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Share your backyard with spring wildlife

April 18, 2005|by MALINDA SHAVER of HomeSource

When the world seems to be whirring with tele-everything, here's a way to escape: take a close look at Nature. Hundreds of varied, colorful creatures can be seen without traveling far at all. Find a space, or make one in your own corner of the world, where plants, flowers and insects pursue their non-automated lives and nothing has to be plugged in to work.

Of course grass - that monotonously green stuff - seems to be everywhere, followed by buzzing and roaring machines, lavish applications of chemicals, and an excess of the insects that thrive on grass because there's lots of it. While your community may favor well-groomed lawns, you can still strike a balance between nature and neighbors by mixing in plants and bushes that attract birds and insects to your area. Even species that are not common may appear if you provide the environment they need.

One key element in your plan to attract wildlife should be water. A birdbath or a small pond will make you instantly popular with many creatures. If your water feature is likely to attract raccoons - or small children -- you'll need to consider discouraging those visitors, perhaps with a fence. Providing food and shelter is another step.

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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources provides a lot of helpful information in its Wild Acres Program. The department's Web site (it's OK to plug in here for a while) is http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife. "Creating a Wild Backyard" describes types of shrubs and bushes that provide food for birds and small animals throughout the year, based on the season when the plant species bears its fruit. Under "Warm Season Grasses," learn how to grow even a small crop of clover or millet, for example.

Another consideration is creating shelter for nesting cover for both gamebirds and songbirds. Tall grasses are important to allow young wildlife to forage safely for seeds and insects. Your local Department of Natural Resources or cooperative extension service can also help you get started.

Consult a local garden specialist to learn what grows well in the conditions found in your yard. We turned to Jon Snavely of Snavely's Garden Corner, Hagerstown, for some ideas on what to plant and when.

His suggestions included: Deciduous shrubs (ones that lose their leaves in winter) work well to provide shelter. Viburnum and wiegiela add to the habitat. Berry bushes like holly and winterberry can provide food. To attract butterflies for many months, select plants that create a continuing array of blooms in bright colors. Summer blossoms on coneflower, rudbeckia and cornflowers will bring winged visitors to delight you and your family. Remember to provide a comfortable spot for the birdwatchers, too!

Finally it's spring and the urge to get outdoors is energizing even indoor types. Make nature a partner in your yard, and add a new perspective to your world.

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