Wild in the City

Make a more natural garden with the Neighborhood Habitat Challenge

Wild in the City
Courtesy of City of Austin

The City of Austin along with Wildlife Austin want you to compete in the third annual Neighborhood Habitat Challenge.

It's a race between neighborhoods where the goal is to certify the most properties within a neighborhood as wildlife habitats. Maybe it would be helpful to know exactly what a wildlife habitat is. According to the National Wildlife Federation, a habitat must provide food, a reliable water source, and shelter for wildlife. This means planting native plants and flowers that will attract and provide for the animals and insects that are native to Texas. Even if you're attached to your grass-only yard, Wildlife Austin project coordinator Alice Nance said, "We're trying to open the mind to this idea that you can have more than that. You can save water and time and energy by removing your turf grass and planting native plants that are more attractive to wildlife … and that are also beautiful."

It may seem counter-intuitive to invite "pesky" animals and insects to your lawn, but these guys have co-evolved with the native plants and work in harmony with the plants. These native species don't have to be so annoying and invasive when they have the habitat they need right in your front yard. By planting native Texas shrubs and flowers, you're doing what experts call smartscaping, which should cut down on fertilizer, water, and pest control.

Maybe a garden filled with native plants looks a bit messier than a generic one, but it's a hell of a lot better for the environment. Replacing lawn grass with colorful flowers means less lawn maintenance. And who can complain about that with summer months looming? Native habitats also cut down on the need for lawnmowers that spew greenhouse gasses into the air.

Not surprising considering its green reputation, Austin is the first and only city in Texas to be certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat. Austinites have until November 15 to join the Habitat Challenge and keep the tradition, albeit a young one, alive. All you have to do is register your neighborhood with Wildlife Austin, build your habitat, and then publish an article about the challenge in a neighborhood newsletter or website.

Nance said, "It's more than just providing the elements of habitat … it's also coming together as a community". So get together and organize your neighborhood garden party. First, second and third place will receive a prize. Click here to register and if you're looking for the right flowers to plant, local suppliers, or you just need some landscaping ideas, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website is a great place to start.

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Environment, Wildlife Austin, Neighborhood Habitat Challenge, Alice Nance, Wildlife Austin, National Wildlife Federation, Smartscaping, Xeriscaping

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