Rick Hindman recently sent me an e-mail requesting information on attracting wildlife. It gave me a great opportunity to brush up on the food needs of wild animals.
In Rick’s words, “I live in Carroll county, and I want to create some wildlife habitat on a small farm. I would like to plant persimmon and apple trees as soon as possible. I need suggestions on what else to plant, where to buy, etc.”
I shared the note with Theresa Schrum, newly elected vice-president of the Georgia Native Plant Society. She began right off the bat by stating that she’s a strong believer that providing native food sources for native wildlife is the best way to go. It simply makes more sense to Theresa in terms of our ecology. Between the two of us we came up with a nice list of wildlife-attracting plants for Rick and for other who want to follow his lead.
PERSIMMON Wild persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is native to Georgia. It is found growing uncultivated in many areas. A medium to large tree, it is dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female trees. Female trees produce edible fruit only when in close proximity to male trees. Most animals don’t seem bothered by the astringent aftertaste of the fruit. It is definitely a possum magnet!
Japanese persimmon, Diospyros kaki also grows well in Georgia and has fruit desirable for human and animal consumption. My friend Daemon Baizan has a Japanese persimmon in his front yard that causes passing drivers to literally screech to a halt in the street to see what they mistakenly think is a Florida orange tree loaded with fruit in winter.
APPLE Theresa notes that apples are not native to Georgia and that one must carefully select cultivars to make sure that the trees will produce apples in the chosen location. My feeling is that ‘Callaway’ and ‘Zumi’ crabapple plus heirloom apples are good choices even though they may only last fifteen years if untended.
PLUM Prunus americana is our native plum but Chickasaw plum, Prunus angustifolia is an alternative. Both have showy white flowers in spring and the fruits are widely used by wildlife.
BLUEBERRIES I know for a fact that blueberries attract wildlife because I split my crop each year with the blue jays, mockingbirds and brown thrashers that inhabit my yard. Any edible blueberry will do: ‘Climax’, ‘Triumph’ and ‘Tifblue’ are readily available. Sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum is in the blueberry family but the fruit is very bitter. Nonetheless, a wide variety of birds enjoy its fruit.
HOLLY Wildlife and hollies have a co-dependent relationship. Neither would be nearly as numerous without the other. Winterberry, Ilex verticillata , has very persistent red fruit which is enjoyed by animals and which is also widely used in holiday decorations. Only the female winterberry bears fruit, so a male ‘Jim Dandy’ or ‘Apollo’ should be planted nearby. Possumhaw holly, Ilex decidua, has orange-red fruit. Gallberry, Ilex glabra has black fruit in late fall. Yaupon holly, which has the unappetising Latin name Ilex vomitoria, has red fruit and grows vigorously in wet or dry sites.
Other trees and shrubs that attract wildlife include oak, dogwood, serviceberry, beautyberry, cherry laurel, red buckeye, mulberry and sumac. Honey locust bears bean-like pods which exude a sweet, gooey paste when ripe. Animals love them, for obvious reasons, but a radio listener recently told me that impecunious University of Georgia students made locust beer from the pods in the late 1940’s!
SOURCES Local nurseries stock many of the plants mentioned above. Lawson Nursery (770- 893-2141) in Ball Ground and Johnson Nursery (706-276-3187) in Ellijay specialize in heirloom fruits. Perimeter College Native Plant Botanical Garden (404-244-5001) has several plant sales and talks throughout the year.
ATTRACTING WILDLIFE WITH ROCK AND LOG PILES
Jan 16, 2003
Last week I listed food plants that attract wildlife to a landscape. Persimmon, apple, plum and blueberry plants were high on my roster but I also described oak, dogwood, serviceberry, beautyberry, cherry laurel, red buckeye, mulberry and honey locust.
I gave ideas for food plants for birds a few weeks earlier and followed that with an article about providing them with housing. Building a birdhouse is easy – but how does one build abodes for other creatures?
Though you might consider some of them vertebrata non grata , the two methods described below will bring lots of animal activity to your yard.
LOG PILES Wildlife expert Jeff Jackson says that different kinds of log piles attract different kinds of wildlife. A pile made of fast-rotting wood (sweetgum, elm, pine) quickly becomes home for snails, slugs, wood-eating beetles and various larvae. These creatures attract predators like garter snakes, salamanders and skinks.
The rotten wood also gives cold-blooded animals a good place to lay their eggs or to give birth. If you turn over an old woodpile at this time of year you may find an overwintering lizard or snake. No problem: just cover them with damp debris and lay bark pieces and small logs over them once again.
Birds and small mammals will visit your pile to find insects in winter and in summer. As the fast-rot pile decomposes down into the earth, keep adding more wood on top to keep your food chain intact.
Remember, the more log pile inhabitants you attract, from insects on up, the more varied the wildlife you’ll observe coming and going around it.
A second kind of woodpile for backyard wildlife is a slow-rot pile. Use small logs of maple, hickory, dogwood and oak to form a loose pile. It is good to stack the wood on an elevated support of stones or bricks to keep termites out and to keep the wood drier.
Mice, chipmunks and perhaps rabbits will call this pile home. Harmless rat snakes and king snakes will follow, seeking furry food.
If you don’t have suitable materials for a log pile, make a brush pile. Pile small-sized limbs four feet high to make a refuge for small vertebrates and a protected feeding area for certain ground-feeding birds. Evergreen boughs from cedar or hemlock on top of the pile shed rain and keep the interior dry.
ROCK PILES Dr. Jackson says a stone pile is an ideal place of refuge for many small animals. Chipmunks and squirrels eat seeds and nuts on top, close to a hole where they can escape predators. Basking lizards and snakes will be found there on sunny March days.
Since a stone pile has a beauty all its own, pick a scenic spot to place yours. Dig a wide hole, at least one foot deep, to begin the pile. This is the “basement” of the rock pile, where dwellers can go below the soil surface to escape hot weather in summer and to hibernate in cold weather.
Next, fill the hole with stones or rubble. Old concrete blocks or chunks of cement your builder left behind work well. Bigger items are better because the in-between cracks and crevices will be larger.
Arrange the heap thoughtfully as you pile it up. What your guests want is a labyrinth of golf ball-sized passageways connecting little interior rooms you have created.
Of course, save your prettiest rocks for the surface. Stones with lichens or moss look great on the outside of your pile. Set a few flat rocks on soft ground bedside the pile. Lift one every couple of months to see what insects and invertebrates have colonized underneath.
BRING YOUR NEIGHBORS TOGETHER If you have a small yard that limits the scope of your wildlife refuge, work with your neighbors to create a “wildlife neighborhood.” The larger the area, the greater the number and types of wildlife you will attract. You can even have your yards certified by the National Wildlife Federation as Backyard Wildlife Habitats. The Georgia Wildlife Federation (770-787-7887) will send you an application.
Oct. 19, 1996
Q: A big area of woods was cleared behind my neighborhood to build a shopping center. Now we see possums and other wild creatures all over the place. Is there any repellent to keep them out of my basement?
A: I’m sure you realize that the animals were forced out of their homes by the construction. It should be expected that you will see the relocated critters in your yards and streets. There is no repellent for possums or squirrels or raccoons. The best policy is to persuade all of your neighbors to keep their pet food from becoming creature food for the next month. As winter gets colder, the animal population will drop to the level of last winter. Next year, you’ll see about as many wild animals as you normally expect to see.
Charles Sea brook – AJC
Thursday, December 6, 2001
The winter months are a good time to plant trees. Get them in the ground now, and they’ll be ready to grow in the spring. If you want to attract wildlife, give some thought to the species of tree you’ll set out. Trees, of course, serve other purposes: shade, privacy barrier and beauty enhancer. The following list focuses on some trees and shrubs and their value to wildlife in Georgia:
Red maple: Seeds eaten by a variety of birds, chipmunks and deer.
Mimosa: Excellent for attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies.
Hickory: Nuts are favorite food of eastern gray squirrels.
Hackberry (sugarberry): Fruit is a favorite with robins and other songbirds.
Persimmon: Attracts opossums, raccoons and birds.
Sweet gum: Seeds eaten by many birds, including bobwhite quail and wild turkeys.
Tulip tree (yellow poplar): Seeds eaten by birds, rabbits and squirrels.
Red mulberry: Outstanding tree for birds.
Black gum (tupelo): Many bird species — wild turkeys especially — eat its fruit.
Sycamore: Seeds are eaten by birds and deer.
Wild cherry: Its foliage is the preferred food of the tiger swallowtail butterfly’s caterpillar. Many birds and mammals eat its fruit.
White oak: Acorns important food for squirrels, deer and large birds such as doves, bobwhites and wild turkey.
Southern red oak: Its sweet acorns generally are more preferable to wildlife than acorns from red oaks or willow oak groups.
Swamp chestnut oak: Acorns eaten by deer and rabbits.
Northern red oak: Acorns consumed by deer, rabbits and squirrels.
Post oak: Acorns preferred food of wild turkeys.
American holly: Red fruits eaten in winter by birds and deer.
Eastern red cedar: Berries eaten by birds.
Southern magnolia: Fruits eaten by squirrels, rabbits and birds.
Shortleaf pine: Seeds eaten by songbirds.
Longleaf pine: Seeds important for fox squirrels.
Loblolly pine: Squirrels love its seeds.
Serviceberry: Fruits important for deer and other creatures.
Dogwood: Excellent berry plant for birds and small mammals.
Beautyberry: Seeds consumed by a variety of wildlife.
Redbud: Seeds eaten by birds and small mammals.
Hawthorn: Abundant producer of fruits that are eaten by birds and mammals. Flowers also important nectar sources for bees.
Elderberry: Flowers attract butterflies, and fruit is eaten by birds and small mammals.
Possumhaw: Fruits eaten by birds, especially cedar waxwings in the spring.
Other trees and shrubs that feed wildlife in Georgia include wax myrtle, sumac, sassafras, blackhaw, yaupon, crab apple, sweet bay and cherry laurel.