Backyard Biodiversity Tip Two – Habitat

… a sustainable, slow-built, high-rise apartment building for wildlife …

Hello and welcome to my garden. This beauty isn’t a dead tree, it’s a sustainable, slow-built, high-rise apartment building for wildlife. In this tree we have observed countless birds, including endangered species, mammals including possums and gliders, reptiles like tree snakes and bearded dragons and various insects and arachnids. Many people have suggested that we cut it down, but why would we destroy such a superb habitat that actively contributes to our backyard biodiversity? That said, this is Tip Two for Backyard Biodiversity!

This handsome fellow is a Bearded Dragon. He needs leaf litter and rocks to provide food, shelter and protection from predators. 

If you want a greater range of biodiversity in your backyard, big or small, you need to provide habitat for the creatures you are hoping to have living in your garden rooms. The National Geographic tells us that organisms need four things for a successful habitat: water, food, shelter and space. The habitats you can provide depend on the space that you have. Let’s start with the small ones and work our way bigger.

Frog Hotels

In Australia we have so many species of tree frog that all you need to create a new habitat is a Frog Hotel, patience and a little luck.

Frog Hotels were originally created to keep frogs out of outback toilets. They can be as small or as big as you would like. As far as the habitat checklist goes… Water – contained within, Food – as long as you have some insects around they’ve got dinner, did you know that most frogs love eating cockroaches!?, Shelter – that’s what the pipes and plants are for, Space – frogs don’t need much space, some species will even breed in a frog hotel.

Like many garden wonders you’ll need some patience and some luck, it can take months or even years to attract permanent residents to your Frog Hotel and yet some people have success in days. Comment below if you’d like me to create a vlog or blog post on Frog Hotels.

These three Green Tree Frogs who regularly visit this kitchen window have never visited the frog hotel nearby to my knowledge,  but they enjoy hunting insects attracted by the lights inside.
The only observed occupant of my Frog Hotel to date. Only a metre away is my kitchen window which regularly hosts three Green Tree Frogs.  I don’t know why they’re not interested in the hotel, but that’s frogs for you! They’ll do what they want, when they want…

Native Bee Hotels for Megachile species

In Australia we have more than 1700 native bee species and most of them are solitary or semi-social rather than the social European bees that we hear so much about. There are a number of ways to create habitat for these little wonders.

Arguably the easiest species to build or buy a hotel for are those in the Megachile genus and the Hyledoides genus. This includes, Resin Bees, Masked Bees and Leafcutter Bees. Historically these species nested in holes created by wood borers, like the one pictured below in one of my Lilly Pilly trees. It’s easy to simulate these holes by using holes drilled in wood or bamboo cut in lengths. It’s best to place them facing South if you can and protection from wind and rain will also encourage residents. Spacing lots of small hotels around the garden will help them evade predators. A Grey Butcher Bird in my garden sits watching one of my hotels and snaps the residents out of the air when they leave the nest. Clever little birds they are! I plan to post a video of a Leafcutter Bee in my garden carrying cut leaves to its nest in my rockery on YouTube soon!

This borer hole in one of my Lilly Pilly Trees is the kind of hole originally used by some solitary species of native bees for nesting.  With increasing deforestation and planting of gardens with many exotic species,  these holes are not as readily available in the right size or depth as they once were.
A Pair of masked bees prepare a nest in a bamboo stick in a Bee Hotel.  Above, leaves protude from completed leafcutter bee nests.

Native Bee Hotels for Reed bees

Reed bees from the Exoneura genus like to nest in pithy stems like tree ferns or lantana. Lantana may be an invasive species but in some areas where it has out-competed the natives, Reed Bees use the dead canes for nests. If you’re clearing lantana, keep an eye out for these tiny bees. When I remove lantana I now keep some of the canes and dry them to create nests which I place near my dam.

A Reed Bee Hotel made from lantana canes and a coffee cup.

Native bee hotels for Blue-banded Bees

The delightful Blue-banded Bees are a solitary species that use buzz pollination which is necessary for the pollination of some plants, like the Blue Tongue Plant the one pictured below is buzzing around, or creates higher yields for other plants, like tomatoes.

You can create nesting habitat for them by building rock walls with spaces between the rocks or by creating your own mud brick nests. Plant blue and purple flowers nearby to encourage them to explore your garden. Comment below if you’d like me to create a vlog or blog post on Blue-banded Bee Hotels.

Blue-banded Bees like blue and purple flowers. My Blue Tongue plant gets frequent visits from these big, beautiful,  noisy native bees.

Native Bee Hives

Native Stingless Bee Hives are a great way to ensure your garden is full of pollinators. I haven’t purchased one yet but it’s on my wish list!

Tiny stingless bees are an attractive prospect for an Australian garden, they are cute and stingless! They love the Calendula flowers in my garden.
Stingless Bee (Tetragonula species) flying towards a Zinnia flower with pollen pants.

Possum Boxes, Nesting Boxes

If you have a larger property you might like to consider installing nesting boxes for the species that need tree hollows. With land clearing for development and recreation, big old trees with enough hollows to service the local wildlife populations are becoming fewer and fewer. This means that some species can’t breed because they simply don’t have a safe place to nest. Placing nesting boxes on your property can help marsupial species like gliders and countless bird species like the lovely King Parrots. A Possum Box might even keep Possums out of your roof! There’s lots of information on line about how to build or buy them.

King Parrots need deep tree hollows for nesting. Placing the right shape and size nesting box on your property gives them a place to breed and as a bonus, these curious and friendly birds will probably visit. We have a number of wild King Parrots that seem to take turns visiting us. Some of them even land on our arms, shoulders or heads!

The importance of garden debris and flowering weeds

Now I like to think that I am a wild gardener, but some people would say I am a messy gardener. That’s because I don’t clear all my garden debris. Many lizard species, frog species and invertebrates need leaf litter, sticks or old wood for their habitats. If you have an ordered garden, try leaving one area for garden debris to give these species a room in your garden.

Lizards and frogs will help keep pests at bay and there are lots of helpful insects in leaf litter that will improve your soil and eat the nuisance insects.

I also make a point of letting some of the more innocuous weed species flower in my garden. They attract pollinators to help my plants fruit and seed and they also attract beneficial species like praying mantises and lacewings who eat aphids and scale. Many vegetables are also good for this purpose, so I let some of my lettuce, carrots and other vegetables flower. By doing this I find I don’t need to try to keep something flowering year round for the pollinators. Weeds and vegetables fill any gaps in time when my shrubs and trees are not flowering.

Pak Choi has very pretty little flowers that attract pollinators. It’s easy to germinate and grow all year around in the subtropics AND leaves can be harvested over and over for stirfries and salads before allowing it to go to seed to ensure a biodiverse insect population and ongoing growth.
These Leek flowers were grown from the “kitchen scrap end” after I made a Chicken and Leek soup. Many different vegetables will sprout and flower from scraps, adding to garden biodiversity with no cost.

Ponds, Frog Bogs

Ponds and Frog Bogs are great for bigger gardens. In my first Backyard Biodiversity Tip I discussed the importance of water for not only amphibians, but wildlife in general as well as garden helpers like the mosquito destroying dragonflies.

Bird baths are delightful to watch, especially on a hot day and provide an important part of habitat for our flying garden helpers.

A Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea) enjoys our pond made from a ceramic plant pot 60cm tall to stop Cane Toads (Rhinella marina) from accessing it.

Plant choices, Protection from Predators

Another really important consideration is your choice of plants. The more diverse your plants are, the more diverse your animal and insect visitors will be. The most important aspect of this is the levels in your garden. If you can create a garden that has many levels, you will get lots of visitors.

Lets look at those levels from bottom to top.

Start with soil. There are currently campaigns to reclassify soil as a living organism under United Nations conditions. Cultivate your soil to encourage fungal networks, worms and even beetle larvae. Most are beneficial and if you have biodiversity the birds will help keep their populations from exploding. Groundcovers and grasses are very important for insects. Herbs and flowers are great for pollinators. Shrubs and hedges are wonderful for small birds and reptiles. Small trees offer the next level of habitat for birds, reptiles and insects. Finally the canopy level offers habitat for birds, mammals and protection on hot days amongst other benefits. Climbing through all these levels are vines which frequently host butterflies and other beneficial insects.

A family of Eastern Dwarf Frogs (Litoria fallax) lives in our Native Mulberry Tree (Pipturus argenteus) which always supplies a smorgasbord of insects. It is at shrub level at the moment and we plan to keep trimming it to create an edible, wildlife attracting hedge.

Many of the levels provide protection from predators. If you have room for small spiky shrubs you may attract wrens and finches. The canopy offers refuge for many species of bird as well as climbing mammals. Groundcovers and grasses protect lizards from birds.

Of course, if you have pets you may need to offer more protection from predators by keeping them out of certain parts of the garden. Before our beautiful dog passed away, she was allowed the run of one section of the garden, but the other section was closed to her unless she was supervised.

Our beautiful Elle, a perfectly harmless family dog, was only allowed in the “big yard” under supervision to ensure native animals were protected from her natural prey instinct. The rest of the time she was confined to a smaller “house yard”.

There are some great easy options that will fill your garden rooms with visitors for minimal effort. Comment below if you’d like me to create a vlog or blog post on anything that I’ve talked about. With greater backyard biodiversity you can enjoy a garden that gives a lot more than it takes.

The first step is to look into the wildlife in your area and work out how you can use the space you have to provide habitat that will help them live comfortably. By providing what you can, you are helping your local community maintain and build better biodiversity. It starts with a trickle…

Wishing you biodiverse visitors to your garden rooms,

Janegrowsgardenrooms

2 thoughts on “Backyard Biodiversity Tip Two – Habitat

  1. Goodness, that’s a thorough list of advice! It sounds like you’ve had a ton of experience with all these critters and bees. I hope they help your garden have a wonderful start to Spring.
    Have you learned to identify all of them by sound?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s all been research, then trial and error, but I love it! Thanks for your kind words. I can identify most of the frogs, some of the birds and some of the mammals by sound, but it’s a constant learning curve as more critters show up! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: