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Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center . . . with Joy Joyner: Keep your garden free of toxins to keep local wildlife healthy

Published in the March 15 – 28, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Joy Joyner

Joy Joyner

Rain, rain everywhere! I know it’s hard to see beyond the gray skies and seemingly constant downpours, but the sun will shine upon the South Valley again.

Many of us are already beginning to clean up our gardens in preparation for spring planting. Now is the perfect time to make your garden a haven for songbirds and pollinators.
Keeping your garden free of toxins is crucial in keeping wildlife healthy. One way to control pests is to attract their predators. Aphids are a common spring pest that often sends gardeners reaching for the bug spray.

But there are predators who would love to take care of those aphids for you — ladybugs and hummingbirds. Many people already know that ladybugs are major aphid predators, you can even buy them at the garden center, but haven’t heard about hummingbirds.

In the spring, while hummingbirds are laying eggs and feeding their young, they need to increase their protein intake. Aphids are often found close by the nectar-filled flowers they sip from, making them a quick meal. Hummingbirds not only pollinate your flowers, they help control aphids. You can also remove a small aphid population by hand or use a solid spray of water to knock them from your plant.

Other small songbirds in our area will hop through the garden looking for aphids and other insects, bushtits and chickadees are two of the most common. Towhees will scratch, jumping backwards on both feet, looking for grubs and worms.

While you’re busy pruning and cleaning your garden, you can also help birds that are getting ready to start nest building.

A small brush pile of plant clippings and twigs is like a home improvement store for birds. This is especially helpful in urban areas, where nesting material can be difficult to find. You can leave those spiderwebs under the eaves for now, too. Hummingbirds rely on them to act as the glue for their tiny, soft nests.

If you have bird houses in your garden, now is the time to clean them and make sure they’re ready for baby season. A diluted mixture of one part bleach to ten parts water to disinfect, rinse well, then let dry completely. Remember to place high enough so that ground-based predators can’t climb in. The same can be said for any bird feeders or feeding stations.

When choosing your planting for the year, think native. Plants that are native to our area will offer food sources to our bees and butterflies that they are looking for. Butterfly weed not only attracts monarchs, but swallowtail and common buckeye, too. Native salvia, buckwheat, sage, California lilac and poppy are all beautiful and favorites to our native pollinators.

One more tip (this one may be the most difficult): leave the dandelions alone. Dandelions are often the first flower to bloom and can be the only food source to the early emerging honey bees in your neighborhood.

Any chemicals used in your garden will work their way up the food chain and into the birds’ diet. If you can minimize the usage during this time of the year, while our wild neighbors are utilizing our gardens, you can help these wild babies get a healthy start in life.

Here at the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, we’re also getting ready for baby season.

Orphaned baby wildlife requires expensive specialized diets and veterinary care.

Our 4th annual Bowl-a-Thon helps raise funds for our busiest time of year. Information and registration on our website werc-ca.org.

Joy Joyner is president of the board for WERC. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life. She can be reached by emailing her at joy.joyner@gmail.com.