Wells Branch Wild –
A Community Wildlife Habitat
by Jill Douglass
Wells Branch Wild is dedicated to connecting the human community to the natural world. We invite all residents to participate in this journey by creating personal wildlife habitats. One of the best changes we can make to support wildlife in our yards is to install native plants. This is because native insects cannot, or will not, eat alien plants. When native plants disappear, the insects disappear, greatly reducing the food source for birds, lizards, toads, and even larger animals like foxes. Foxes love to eat grasshoppers! Traditional gardening methods often encourage us to eliminate insects that eat our plants, so supporting wildlife gardening really turns things upside down because we actually are inviting all those insects to eat!
The easiest way to welcome native plants into your yard is to identify “weeds” before you pull them. They may be native plants that have naturally sprouted in their home environment. Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis) is a common native groundcover that often volunteers in our lawns. Similarly, Prairie Tea (Croton monanthogynus), Pepper Grass (Lepidium virginicum), and Chili Pequin (Capsicum annuum) show up as volunteers in our flower beds. The seeds of these plants were deposited by the birds who ate them. Helpful phone apps such as iNaturalist can help you identify plants to determine if they are native or not.
As we come into the fall planting season, when purchasing new plants, buy native plants for your landscape. If you are not sure what to plant, the city of Austin has a great website to help, https://www.austintexas.gov/department/grow-green. Green ‘n Growing, a local Pflugerville nursery, regularly stocks Texas native plants, as does Round Rock Gardens. Both are a short drive from Wells Branch. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in south Austin hosts a native plant sale every fall and spring. Check out their website for dates. In addition, TreeFolks has regularly scheduled tree giveaways all year long.
By changing a few gardening habits over time, we can convert our yards from food deserts to a full buffet for our wildlife, and a healthier, beautiful environment for us.