- Author: Laura Lukes
We know that we are losing wildlife habitat. We know that birds and pollinators are in trouble. The good news is that our home gardens can be part of the solution, by conserving water and protecting native wildlife through Altacal Audubon's Neighborhood Habitat Certification Program. Altacal's goal is to support community members interested in converting unused lawns to natural, drought-tolerant California landscaping and habitat.
The Neighborhood Habitat Certification Program is unique to Altacal. It was designed by Altacal's leaders during the recent drought years as they sought a simple yet effective way to help the local communities reduce water usage. They drew in a host of experts who contributed to the creation of the program, including botanists, landscape designers, ornithologists, wildlife biologists, and native plant experts, as well as the UC Master Gardener Program and the Mt. Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. The Neighborhood Habitat Program received initial grant funding from the National Audubon Society and California Water Service; the City of Chico was supportive of their efforts. All parties agreed the best way to encourage residents to make lasting changes would be through an educational program.
Below is a brief outline of the Neighborhood Habitat Certification Program and how you can qualify for the attractive Certified Neighborhood Habitat Sign announcing that you are “Restoring Habitat and Conserving Water.”
The first step is to register (for a small fee) either online or at the Altacal booth at the Chico Certified Farmers Market. You will then receive a packet of practical information, including resource guides; plant lists; program requirements; tips on attracting, sustaining, and protecting birds; a simple step-by-step guide to creating a Habitat Garden; and, to help you get started, coupons to a local nursery that specializes in native plants (Floral Native Nursery, one of the only all-native plant nurseries in Northern California).
Step two involves identifying where you can make a change: can the entire lawn be converted to valuable and beautiful habitat? Do you need to save a bit of lawn for pets and/or children? What sort of sun exposure does your yard receive? Is your soil loamy, clayey, or somewhere in between? Take a moment to sketch a layout of your yard, including plans for hardscape, and existing vegetable / flower beds, trees, and open spots. These open spots are wonderful niches for clusters of native landscaping.
For the Gold Certification, replace all of your front OR back lawn; choose a minimum of eight natives, include all five vegetation layers in your landscape; use low water and avoid herbicides and pesticides; and install at least two of the Wildlife Stewardship and Water Conservation features.
Sheet-mulching is the best method for eradicating existing lawn. While the Master Gardeners have recommended waiting eight to ten months before planting into your ex-lawn, Altacal's quicker method involves sheet mulching around new native plantings. Either system yields the same results: habitat gardens that conserve water, offer beauty and interest, and attract and sustain bird and insect life.
To obtain formal certification, complete the self-assessment form included in the packet. Altacal will then send a representative to your home to deliver your certification sign. The final step is to enjoy your role as neighborhood ambassador: the real purpose of the artful blue sign with the yellow warbler is to encourage conversations about habitat and how we can all contribute to the betterment of our communities. An old saying applies here: each one, teach one – and Altacal hopes that yard conversion is contagious!
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, call the Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.