Get a Little Wild in Your Yard

I noticed my neighbors doing this in their backyard. At first, I thought it was odd and might attract unsavory characters to the neighborhood and bring down property values. Now, I'm a card carrying member of the Rewild Club. It's best to explain.

I took a hard look at my yard and ask myself…What do I want from this space?

  • A peaceful shady retreat?
  • Home grown food?
  • Entertainment central?
  • Ruckus area for kids and pets?

What do I need to make that happen? A patio, a water feature, play area, shade trees, garden plot, privacy screening, a lawn area for recreation, disco ball and dance floor, an amphitheater for Shakespeare in the Park night?

I realized that my yard was mostly seldom-used lawn and none of the other fun stuff.

Amphitheater and disco balls aside, I started to pull together a plan. The biggest surprise was how much better my yard would be if I did less work. I opted to rewild unused space. Along the perimeter of my yard I stopped mowing, I stopped raking, I stopped fertilizing, I stopped weeding, and I stopped watering. In other words, I released by inner teenager. I let trees and shrubs that popped up keep growing, and planted a few for fall color, nesting, fruit and flowers. In a few years, instead of staring at a fence that needed maintenance, I had a living screen of trees and shrubs. Birds and butterflies came back to enjoy the flowers and fruits of my lack of labor, and they turned out not to be the unsavory characters I had imagined. The shade makes hot summer days in the yard enjoyable and cuts my lawn watering in half. There still plenty of lawn for kids and pets, but now the space is a haven for the family and a little wildlife.

Tips for the would-be rewilder.

  1. Just mow less.
  2. Baby steps. Pick a small area to try first. Consider it a journey of many years, not a mountain to climb on a single trek.
  3. Forget tidy. Wild areas can be messy. You can keep the edges formal if you want.
  4. Pick up ID books for birds, flowers, and trees so you can get to know your new neighbors. Books? Did he say books? I think he meant App.
  5. Avoid using chemicals where the wild things are.
  6. Think vertically if you have a small space. Tall trees, medium sized trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses can call have a place in a very small area.
  7. Add a water feature to ramp up the wildlife appeal.
  8. Plant diversity is good. Variety will make the space more interesting and resistant to stressors like disease and drought.
  9. Speed up the process with affordable bare root trees and shrubs from your local conservation district annual tree sale.
  10. Avoid invaders. Learn a few of the invasive plants in your area and try to keep them out of your wild space.
  11. Let your neighbors know why you would do such zaniness.
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Landscaping for Wildlife

This may not seem like the time of year to be planning for habitat improvements on your property, but if you want to take advantage of good prices on bare root trees and shrubs, now is the time to order. Anoka Conservation District's annual tree sale is a great place to start.

When asked by property owners what they can do to attract wildlife to their property, I start with the basic; 1) minimize mowing, and 2) provide food, water, shelter, and plenty of space.


Food: Flowers, fruit, buds, twigs, seeds, nectar, and foliage are food for many of our local birds, insects, and small mammals. These little critters are in turn, food for larger animals. If you build from the bottom up, and create habitat for the smallest creatures, the larger ones will follow and your habitat will be more stable. Planting trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and grasses will all get you heading in the right direction. Use native species to ensure they attract wildlife from this area.

Water: If you have a natural water source, like a pond, wetland, lake or river, you are all set. Flowing water attracts the most wildlife, but still water works well too. If you plan to add an artificial water source, everything from a simple bird bath to a fancy water feature like a lined pond with flowing water and pump, will bring in everything from birds and butterflies, to frogs and deer.


Shelter: Shelter comes in natural and manufactured forms. Bird and bat houses are options, as are wood or rock piles. Consider leaving fallen trees to lay on the ground or dead standing trees to remain, if they aren't a safety concern. Plant trees and shrubs for nesting. Even tall native grasses provide good cover for deer and birds to bed down in.

Space: Animals have varied needs in terms of space. Some defend large areas while others live in harmony with close neighbors. Whether or not you have a small urban oasis or 40 acres of wild open space, if you provide food, water, and shelter, it will attract wildlife to fill the available space. Curb your expectations to the limits of your property and do a little research on any particular species you are hoping to draw in.

Some landscape features you may want to consider:

  • butterfly gardens
  • frog ponds
  • native prairie gardens
  • shrub groves
  • rock or brush piles
  • bird baths
  • feeders
  • pollinator garden
  • hummingbird garden

For a complete brochure on the topic, visit;  https://www.anokaswcd.org/index.php/backyard-habitat.html

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History and Management of the Rum River

Anoka Dam, October 1897

The Rum River is one of the largest rivers in Anoka County, second only to the mighty Mississippi. It starts at the outlet of Mille Lacs Lake and winds through the landscapes of Mille Lacs, Isanti, and Anoka Counties until it discharges to the Mississippi River in the City of Anoka—but many don't know about the progress this river has made to become one of Minnesota's most outstanding waterways.

To really appreciate the Rum River today, it's good to understand a bit of its history. For many decades, the Rum River served as a large scale aquatic conveyor for lumber. Large white pine, elm, oak, cherry, and maple all floated down the river from central Minnesota forests to build the homes and business of the growing Twin Cities Metro Area. It also conveyed our sewage, agricultural waste, sediment laden runoff, and industrial by-products downstream to the Mississippi River, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

A former Anoka County commissioner who grew up in the area once said that when he was a kid, no one would dare to even fish in the Rum River, much less swim in it. I'm happy to say, over the last 80 years, the fate of the Rum River has been wholly reversed. Today the Rum River is:

Martin's Landing on the Rum River
  • One of 6 Wild and Scenic Rivers and 35 State Water Trails in Minnesota
  • Designated as an Outstanding Resource Value Water
  • An excellent fishery and waterfowl corridor with abundant smallmouth bass and wood duck
  • Key reach for Species in Greatest Conservation Need

This isn't to say that our Rum River is in the clear. In the last 30 years, the population in the area draining to the Rum River has increased by 47%. With that many people came more roads, parking lots, and roof tops that added 74% more stormwater runoff. The increased water volume and speed that came with this extra stormwater caused the river to slice deeper into the landscape and rip apart the riverbanks. When riverbanks collapse into the river, the resulting sediment smothers the fish, amphibians, and reptiles that now call the river home. The Rum River is also increasingly threatened by road salt and nutrient pollution coming from this stormwater.

A Cedar Tree Revetment installed to stabilize a bank on the Rum River.

ACD takes a holistic approach to managing these new challenges to the quality of the Rum River. We are heavily involved with monitoring the chemistry and biological quality of the River; we assist the local Watershed Management Organizations with analysis and planning; and we implement projects with willing landowners to improve water quality and habitat in the river. ACD is also involved with guiding land conservation projects near the Rum River needed to protect habitat and water quality, and we are working diligently with other local organizations to ensure future funding for projects protecting the Rum River.

Over the coming months, we will be posting short blogs to highlight individual projects and programs that ACD has directed for the benefit of the Rum River. Check in soon at www.anokaswcd.org/blog to learn more!

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2969 Hits