Turn Your Garden into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

Turn your yard, balcony container garden, or roadside green space into a safe haven for wildlife.

One butterfly flying mid air on top one flower bed.
twomeows / Getty Images

Once upon a time, nature was wild. It was powerful and magnificent, and even frightening. In the 17th and 18th centuries, philosophers wrote about the notion of the "sublime" as it applied to nature; for them, the vast wilderness elicited both pleasure and horror in equal measure.

Nowadays, horror may come more as a reaction to the paucity of nature rather than its vastness. Humans have slashed, burned, chopped, logged, paved upon, and built over so much of the planet that less than a quarter of the Earth's land remains as wilderness.

And the repercussions for wildlife have been dire.

The planet's sixth mass extinction is underway. Among other horrible harbingers of things to come, 40 percent of insect species are declining and a third are endangered. (The rate of extinction for insects is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds, and reptiles. At the rate insects are declining, they could vanish within a century.)

So quick, it's time to un-garden that garden and de-lawn your lawn! Rather than having over-manicured green space, why not instead make it a place that is welcoming to wildlife? Saving local and migrating species is not a futile endeavor.

There are many ways to do it, but turning your yard, balcony container garden, work landscape, or roadside green space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat is an excellent goal.

The program is a creation of the National Wildlife Federation, which explains:

"Rapid and large-scale changes to our lands and waters mean wildlife are losing the habitats they once knew. Every habitat garden is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife such as bees, butterflies, birds, and amphibians – both locally and along migratory corridors."

The Steps Required to Certify Your Habitat

The process involves a $20 application fee (which supports the National Wildlife Federation's wildlife-promoting programs) and a required number of elements in the following areas (you can see the full list in PDF here).

Food

Your habitat needs three types of plants or supplemental feeders, ranging from berries to pollen to bird feeders.

Water

Your habitat needs a source of clean water for wildlife to drink and bathe, ranging from a stream to a birdbath to a butterfly puddling area.

Cover

Wildlife needs at least two places to find shelter from the weather and predators, ranging from a bramble patch to a log pile to a roosting box.

Places to Raise Young

Your habitat needs at least two places for wildlife to court, mate, and then bear and raise the babes, ranging from prairie to nesting boxes to host plants for caterpillars.

Sustainable Practices

Finally, you need to employ practices from at least two of three categories which include 

  • Soil and water conservation (for example, reducing erosion, limiting water use, or using mulch).
  • Controlling exotic species (for example, using native plants and reducing lawn area).
  • Organic practices (for example, eliminating synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers).

The Benefits

Upon certification, you will be able to boast that you are a member of the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife, and you will receive a personalized certificate. You get a one-year membership to the National Wildlife Federation and a subscription to National Wildlife magazine; oh, and a discount on National Wildlife Federation catalog merchandise, including all the good things to further enhance your wildlife habitat.

But best of all, of course, you will be helping out the creatures who could use a little wilderness in which to thrive. Less horror, more pleasure all around.