classes are taught by local conservation professionals and participants will learn how to create beneficial backyard habitats.

Even if you choose not to attend the NWF Training, creating better backyard habitats will provide birds, and other creatures, food, cover, water, nest sites and safe havens. So as spring turns into summer, here are some tips to help you get started on your own backyard habitat:

  • Let corners of the yard grow "wild"
  • Plant native plants (small perennials, shrubs or trees). Check out www.leapbio.org for a list of native plants, shrubs and trees
  • Plant a diversity of species that can handle climate fluctuations and flower at different times to provide a continuous food source for birds and other animals
  • Consider a rain garden (download a manual from www.cuyahogaswcd.org) to capture storm water for watering the garden and reducing runoff
  • Preserve leaf litter to provide a habitat for crickets, worms and centipede, which catbirds and thrushes eat
  • Erect bee houses, bird houses or bat boxes
  • Provide water for the birds
  • Consider oak trees, which are perfect for caterpillars, which in turn provide delicious protein for birds (The NWF hopes to have a list of caterpillar-friendly plants published this fall)
  • And remember, excess fertilization is a contributor to harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. Practice the 4 R’s: Right source, Right rate, Right time and Right place (www.nutrientstewarship.com)

So, don’t write off our urban landscapes. Even small gardens, planted with appropriate plants, shelter and water, will create a special wildlife habitat that supports ecological diversity!

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