A Home Grown National Park

Hoo boy! I love it when I read another article or blog post and get all excited and fired up! Margaret over at A Way to Garden spoke with Doug Tallamy, author of “Nature’s Best Hope” about how we, the humble homeowner, are nature’s best hope for better success with conservation and general habitat growth. Yes! I highly recommend clicking the link and heading over to Margaret’s site to read or listen to the whole interview. (By the way, if you don’t follow Margaret’s blog, I’d encourage you to check it out, you may really like what you find. Her interviews are always fantastic content!)

Much of this goes back to similar concepts I talked about regarding Rewilding– that taking some of your land and giving it back to Nature- is the easiest and best way to improve habitat, biodiversity, and create corridors.

I wrote on my Facebook, inspired by Doug’s comments, that “40 million acres in the US are just plain lawn. Utterly useless biologically and environmentally. If you- yes YOU!- were able to take just half of your own lawn and plant native things, anything other than lawn- we’d collectively get back TWENTY MILLION ACRES of actual habitat and that is more acreage than the national parks in the lower 48 COMBINED.” What a bunch of numbers that is, but 40 million acres of lawn is nearly impossible to imagine, let alone halving it and replacing it with habitat!

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Our yard, before

Obviously, I’m preaching to the choir a bit with this one since you lovely lot are all gardeners and we know gardens>lawn.

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Our yard last summer (2019)

But what else can we, as gardeners, do to make our yards even more wildlife friendly? I think the best part of both this interview and, from what I can tell, the book is that the tips are really easy. You don’t have to upend everything you’ve already done, just make minor alterations to your way of doing things and maybe pick a few new native plants to add to your mix.

What I find most helpful in terms of creating habitat is to think though your choices in terms of food. What decisions can you make to improve (good) insect habitat? More insects mean more birds and other animals. More insects mean more pollination and more food. More food means a thriving habitat!

  • Leave leaf litter/leaves in place, or at least some of it, particularly under trees. This is where caterpillars and worms thrive! A home for bugs is basically a restaurants for the animals that eat them.
  • Don’t tidy the garden in Fall, wait until Spring and even then, don’t burn it, stack it somewhere out of the way for a week or two until you are sure all the hibernating insects animals have vacated.
  • Obviously cut down or eliminate pesticides, herbicides, and spray fertilizers- use organic substitutes whenever possible. Diatomaceous Earth and manual removal are all we use in our space.
  • Use shrubs! Not all “native plantings” need to be perennials, think about adding in more shrubs or even trees! Shrubs are compact enough to fit in most yards, are lower-maintenance and provide both habitat AND food!
  • Use native species where you can, both in cultivated spaces like your garden AND in areas that you set aside for rewilding or habitat.

There are also a number of really great resources to find out which native plants are most beneficial to birds and bugs and are the best performers for habitat improvement.

Native Plant Finder from National Wildlife Federation – this site has you put in your zip code, so your recommendations are specific to your county. Still, you’ll need to obviously consider the soil and other horticultural specifications, but it is a great jumping off point.

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These were our top 8 recommendations for our county, for both trees & shrubs and flowers & grasses.

Audubon’s Plants for Birds – This program also has you search by your zip code, but it identifies the specific birds that benefit from each plant.

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These are the top 3 plants for birds in our county.

We are really pleased that we already have the majority of these plants in our yard, but there are some additions we can make and hopefully have even more positive impact on our yard/habitat. Do you already grow plants that are on your list? Do you have a portion of your space set aside for wildlife or is it a ethos you apply to your whole garden? What tips and tricks do you have for improving habitat?

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