To create an environment that suits your property, keep your environmental community in mind. Don’t try to grow salt sensitive plants on the beach or plants requiring good drainage in low, boggy areas. A jungle or hammock will be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter because they maintain a uniform climate of high humidity and frost- free temperatures making then suitable for most tropical plants.
After establishing the more hardy canopy plants you can introduce the more tender, under-story plants as the yard begins to mature.
Things to remember when creating a habitat are:
- You must provide food, water and cover for the wildlife.
- The habitat area must be at least 10 square yards.
- You should use at least 50 percent native plants in your habitat area.
You do not have to completely re-landscape to establish a habitat. Select a small area of your landscape and add some of the features listed above. An example could be a flower garden to attract butterflies with a birdbath in the middle. The flowers would provide food for the butterfly larvae and the larvae would provide food for birds attracted by the birdbath. We installed a pond system in our back yard and have several bushes and trees with fruits and berries. We love watching our backyard as the diverse species of birds and butterflies come and go. We see cardinals, blackbirds, redheaded woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers (very rare), purple martins, and the favorite with our visitors, a gray heron that feeds on frog eggs from the ponds when available.
Or, if you have always wanted to live in the woods you can create your own jungle or hammock and screen yourself from your neighbors, street noise, cut your fuel bill and attract birds, butterflies, squirrels and other small creatures to your yard, not to mention spending less time, energy and money keeping a lawn in shape. If properly planted, a jungle or hammock on a small lot can be attractive in the wild state.
You can experience and live in the real thing in the community of Key Marco. Their woods are home to bobcat families with kittens and one of the largest tortoise populations on Marco. This spring I watched as a flock of Indigo Buntings flew by in undulating beauty.
Some animals are happy to live in our neighborhoods as they are, no changes needed. The homes on Dogwood and Sheffield have similar plant communities and wildlife as does Key Marco with bobcats spotted running through the yards and many tortoise burrows. In the front yard of one of my homes on Dogwood Drive, a very small tortoise burrow appeared in the front lawn. I only realized what it was because I see so many of these tiny burrows in Key Marco. I protected it with flags and my crew and I watched as the burrow and the tortoise grew over the summer months. When the homeowner returned for the season with her dogs we thought the tortoise might abandon the burrow for safer living arrangements, but it stayed put and now lives with our weekly mowing and the dogs.
In the Copperfield Court neighborhood you will see many rabbits darting from yard to yard taking refuge under hedges and bouncing through the vacant lots. The other day I saw four in different areas of the streets. The end of Laurel Court used to have a resident chicken. That is until a new house was being constructed and it disappeared.
This chicken would garden along side me happily eating whatever I stirred up for him. What a treat. And let us not forget the snakes. I have been begging people to leave them alone and not kill them for years. I do see more large snakes now than I have in the past but we still have a long way to go on that one. Remember they eat rats and keep the populations down so we don’t have as many in our attics.
We are all so fortunate to live on an island surrounded by exotic tropical plants, birds and animals which most people never have the pleasure of seeing in their lifetimes. Rather than scaring them all away with our development let’s develop habitats in our own backyards to attract them to live alongside us here on beautiful Marco Island.
Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward of Marco, Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, since 1981.