When we move into a new home, particularly within a new estate, we don’t usually take the time to think about what plants and wildlife were living there before the area was cleared to build houses and roads.
Before you begin planning your new garden design or make over take a few minutes to ask yourself a couple of quick questions.
- What sort of plants would have grown here before houses were built here?
- What wildlife would have lived here and what did they eat?
- Where did they sleep and what habitat did they need?
- And importantly, where are they now?
have a Look around
Some great ways to find out what native plants would have originally grown in your area, are to:
- Look at what types of native plants continue to grow in local parks and conservation reserves in your local area.
- Look at which native plants are growing well in other gardens in your street and suburb. This will also give you an idea of scale and how big particular plants might grow in relation to the size of your garden.
- Take a photo if you see something you like and take it to your local nursery or community environment group and ask for advice on what it is.
The Sunshine Coast Council website has a useful link that may help you find many of the parks in your local area. Remember when visiting any environmental park, reserve or bushland area, never remove any plants, plant parts, rocks or logs. You may be taking the home of a native animal and it is illegal.
Selecting The right Plant for the Right Spot
One of the most important aspects of garden design and success is the right plant selection for your locality, soil type, drainage and backyard size. Before you begin buying plants there are a some important things you need to know and understand about your backyard to ensure the survival of your new plants and success of your design and new habitat features. Use this quick checklist to do a basic site assessment and identify any opportunities and/or constraints for garden design and habitat creation in your backyard.
When choosing plants to grow in your garden or on a larger property select species that are endemic (native) to your local area, it is important to remember that just because a plant is native to Australia does not mean it may be suitable to grow in your local area. Some Australian native plants that have been planted outside of their natural location have grown and multiplied in numbers much greater than expected, are now considered as weeds in their new locations. For example, the umbrella tree from northern Australia is considered an environmental weed on the Sunshine Coast.
In addition, not all plants endemic (native to) to the Sunshine Coast will grow in every location as they may require a specific environment to grow and survive. For example, many rainforest species growing in the protection of moist gullies in the hinterland and mountain areas are unlikely to survive or become strong healthy plants if planted in a coastal area where it is exposed to lots of wind, salt spray and sandy or acidic soils.
If you are not confident in your plant selection and matching the right plant for the right location - visit your local native nursery and simply ask what grows well in your area, soil type and backyard conditions. Check out the Plants and Plant Communities page for further information.
CREATing STRUCTURAL DIVERSITY (PLANT LAYERS)
Structural diversity refers to a mix of plants that grow at different heights which creates layers or levels of habitat within the vegetation structure. Typically these layers can include:
- Leaf litter or natural mulch layer with logs, twigs, spent flowers, seed pods and fallen leaves. This layer is important for invertebrates, worms, fungi, beetles, skinks and lizards.
- Understorey layer with native grasses, herbs, vines rush and lomandra species, rambling plants and small to medium sized shrubs. This layer provides protection for reptiles, frogs, ground dwelling mammals including antechinus, bandicoots, echidnas and many smaller seed eating birds.
- Midstorey or middle layer with small trees and/or larger shrubs and vines.
- Canopy layer with either small and/or large trees that form a canopy or cover over the lower layers. Trees are important for providing roosting, nesting and resting spots and provide safe vantage points for wildlife to watch for food and escape from predators like cats, foxes and dogs.
Structural diversity also refers to plants that have either an open habit (i.e. you can easily look through the plant and see the branches) or are closed and have quite dense foliage (i.e. lots of leaves and branches and it is hard to see through to the other side).
Planting areas with a good mix of ground cover species and/or closely planted shrub layers will help to shade out sunlight and reduce weed growth within your garden. Dense shrub coverage will also contribute to the accumulation of natural leaf litter and mulching which will also assist in weed suppression in the garden.
Common “urban” birds such as noisy miners, magpies and rainbow lorikeets favour open grassy understories with a scattering of trees and the more open structure of high nectar producing grevillea cultivars as found in most backyards and urban parks.
THink about Floristic diversityFloristic diversity is the availability of a broad mix of plants in each structural layer that produce a range of food and foraging sources, including foliage, seed, fruits, berries, nuts, nectar and insects throughout the year.
The greater your structural and floristic diversity the greater the diversity of wildlife and particularly bird species your garden will be able to support. Gardens that contain predominantly nectar producing species such as grevillea cultivars can become dominated by more common urban adapted bird species such as the rainbow lorikeet, blue faced honey eater and noisy miner which often become aggressive towards other species.
For ideas on how to create floristic diversity in your backyard check out the Year Round Food Supply page.
These tools will get you thinking about the physical and environmental characteristics of your backyard, existing habitat values, features and/or constraints that you need to consider when planning and designing your new garden.
challenges, tools and games.
Useful Tips and Facts
- Create urban wildlife corridors and stepping stones to larger local bushland or parkland areas.
- In nature there is no such thing as waste everything is linked and contributes to the cycle. As a plant reaches the end of its life cycle it is not discarded by nature, instead it provides habitat for animals and food for micro-organisms as it lies on the ground, the waste from the micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi feeding on it replace nutrients and organic material to the soil for new plants to grow.
- Plant local native species
- The best way to attract native wildlife to your backyard is to provide a variety of healthy natural foods in the form of seeds, leaves, flowers, nectar, pollen, fruits and nuts throughout the year.
- The use of pesticides and herbicides can damage your soils and kill non target species. The poisoning of insects with chemicals can also cause larger species relying on those insects as a food source to become sick or even die from eating poisoned insects.
- To create habitat for smaller native birds you can grow shrubs close together to create dense corners or pockets in your garden which will provide protection and refuge from larger aggressive birds such as noisy miners
- Wattles (Acacias). While most wattles only live between 6 - 10 years, they are an important pioneer species which colonise disturbed areas, where other plants find it hard to grow. They improve soil conditions enough to allow other species to germinate and thrive by fixing nitrogen into the soil through their roots and adding high levels of organic leaf litter.