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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Time To Think about your Backyard Habitat

Though it may not seem like it right now spring is coming.  For me this winter seems to be dragging on and spring keeps teasing me with one nice warm day followed by temperatures that are only appropriate for areas in the Artic.  But the signs of approaching spring are starting to appear.  The days are getting longer, birds are singing in the trees (I have a Cardinal that is singing his heart out at the top of my Silver Maple), and ever so slowly the snow is melting.  So as spring is approaching it is time to start turning our attention to the habitats that are out the back (or front) door.  Some of you may not think of it as a habitat but whether it is large or small it is a habitat.  Your yard provides food and shelter for a number of species from the more obvious birds to the less obvious butterflies and moths.  So as the seasons are now turning it is time to start thinking about the habitat you provide for the critters that live and use that habitat.

Whether you have a large yard or a small space native plants are going to be the best option for attracting the wildlife that you want not to mention that native plants will require less work and water to maintain.  These plants have adapted to the climate that is present in Illinois and will weather the extreme temperatures, lack of water in the summer and will require less fertilizer and other inputs to keep them beautiful.  Native plants also provide for a greater variety fauna than non-native plants.  There are many choices for native plants, both perennials and annuals, and many of them are just as showy as the non-native cultivars that are so popular to plant in your backyard habitat.

So where do you get these native plants?  There are many sources for native plants:

1.     The first is to participate in native seed exchanges.  These take place in the fall and one is held at Forest Park Nature Center in Peoria.  This is an opportunity for you to talk with some people who are interested in native plants; and they will also be able to give you advice on which plant to plant, where and when they flower, and what color the flowers are going to be when they bloom. 

2.     If starting plants from seed intimidates you or is not something that you would like to do the Illinois Native Plant Society Central Chapter (yes, this is a real thing) has a Native Plant Sale each spring in Springfield.  This is a huge event and again you will be able to talk to others who will be able to guide you in planting native plants.  The Native Plant Sale will be held April 25, 2015 starting at 9 AM at the State Fairgrounds Commodities Pavilion.  More information can be found at or

3.     There are several native plant growers throughout the USA, but local growers will provide you with the best specimens with local genetic variations.  One local grower is the Pleasant Prairie Nursery.  More information and contact information can be found at

4.     Your local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) hold tree sales each year and native trees can be ordered through the SWCD.  Orders must be placed in most cases before April 1, 2015 and the pickup will be in mid-late April.  If you purchase the trees you will be contacted with the exact date.  Native trees should be used as they are the best options for Illinois.  If you have questions on what you should plant contact Jason Haupt with University of Illinois Extension and he will be able to help.  If you have a large amount of area to plant this is an excellent way to get trees at a very reasonable price.  If you are interested in purchasing trees from the SWCD, please contact your local SWCD office: Peoria- (309) 671-7040 Ext 3; Fulton- (309) 547-2215 Ext. 3; Mason- (309) 543-6075 Ext. 3; Tazewell- (309) 346-4462 Ext. 3.  The forms are also available at

If you have a pond that you would like to stock, the SWCD also does fish sales.  For information, species and price lists, and dates please contact your local SWCD: Peoria-or (309) 671-7040 Ext 3; Fulton- (309) 547-2215 Ext. 3; Mason- (309) 543-6075 Ext. 3; Tazewell- (309) 346-4462 Ext. 3.  The forms are also available at

If you are interested in attracting certain species you need to think about what to plant to attract those species.  It does not matter what you want to attract to your backyard habitat all animals need four things in a habitat.  They need food, water, space and shelter.  For each species this is different so when you are looking at attracting critters to your yard you need to think about this carefully.  Do some research on the species that you want to attract and plan the habitat accordingly.  You can always call your local Extension office to gather information as well.  Call Jason Haupt at (309) 547-3711 for information on attracting wildlife to your yard.

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