How gardeners can provide habitat for wildlife


Sep 24, 2021

How gardeners can provide habitat for wildlife

By Lori Draz and Ann Sherwood

Colts Neck Mayor Michael Viola with volunteer Lester Martin and Colts Neck Shade Tree committee members Melinda Martin, Eileen Stivala and Pat Eastman

The wild creatures around us don’t just bring beauty and companionship. Whether mammals, birds, reptiles and insects, they are also part of the natural ecosystem. These native animals need help to survive the cooler weather to come, and this amplifies the role of native plants. For more on creating and maintaining a more naturally supportive environment, The Journal turned to Ann Sherwood, co-founder of the Monmouth Invasive Species Strike Team and longtime environmentalist.

“By mid-October, ruby-throated hummingbirds are on their way to Central America,” Sherwood said. “The monarchs began their southward migration with the darker green dragonflies. Just as humans have their to-do list to prepare their homes and gardens for winter, so do the other creatures that stay in New Jersey. Some, like the white-tailed deer, have adapted their metabolism to survive thanks to their fat reserves and can no longer digest the green plants of the summer. The squirrels spent weeks painstakingly putting away supplies. Birds seek comfortable places to shelter from the cold, and many beneficial insects need to find a place to hibernate. All of these creatures depend on the remains of summer to survive as they have for millions of years.

“According to the Audubon Society, using leaves for mulching, creating brush piles, leaving ornamental grass stems and seed heads in place provides wintering creatures with food and shelter. Of course, diseased plant material must be removed to avoid contaminating next year’s garden. There is plenty of time to clean up in the spring.

“Fall is a great time to identify and eliminate invasive plants that are invading healthy habitats. Cut back the invasive vines at ground level and again as high as possible above the ground. Treating the plants by painting the herbicide directly onto the cut stems allows the herbicide to be carried into the roots. This method avoids contaminating the plants you want to keep. The New Jersey Invasive Species Team website ( is a good resource for more information on restoring healthy habitats. .

“Anticipating spring, planting spring bulbs, adding compost, and pruning shrubs that don’t need this year’s growth to flower are great ways to anticipate spring as the days get shorter. Native birds, mammals and insects often depend on specific native species for part of their life cycle. Incorporate native plants into your landscape, such as wild geranium (Geranium maculate), wild yellow indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), and hyacinths (Mertensia virginica) to provide nectar to bees and pollinators in early spring.

The Monmouth Invasive Species Team is dedicated to restoring healthy habitats through the collaboration of communities and organizations. In its first year, the team helped organize three workshops on identifying and managing invasive plant species. Local strike teams are now working with the Eatontown and Ocean Township Environmental Commissions as well as the Colts Neck Shade Tree Commission. Eatontown volunteers work at the F. Bliss Price Arboretum and at Ocean at Joe Palaia Park. Colts Neck volunteers have organized the first of what they hope will be monthly working groups to manage the vines in the greenways.

If you would like to learn more about restoring healthy habitats or if you would like to create a strike team in your neighborhood, send an email to [email protected]


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