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Small Lot on Roehampton Ct, Chesterfield, VA.

Featured Site Created By JamesShelton

For those seeking to do as much as they can on a small property, explore the amazing habitat created at a 1700 sq. ft. townhouse property. With front and backyards the size of small rooms, this homeowner makes native plants a priority. In exchange for his efforts, he sees a diversity of wildlife from a resident Virginia opossum to migrating Yellow Warblers. Learn about his process and be inspired by the concept that no site is “too small” for doing its part to support biodiversity.

What work has been done to improve this site for birds and other wildlife? How long did it take?

I bought a townhome with a small 20×30 foot backyard. When it rained, water ran through the yard.

I planted small trees first and the lawn crew accidentally killed them with weed trimmers. So, I got a mulberry and American hazelnut when I joined a local park group and put one foot wire fences around them. These trees lived. Later a river birch, then a sweet gum, and sycamore volunteered. Finally, I started a small vegetable garden.

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Photo © James Shelton

I have a small vernal pool in the corner of the yard where red buds have volunteered, feeding a local Virginia opossum. I keep the sycamore and sweet gum small, to keep them out of neighbor’s properties. I tip them in the winter and use the branches to make a Carolina Wren habitat in the back of the yard.

My Dad and I planted a native fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) and some cardinal flower. Under the mulberry, I planted forest plants: grape fern, crane fly orchids, and rattlesnake plantain, but only the grape fern took off.

A neighbor left two logs at my gate and I added those to the yard. Also, I scattered some seeds in the garden, which is now fallow and may have some pussytoes (Antennaria Gaertn.

What are some successes that you've seen since the improvements were made? (alternatively, "What are you most proud of, or excited to share about this site?")

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It was great to see the grape fern surviving now for many years as that is a forest species. The small seed-producing plants in the clearing, the grass, and asters have brought many Song and White-throated Sparrows seeking seeds on the ground. The river birch often brings Downy or Red-bellied Woodpeckers, whom both like to peck in the peeling bark. Also Blue Jays have buried acorns, planting two willow oaks (Quercus phellos) in the process.

I enjoy watching grackles walk the wet area looking for food. Once, a Yellow Warbler sang in one of the trees and once a Green Heron flew over.

I have seen a small, harmless Dekay’s brown snake and several five-lined racers. A Virginia opossum juvenile left tracks in the snow to the red bud seeds fallen off the trees.

Are there any tough decisions that had to be made regarding its management? How were they handled?

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Originally, running water did not soak into the ground in my yard. With the landscape additions I have made, at this point, I don’t have water runoff issues. A neighbor asked if I wanted to run a drain pipe out through their yard. But I only have minimal standing water in March when it rains on already saturated soil. Once the trees leaf out for the spring, the water disappears as the trees are busy growing and photosynthesizing. I declined the drainage pipe offer.

4) We see you have used the Planning Tool to set some goals for your site. How has this tool informed or inspired your efforts and actions?

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I look at the whole landscaping process as a planning tool. Identifying the plant species was very important. I have discovered that the mulberry I have is not native, which might explain a lack of caterpillars and summer warblers.

I think I want to slowly let the oaks get bigger and cut back the mulberry as natural succession would happen. I will have to keep the oaks a reasonable size. This should bring in a lot of spring birds.

I have also used the planning tool to see the need for habitat for my five-lined racers skink, adding logs and wood.