Make Your Wildlife Tree Part Of The Garden

ARE YOU thinking of cutting that dead or dying tree down around your house because of the danger it presents?

Before you remove all existence of a tree that plays an important role in wildlife ecology, consider having a “wildlife tree” because of the value to birds and other creatures. Your backyard can create a forest ecosystem. In our mountains dead trees have always provided food, safe nesting sites and shelter to many forms of life. With our area rapidly expanding these habitats are and will be decreasing but our encroachment can be minimized.

When a tree is injured insects and fungi appear and wildlife species are attracted. All of the species help carry on the long process of decomposition. This becomes part of the cycle of life dependent on one another as we all are.

Over 85 species of North American birds use tree cavities. These cavities are in short supply due to land clearing, timber management and cordwood cutting. Insectivorous birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds, etc. who use these cavities are beneficial in helping to control unwanted insect pests. Since the birds do so much for us we could feel good these cold wintry days about providing a nesting cavity.

If your dead tree has heavy branches that would target your house or play area cut some or all of the branches and leave the trunk. Topping the trunk might also be necessary. However the trunk has little value as a nest site if it is only 5 or 6 ft high. Keep as high as safety allows. A standing dead tree can last for several decades. The larger the diameter of a tree the greater the number of species you attract.

Recently EMC informed me they had to cut down 4 trees in our front yard to protect the power line. I had always had our trees cut leaving a big tall woodpecker house, I called it, and requested that they leave it as high as they could. They willingly left about 15 feet. I was impressed that I didn’t have to plead with them not to cut the tree down to the ground. Apparently, they know the value.

I have since learned biologist have a term, snags, which they call the dead or dying standing tree and it is a nationwide effort to save. Biologist are also calling logs the “hot spots” of the forest ecosystem. Those same logs which are piled up and burned as your house is being built could have provided shelter for wildlife as well as returning valuable nutrients to the soil in the rotting process. In fact, trees “are” the future soil for the mountains to produce the future specialty plants we all admire and cannot seem to emulate. Those dead logs are teeming with insects and fungi.

We were fortunate our builder did not have a bon fire for cut trees. Living on a slope we were able to terrace on either side of the house using those limbs and logs. It has been the answer to slowing down soil erosion during hard rains. If you are building, ask your builder to strew logs about rather than piling in a big heap. You will also find some interesting natural wood sculptures nature has provided that would look great in the garden. Then when nature adds a coating of mosses or mushrooms it becomes breathtaking.

Because of our geology rocks give added beauty to our surroundings. These “ancient rocks” sometimes covered with lichen, mosses and sometimes even miraculously resurrection ferns, as the picture shows, give us appreciation for the natural world.

Nature has done such a good job of management. Now as we contemplate our view of what our garden should be like we walk very softly. It is a delicate balance and we are the stewards. –Union Sentenial