Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


June 2, 2014

Creating a haven for wildlife

CROSSVILLE — Twenty years ago my vision for landscaping around our newly constructed house in the woods on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau was to enhance the natural environment so both our family and wildlife would feel at home in this place. The lakeshore location and treed lot almost guaranteed opportunities to observe at close range birds, small animals, insects and fish in the wild. That prospect was one of the compelling reasons for purchasing this particular home site.

We added the house with garage and driveway, a deck (at treetop level) overlooking the back woods and lake, a dock and pathways to move between these structures. Shade was plentiful, but I also hoped to find enough sites with sufficient sun for vegetables and a flower garden along with enough area for lawn to feed grass-clippings to my drum composter. Wildlife needs food, water, places to nest and to rest; so construction needed to proceed while still maintaining those elements of the natural setting.

The building and landscaping process took a while, but we seem to have successfully met our goals. As part of preserving and conserving wildlife habitat, we decided to leave the woods near the water in its natural state. Reasons for the decision were that grass is difficult to grow in shade (since we don’t want to cut down trees, there is not much sun) and lawn care products have the potential to pollute lakes and streams.

Those who live near water and do grow grass along the shore should read warning labels before purchasing fertilizer or pesticides to ensure the products you buy and apply will cause no harm to the water or aquatic wildlife. Of course, a heavy hand with pesticides is not wildlife-friendly whether the site is near waterways or not. Be kind to the environment and all its inhabitants by spot-treating problem areas rather than frequently broadcasting herbicides and pesticides. Try natural alternatives.

Be aware: not all insects are bad. There are "good bugs" that prey on insect pests. Some "weeds" foster these beneficial insects. And while conditions should discourage large populations of the bugs that aren’t plant — or people-friendly — a certain level of "bad bugs" must be available to keep the beneficials around. "Good bugs" fly off to other yards in search of prey when there are no pests. (After all, a bug’s gotta eat!) Insect pest populations can then skyrocket because natural controls are gone. I advocate an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach were synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in modest amounts and infrequency applied are combined with use of good cultural practices for plants in your landscape.    

Natural food from the stand of hardwoods and the waterway in our community attract birds and other small creatures throughout the year. We supplement those resources with feeders. Some birds feed on seeds from native plants and from cultivated plants in my gardens as well as on the sunflower and thistle seed available at feeding stations. Migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds usually appear at our nectar feeders in early April. Once those going further north pass through, hummers who nest here feed mostly in early morning or at dusk. They gather lichen for building thimble-sized nests and use spider web fibers to line them. Homeowners using sugar-water/nectar feeders to draw hummingbirds should know these little birds also eat lots of insects. Again, over-use of pesticides may eliminate too many six-legged creepy crawlers. Hummingbirds may not stick around if they find only sweets and no protein (insects) available on your property.

Of course, I’ve had reservations about a few of our wild neighbors. Only once early on did I see a copperhead, but that was one more encounter with a poisonous snake than I wanted to experience. It was springtime and pretty chilly so the snake wasn’t moving much. However, I made tracks pretty fast in the opposite direction after spotting him.

• • •                

Plateau Gardening written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) answers to horticulture questions, free publications and to learn about the Master Gardener program. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae (

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