If your backyard could use a little work and you’d like to see wildlife beyond the occasional mosquito, the National Wildlife Foundation has a project for you. As the country becomes increasingly developed, animals have fewer places to roam. By turning your yard into an animal-friendly hangout, you’ll teach your kids an important lesson about environmental stewardship, develop an ongoing relationship with nature, save money and have fun to boot! The project has four steps: First, you’ll need to provide food in the form of native plants. Let your kids research which plants are native to your area by clicking on the National Wildlife Foundation website (www.nwf.org) or asking at your local nursery. The good news is that by replacing non-native plants with natives, you’ll save money and time; they require less water, fertilizer, pesticide and general upkeep than other plants since they’re suited to your climate. Next, you’ll need to provide water. There are two ways to do this. It’s easy to install an inexpensive birdbath, but you’ll need to change the water every other day and clean the bath thoroughly twice a week. Not so big on maintenance? It’s harder to install a small pond, but once it’s done, it’s done, and you can stock it with fish or frogs. All right, so now you’ve attracted the wildlife. If you want them to stay, you’ll have to provide cover so they can raise their young. Chances are you already have shrubs or dead trees lying around; you can add a nesting box for birds if you like. Finally, green up your gardening practices and you’ll be good to go. You’ve already restored native plants; by reducing the amount of grass, you’ll improve biodiversity and reduce the amount of synthetic fertilizers in the ecosystem. Ask your kids to help. Scatter mulch over your garden to conserve water and reduce the need for fertilizer. Consider using a barrel to collect rainwater for the garden. Finished? Click back onto the National Wildlife Foundation's website and use the online form to notify them about your progress. If you meet the criteria, they’ll send you a certificate and a sign for your yard. They'll even mail a press release to your local paper. Plus, your family will get a year’s free membership and a free subscription to their magazine, National Wildlife. The true reward, though, is what you’ve created with your children: a backyard haven with cleaner air, soil and water, where they can see butterflies, birds and animals.
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