Featured stories from Charlotte's NWF Certified Wildlife Habitats
As the greater Charlotte region continues to grow and new development takes over our last remaining pockets of green space, it becomes increasingly important for land owners to help offset that process by creating and cultivating wildlife friendly habitats. Check out these personal stories from caring individuals who created healthy ecosystems to support wildlife. Certify your property and add your own story of giving back to nature. Your story just might inspire others.
My NWF Wildlife Habitat Story - M. Sexton
Certified Wildlife Habitat via Habitat Steward Training. I thought I needed to go through the Habitat Steward Training program in order to get my property certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). I was WRONG, but learned SO much and recommend taking the course if available.
NWF Certified Habitat requirements are:
• Food, three sources; (feeders / plants that provide food)
• Water, one source; (natural / man-made)
• Shelter, two sources; (natural / man-made)
• A Place to Raise Young, two sources; (natural / man-made)
• Practice Sustainability, two practices; (soil/water conservation, controlling exotic species, organic practices)
Manicured areas can be reclaimed by laying down cardboard as a barrier and then applying mulch on top to create natural areas. Fill in with native plants (which provides food, shelter, a place to raise young and practices sustainability); as they consume less water / care and survive local seasons. A couple of water features like a bird bath / pollinator puddler were added (no natural water source on my property). Nesting boxes (provide shelter and a place to raise young), were increased to incorporate a variety of species. Sustainable practices include rain barrels used for watering the plants, non-native flora being replaced with native species, recycled grass clippings and leaves used as mulch, thus eliminating yard waste; food scraps / paper are composted; area’s recycling guidelines are followed to efficiently recycle. Habitat elements are located at different levels to attract a variety of species. Lastly, NO area is too small to create a wildlife habitat. One can reclaim a small areas each year, having more natural areas and less manicured lawn to maintain.
Build it and the wildlife will come, I constantly see different species of animals in my yard. I hope you enjoy creating and getting your property on the Certified Wildlife Habitat registry as much as I have.
Wild About my Wildlife Garden - C. Harris
In 1995, I bought my first house, along with your typical suburban lot – with a full grass yard and all of the shrubs trimmed into globes. Now, 25 years later the entire half acre has been naturalized, has been certified as a Back Yard Habitat and has become a delight and solace for myself, friends and family and the variety of wildlife that comes to visit and sometimes establishes a home.
I started small in the first month I moved in by enlarging the teeny patch of naturalized area in my front yard. The fescue was methodically replaced by Phlox, ajuga, green and gold and thyme. Dandelions and clover were left to thrive. Started a compost pile, added 2 rain barrels, multiple bird feeders; next, a fountain, then another, more nesting boxes – clearly I was hooked. It is fascinating to sit and observe the plethora of flora and fauna that comprises my yard.
This Spring alone, I have seen the Bluebird family that has wintered over the past few years, a fledgling Barred Owl attempting the first flight under the watchful eyes of Mom and Dad – and the little squirrel that ventured too close to the baby owl, and subsequently learned just how fast parent owls can move. Amazing to watch. And the pair of squirrels that scampered for hours carrying small, leafy branches into a hole in a tree – clearly planning for an imminent addition to the family.
My yard is my refuge, it nurtures my soul, it clears my mind and provides a welcoming environment to share with both friends and wildlife. It is a thing of beauty, a joy forever and a never ending task of care and vision.
My garden is my life - L. Mellichamp
I have had a home ornamental garden for 40 years in Charlotte. It is an experimental collection to see how plants will perform in the area. It is a city lot with native and non-native trees and pretty good clay-loam soil. For decades, as a public spokesman, I have promoted the use of natives for their heat tolerance, wildlife use, sense of place, and outstanding beauty. I am not a purist and select plants for year-round ornamental value, easy of maintenance, and right-plant, right-place. Natives cannot solve every landscape problem.
I spend some time in the garden almost every day of the year. It has provided a vital outlet for entertainment during the corona virus shutdown. "I keep it alive, and it keeps me alive."
I have increasingly stressed the need for natives as larval food plants. Many birds feed their babies caterpillars - these come almost exclusively from native trees such as oak, black cherry, maple, etc. Many of our most recognized butterflies such as monarchs and swallowtails (pipevine, black, zebra, and spicebush) lay their eggs seclusively on very specific native plants: milkweeds, pipevine, carrot-family members, pawpaw and spicebush, respectively. Without these plants, we lose these butterflies.
Just today I was walking the yard noticing that caterpillars had eaten a percentage of new leaves of my native azaleas. I can tolerate some leaf-loss; they will grow back. It is a reminder we have to share our resources with the creatures we love. Give a little, take a little - remain in balance.
A Place for Wildlife to Thrive - J. Palmer
My backyard habitat did not transform itself into what it is today, it was created by a transformed me. My 1/3 acre at the end of a cul-de-sac was a grassy lawn with several beds out front filled with non-native plants from the previous owner. The back is a wooded area that carries a run-off stream to move water out of our neighborhood. It was adequate.
My personal transformation began in the spring of 2008. The year I discovered Habitat and Wildlife Keepers, a chapter of North Carolina Wildlife Federation. I began to attend meetings and hang out with some of my new found “Nature” friends. By the end of September, I was a trained Habitat Steward with the National Wildlife Federation. I was transformed from a casual backyard gardener to one of these “Nature” people. My chant from then on was Food, Water, Shelter and a Place to Raise Young. Later on, Sustainable
Gardening Practices was added to the chant.
I now have multiple beds of native plants and shrubs that have matured and continue to be added to. I have about 7 nest boxes, 4 birdbaths, two feeder pole systems and a rain barrel. Every year I decrease the “lawn” area by widening the beds and adding new native plants and shrubs. I use no chemicals or fertilizers except for my own compost.
My bird species and counts have risen each year. I have 15 species of nesting birds that includes Brown-headed Nuthatches and Gray Catbirds for my favorites. I get the usual mammals and reptile species one would have when providing a place for them. Pollinator plants brought in more insect species and butterflies.
It makes me happy to look around my yard and see what it has become, truly a place for wildlife to thrive.
My Garden Story - S. Herman
My garden is a labor of love and it is so worth it. I love being outside, working in the dirt, planning and creating a beautiful space. We have been in our home for almost 5 years. I have been working on transforming the yard from a mess of weeds, english ivy, poison ivy and overgrown 'who knows what' into something that I can be proud of. Of course, it is a work in progress, as all gardens are. This year we extended our deck and added a screened-in porch. I now have several new gardens to plant as soon as the weather breaks.
The garden is not only for us to look at and admire, but it draws in the birds, bees and animals, which we so enjoy watching. I have a variety of plants, as well as bird feeders, hummingbird feeders, birdbaths and leaf and brush piles. I enjoy growing herbs in potted plants on the deck; another opportunity to observe the hummingbirds and butterflies at work. I have tried to plant as many native species as possible, hoping to encourage the pollinators to visit.
One of my favorite spots in the garden is my potting shed, built by my daughter and son-in-law for me for Mother's Day. They used reclaimed wood from an old shed we tore down. It gives me a great work space and storage spot.
I have seen our yard come alive with color and sound. I have been slowly encroaching on the lawn with more gardens, and letting the lawn that is there go to clover, (much to my husband's displeasure) a wonderful attraction for the bees. I use no pesticides or fertilizer (unless it is organic). Everything seems happy out in the garden, of course except for me when the squirrels are eating all the bird seed!
Wildlife Oasis in the City - M. Rose
As development is encroaching and land being cleared all around us, we have turned our 5.5 acres into a Certified Wildlife Habitat and part of the Butterfly Highway. We make birdhouses from gourds we grow, have birdbaths and feeders and put the brushed out dog hair into large, clear plastic bottles with cutouts for birds to use for nesting. We plant lots of flowers such as Butterfly Milkweed, variety of Zinnias and other native plants to attract pollinators. We have a very large vegetable garden and plant flowers in it to attract birds, bees and butterflies. We grow everything as organically as possible, use composted manure from my horse to fertilize, have stick piles around for the animals to nest under along with leaves which also compost down to fertilizer.
We built two duck islands to give a safety area for the ducks which have attracted Wood Ducks, Herons, Kingfishers and Hooded Mergansers. A Boy Scout and my husband built two Wood Duck nesting boxes also. Wonderful to see these unusual ducks and their babies in the Spring. We never put anything on our Fescue lawns and they thrive and have a natural look. We use Barley straw bales in the pond to control algae caused by chemical runoff from neighboring lawns and won't harm the fish or waterfowl. We now have many beautiful birds, butterflies, deer, raccoons, opossum, foxes, etc. We plant Cleonie flowers, a natural deer repellent, in areas we don't want the deer in. We have gotten many trees from Trees Charlotte and planted them around the property. We grow almost all of our food and donate some of it to The Matthews Food Pantry.
In the late afternoon we enjoy watching the sunset and all the wonderful wildlife and knowing we are helping them and the environment. I would encourage everyone, even if your yard is small, to add something to help nature thrive.
A Meadow for the Overlooked - K. Kneidel
Do you remember in the movie Field of Dreams, the hope that “if you build it, they will come”? I can assure you that if you offer native plants, water, and shelter to the wildlife “out there”, they will come. I’ve "built it" by putting out a variety of plants and pretty much letting them go. I do tend them, but with the goal of creating more of a wild meadow than a manicured garden. Now established, my gardening involves controlling the advance of my native plants as they expand from year to year, and weeding out invasives that like to join the party.
I take particular pleasure in the more diminutive creatures. To illustrate, I’ve shared a photo of the egg case from an ichneumon wasp that I found dangling from a leaf, and a shot of a tiny Warty Leaf Beetle that appeared one day on my deck. The latter blends in with its environment by mimicking caterpillar poo. The wasp egg case seems less concerned, boldly displaying a pattern that begs the observer to "look at me!"
My heart goes out to these little critters that are doing their best while having no idea what’s happening around them. And I take joy in providing them a safe space in a neighborhood full of “plastic” non-natives laced with lethal bug spray
Easy and Rewarding - D. Bolls
Our certified wildlife habitat is an ordinary yard in a suburban neighborhood. We have all the elements required: food, water, shelter, places to raise young, and sustainable gardening practices.
In addition to bird feeders and nesting boxes we have planted native species of shrubs and flowers to provide natural food sources. I converted three raised beds from vegetable gardens to native perennial plants for pollinators and caterpillars. (Deer and squirrels were eating more vegetables than we were so I decided if I was going to feed wildlife then I would do it intentionally.)
I have observed birds drinking and bathing in the bird baths. We've witnessed many generations of bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, and more being raised in the birdhouses scattered throughout the yard. A brush pile made of branches and sticks from our yard provides refuge and shelter for small creatures.
An ongoing project is to reduce lawn and replace it with natural areas by using leaves from our trees as well as from neighbors. Native azaleas and other shrubs will eventually be planted in these areas. I compost leaves with fruit and vegetable scraps as well as dryer lint, toilet paper tubes, and paper towels. A rain barrel provides free water for the garden all year long.
As we lose ever more natural spaces in Charlotte we have created an oasis for wildlife in our community. Won't you join us by creating a wildlife habitat on your property? It's easy and rewarding.
A Nature-Rich Charlotte - E. McLaney
As of this posting, I’ve lived on this property for eighteen years. As a Charlotte native, I’ve witnessed the explosion of growth in a city that dominates Mecklenburg County with direct influence on nine surrounding counties. I’ve always had a strong interest in nature, wildlife and their habitat, certifying every property I’ve owned as a means of giving back what has been lost to development. Loss of habitat continues to be the driving force behind the decline of numerous species of flora and fauna. This loss also contributes to climate change and the human disconnect from the natural world.
By reshaping the landscape surrounding my home, I am actively supporting the writings of both Richard Louv and Douglas Tallamy, who have documented the many benefits of healthy ecosystems and the basic human need for a nature rich world. Reducing the monoculture that is turf, and replacing it with a variety of native plants, brush piles, water and food sources, will transform any size lot to an active haven for wildlife to thrive.
Wildlife gardening is a work in progress, a great teacher of patience and hope, and a partnership with Mother Earth that extends far beyond my property lines. My children have learned this connection and my neighbors witness and enjoy the transformation that inspires an awakening to new practices of “yard care”.
Today, a landscape that features food, water, places to raise young, and sustainable gardening practices is full of life, color, activity, and great joy. From Barred Owls to Green Anoles, from Chipmunks to Monarchs, this property if full of wonder, curiosity, and an appreciation of basic science found in healthy ecosystems. It is my wish that as individual silos of habitat are created in Charlotte, they collectively form vast, rich corridors for all wildlife to thrive.
Check back again soon for new wildlife habitat stories from the Charlotte community!