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Juneau is a city in the wilderness. The real world begins right outside our immediate yards, with all the animals following their own agendas and traveling on their ancient routes. They rarely focus on us as food sources or dangers to be avoided; we are background, we as creatures are unimportant. The most significant thing we do is to destroy habitat.
The most significant activity we can perform to enjoy the presence of wildlife in our immediate surroundings is to recreate that lost habitat.
The century of industrial activity in the Gastineau Channel has changed the surroundings forever. The old growth forest is long gone, but the young dynamic surroundings we experience provide homes for a large population of birds and small mammals. Bears, coyotes and wolves aside, these animals provide the sense of belonging to the larger world.
We all love to see birds and small mammals moving through our yards. Our society treasures these opportunities. This interest is reflected in wildlife watching tours, Audubon Society memberships, and sales of wildlife watching equipment.
Landscaping trends also reflect this increased interest. Requests for bird sheltering or attracting plantings have climbed rapidly.
Homes that have forested areas, or sit in natural surroundings, have a head start, but the concepts are the same. Wildlife needs protection from predators or weather, and they come to food and water. Providing evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs with twiggy structure gives this protection. A few good choices for our zone are:
Spruce: Sitka, Norway or Colorado
Pines: Shore, Scotch, mugo, Eastern or Western White
Fir: Sub-alpine, noble,
Hemlock: Western, Mountain Hemlock
Mountain ash, linden, green ash, vine maple, Norway maple, native willow or alder, Washington hawthorn, birch, beech
Roses, spiraeas, snowball, rhododendron, potentillas, flowering currant, blueberry, honeysuckle, dwarf spruce or hemlock
Birds and small mammals need access and connectivity so they are not exposed during their travels. Linking the planted areas together into a route into your yard, and up to your viewing area will encourage them to visit. Let the edges of the planted zones connect, creating a safe route with plenty of high vantage points so a lookout can be kept while other members of the group are foraging or bathing.
The planted areas should contain trees and small trees and large shrubs and small shrubs and a good groundcover. The function of the groundcover is to provide concealment and forage, and of course to make the plantings seem more natural.
Good groundcovers include: violets, potentilla, Canadian dogwood, wintergreen, strawberries, geranium, sweet woodruff.
Food and water are attractions. Provide them in places you can observe, but where the animals are not vulnerable to domestic predators. Bringing birds to your yard where your cats can get them is not the plan. Remember many local bears have learned about bird feeders, and focus on this easy to get source of good food. Take them down as the bears arise in the spring, you can set them back out at the close of the season, as the bears head back to their winter dens.
Plants that provide food, accents, and color include: crabapples, cherries, apples, red oak, larch, katsura, serviceberry, mayday tree, chokecherry
Wintertime brings a whole set of demands on the wildlife. They need even more protection, and they need a reliable source of water. Many yards have water occurring naturally nearby, but the ones that don't can provide a tub or bucket sunk into the ground. The plants we use for the winter garden will have twiggy frameworks, so the little birds have a place to perch and feel secure. They will have fruits that persist after leafdrop, or scales that conceal tiny bugs, so there will be a little food source.
Some good choices include: shrubbery, chokeberry, lilac, highbush cranberry, Japanese maple, azalea, yew, rhododendron, mugo pine, red and yellow dogwood and dwarf spruces
Groundcover: lingonberry, spiraea, dwarf rhododendron, crowberry,
Flowers and Foliage: astilbe, iris, foxglove, daises, delphinium, columbine, yarrow, shooting stars, lupines, lilies, day lilies, bluebells (campanula), Joe Pye weed, meadowsweet, fireweed.
Grasses: tufted hairgrass, beach wild rye, Alaskan cotton, native sedges and rushes
Our local plant communities are a wealth of landscape material, and every disturbance offers an opportunity to salvage groups of plants that would otherwise be discarded.
Construction sites, road work and any excavation in the wild world provide sources for a collector to back up a pickup and say, "Load it right in."
Lay a layer of native peaty soil as a base, and set your salvaged clump of trees and shrubbery on top, stake or tie it in place, surround the edges with more peat, and water it for the first season. Most of it will take right off and grow. You can trim it into shape later, after you see what you have.
Landscaping for wildlife attraction can be every bit as attractive as any other style. The native plants we enjoy, and the bird-attracting ones from all around the world, are beautiful. They can be used in a manner that will enhance any setting. All problems are design problems, and a good design can satisfy any situation.
David Lendrum is owner of Landscape Alaska with his wife, Margaret Tharp. Contact Juneau Audubon Society at http://www.juneau-audubon-society.org.