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Embrace the Wild: Creating a Backyard Certified Wildlife Habitat

Hey there, nature-loving families! Have you ever dreamt of transforming your backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat?

Certified wildlife habitat sign

Well I have, and I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than you think. In this post, I’ll share our journey of turning our backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat with my family!

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) offers a fantastic opportunity for you and your little ones to create a magical ecosystem right at home. This exciting adventure not only provides a safe haven for local wildlife but also turns your outdoor space into a living classroom for your children. Let's explore how to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat and the wonderful benefits it brings to your family and the environment.

What's the Buzz About Certified Wildlife Habitats?

A Certified Wildlife Habitat is a space that offers all the essentials for wildlife to flourish, such as food, water, shelter, and places to raise their young. By creating a habitat in your backyard, you're not only supporting local wildlife but also contributing to a larger network of habitats that help maintain healthy ecosystems.

This isn't just a fad or a buzz word. This is a movement to undo the harm we have done to our environment and to restore the balance that has been lost. By creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat, you're taking action to create a better world for all creatures great and small.

Steps to Creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat

Ready to embark on this adventure? To turn your yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the NWF, your backyard must include the following elements:

4 children observing a baby bunny in the garden
Observing the Baby Bunny that made a home in our garden one morning

  1. Food: Plant native vegetation that produces seeds, nuts, fruits, or nectar to support various wildlife species. You can also provide supplemental food sources like bird feeders or hummingbird feeders.

  2. Water: Provide a clean, reliable water source for wildlife, such as birdbaths, ponds, or shallow dishes.

  3. Shelter: Create shelter for wildlife by incorporating dense shrubs, rock piles, or brush piles in your landscape.

  4. Places to Raise Young: Offer nesting sites and materials for birds, mammals, and insects. Birdhouses, bat houses, and native plants that support caterpillars are excellent options.

  5. Sustainable Practices: Adopt sustainable gardening practices like composting, reducing lawn size, and avoiding chemical pesticides to maintain a healthy habitat.

Once you've incorporated these elements, you can apply for certification through the National Wildlife Federation's website.

Winning Over Your Lawn-Loving Partner

Not everyone is quick to embrace the wild and replace manicured lawns with backyard habitats. But worry not! Highlight the wonders of a Certified Wildlife Habitat for you and your little ones:

  1. Educational Opportunities: Children can learn about native plants, local wildlife, and their role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

  2. Developing Environmental Stewardship: Kids will gain a sense of responsibility for their environment and learn the importance of preserving natural habitats.

  3. Hands-on Learning: Children can actively participate in planting, maintaining, and observing the wildlife habitat, fostering a deeper connection with nature.

  4. Quality Family Time: Creating and maintaining a wildlife habitat can be a fun, collaborative project that brings the whole family together.

  5. Encouraging Outdoor Play: A backyard habitat encourages kids to spend more time outdoors, exploring and interacting with the natural world.

backyard garden

Embarking on the enchanting journey of transforming your traditional suburban backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat can seem daunting at first, but with a sprinkle of planning and a dash of ingenuity, this family-focused project can smoothly evolve at a pace that suits you.

Here's how we slowly built our backyard haven, starting with a dry creek bed, pollinator gardens, and steadily incorporating more and more natural elements for the local wildlife. The important part is to allow yourself to take small steps. It's not about going in and tearing out your entire lawn in one season and replacing it all with native plants. It's about starting small and adding things slowly, over time, so that your yard becomes more self-sufficient and beneficial for wildlife.

Our family has been in the exciting process of transforming our traditional suburban backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat. We approach this ongoing adventure as a series of joyful and enlightening initiatives, without a strict timeline or "have to get done first" projects. It's a serendipitous journey to create a more welcoming habitat each day. Here are the projects we're actively working on in our backyard haven over the past few years:

  • Building a Dry Creek Bed: We're constructing a dry creek bed that imitates a natural stream, weaving through the garden. This attractive feature improves water flow and drainage in our landscape. It also features two rain gardens, which are designed to store rainwater and prevent runoff from entering the storm drain. The creek bed feature's berms on either side home to native plants and beneficial insects as well as food for birds.

  • Creating Pollinator Gardens: Filled with native flowers and plant species, our pollinator gardens provide beauty to our backyard and essential resources for important pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. A few of my favorite flowers that are found in my garden would be Marigolds, Cosmos, Bee Balm, Black Eyed

bachelors buttons blooming and budding in the garden

Susan, Shasta Daisy, and pretty much everything else. I'm obsessed with my flowers and you can find me most days in the garden collecting seeds for next season or talking to the bees and thanking them for visiting our garden.

  • Planting Natural Hedges and Sanctuaries: To offer refuge and nesting opportunities for wildlife, we've been incorporating natural hedges into our landscape and reserving specific areas for wildlife inhabitants, allowing nature to flourish undisturbed. On top of allowing brush pile up on the edges of our propety, we also have been planting (and allowing to grow) more cover plants such as bramble and Elderberry. P

  • Maintaining a Self-Cleaning Pond: Our self-cleaning pond not only enhances our backyard's aesthetic appeal but also serves as a vital water source for birds. It's pretty new, so fingers crossed that we have enough plants to keep it clean. We're looking forward to the possibility of welcoming frogs to our ecosystem in the spring. Currently I'm using Mosquito Dunks and planting Marigold around the pond to control the population, but in the future we're hoping it can be a habitat to enough frogs and dragonflies to become natural predators and not need any intervention.

  • Establishing a Compost Pile: Indulging in the cycles of life, we began composting our organic waste. This practice not only reduces waste but additionally transforms it into a nutrient-rich soil enhancer, nourishing our garden.

  • Replacing the Grass Lawn with Native Ground Cover Plants: Traditional grass lawns can be water and

Dandelions growing in green grass

maintenance intensive. Therefore, we decided to replace ours with a plethora of clover and native ground cover plants. Besides requiring less upkeep, these alternatives provide additional food and shelter options for local wildlife. Some folks opt to go in and heavily seed with their chosen ground cover to replace or tear out their turf. However, we're just allowing nature to move in it's time. We stopped seeding with grass seed and allowed the clover, Wild violet, and other ground cover plants to grow naturally. And yes, even dandelion! Not only are they the earliest food for pollinators to start blooming so a vital food source, they are edible, aerate the soil, and can serve as a natural fertilizer for your garden. All in all. Let the dandelions grow. Occasionally, I'll encouraging the turnover to natives with the spreading of seed from whatever clover or other ground-cover-appropriate plant I deadhead while I walk around the yard.

  • Removing Invasive Plant Species: Mindful of our local ecosystem, we devoted time and effort to remove invasive plants, such as honeysuckle and creeping Charlie. These species can outcompete local flora and disrupt our yard's biological diversity. As such, filtering them out makes room for native species to flourish. This is the one place we use focused applications of herbicide according to the Cincinnati Nature Center Protocol to control our honeysuckle invaders.

  • Building Insect Hotels and Planting Milkweed: To address the needs of our tiniest guests, we work on constructing insect hotels and planting milkweed, catering to the habitat requirements of various beneficial insects. We've seen more and more monarchs in our yard each year since planting our milkweed and we can't wait for the day we finally spot one in their chrysalis.

Through these ongoing initiatives, we're steadily transforming our backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Our cohesive family effort not only enhances our outdoor area but also fosters local wildlife, making our backyard a vibrant representation of nature's diversity.

By becoming a Certified Wildlife Habitat, you'll not only support local wildlife but also provide a unique and engaging learning environment for your children. This project can help them develop a deeper understanding of their surroundings and foster a lifelong appreciation for the natural world. So, why not embark on this family adventure and create a thriving ecosystem right in your backyard?

Want more resources? Check out our guide here.

Want to see more details on any or the projects we've taken on? Let me know ! Drop a comment or email or drop me a DM on Social Media and I'll give you all a behind the scenes on each project !

Download the simple one-page guide to creating your habitat which also has additional links and resources to help you find the perfect plants and projects for your backyard!

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