Veteran environmental educator teaches Milton gardeners to attract wildlife



MILTON, Ga. — A National Parks System park ranger presented a program to Milton residents called Gardening for Wildlife, the first of a two-part series.

As part of efforts by the city of Milton to attain national certification and in celebration of National Wildlife Week, Jerry Hightower, an environmental educator for 37 years, spoke to residents on March 20.

On March 28, Hightower returned to the city to address residents on the topic of pools, ponds and pergolas.

Hightower began a program for certifying Georgia schools that have wildlife habitats on campus after backyard certification began in 1973. Now, Georgia has more schools certified by the National Wildlife Federation than any other state.

“We remain No. 1 in the country for campuses,” Hightower said. “Georgia has been the model for the country.”

Hightower focuses much of his work on encouraging people to garden in a way that’s friendly to wildlife.

“Gardening is good for us,” he said. “Make it for the animals, too.”

This involves including food and water and places for shelter and nesting.

“This is a shared habitat,” Hightower said.

To attract the kinds of wildlife you want and repel the ones you don’t, easy steps can be taken.

For example, several types of feeding stations with different kinds of seed will attract numerous species of birds. Installing a bat house will encourage these mammals to take up residence. One bat can eat between 500 and 5,000 insects each night.

Don’t get rid of a dead tree, Hightower said.

A log left on the ground with plantings around it will be used by many different kinds of animals. Rock piles and brush piles in a backyard will also become a home for several kinds of animals.

Hightower said drawing a diagram of a backyard and drawing in plants of varying density and height will also help give a backyard the right color and depth.

Milton resident Debbie Howell attended Hightower’s lecture and plans to implement many of her ideas in her own yard.

“I have almost five acres,” she said. “I found [the talk] very helpful. It just sounds so easy.”

As Hightower has advised backyard gardeners over the years, he often gets asked about the “right” way to do it.

He always answers, “When you look at your garden, if you’ve got a smile in your heart, it’s right.”

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