Turn Your Yard Into a Wildlife Habitat

Preserving the environment by letting your lawn go wild

Laura Croteau's yard in Northeast Austin is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Turn Your Yard Into a Wildlife Habitat

Laura Croteau doesn't mow her yard or water her plants. Her residential property in Northeast Austin is a curious sight nestled among the perfectly manicured grass lawns and the meticulously maintained gridlike landscaping, but for anyone interested in preserving the environment, it's a welcome one. Croteau's yard is a Certified Wildlife Habitat because the property provides the four basic habitat elements needed for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.

"I took several trips to Belize and I fell in love with the rain forest," says Croteau. "When I came back, I thought, 'I want that feeling of being completely engulfed in vegetation all the time.'" She received neighbor-filed complaints, and ended up with frequent visits by the health department, code enforcement, the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Austin Transportation Department, though that all seems to be sorted now. (See "Yard War Truce? Let the Arbutus Bloom!" July 22, 2011.)

A first glance might indicate unkempt chaos, but every single thing in her yard was planted carefully and deliberately. "I wanted to make it like a botanical garden/food forest/native plant exhibition. Just about everything that grows in Texas that produces food for people or wildlife is there in my yard." Her roster reads like a farmers' market menu: Texas persimmons, regular persimmons, peaches, plums, pluots, apples, cherries, grapevines, blackberry vines, pomegranates, figs, lemons, oranges, kumquats, loquats, elderberries, and more. She also boasts chickens, screech owl houses, and a koi pond, as well as a big list of visiting wildlife.

"I drew a diagram, and I selected my plants for their mature size and shape. It's fitted together like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Eventually it will be a canopy of shade trees, then beneath that will be understory trees and shrubs and then groundcovers. They're stacked up in layers that fit together up to 50 feet in the air."

She recommends others work toward unconventional yards, as it helps combat the negative environmental impact from pesticides, water usage, and lawn mowing. "I think it's stupid and almost criminal to water grass. It's not freakin' England and everything is not gonna look like the Emerald Islands. I don't water, and I don't mow. I just get out there with my loppers once a month. And I don't use pesticides – only organic fertilizers." Croteau recommends visiting the National Wildlife Federation website for more information, and reports she's currently working on her butterfly certification, as the NWF is trying to coordinate people along migratory routes to plant food for the butterflies and bees. The certification fee is nominal, and it's about $50 for the plaque. Sounds like a deal.

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Earth Day, Laura Croteau, Certified Wildlife Habitat, National Wildlife Federation, migratory path of bees, Earth Day 2017

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