By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener
Over the past few years, it has become increasing clearer that loss of biodiversity due to loss of habitat is at a crisis level. It is also well documented that the planting of native species provides us with an opportunity to help reverse this process by creating or enhancing ecological networks.
Renowned entomologist Douglas Tallamy has been beating this drum for some time. It is his belief that all of us can provide part of the solution no matter our area of interest and no matter the scale of effort (no need to be a native plant purist!). He believes that small efforts by many people can make a significant contribution. Tallamy provides practical, positive advice for adapting his principles into your situation. His philosophy is about encouraging folks to participate in regenerating biodiversity in the way they are most comfortable versus prescribing “must do’s” or formulas. He doesn’t let the perfect be the enemy of good. To this end, he is spearheading a grass roots, science-based solution called Homegrown National Park. Participants in both the US and Canada involved in this effort are encouraged to register their properties on the parks map in order to be counted towards the park’s goal of planting 20 million acres. The website provides extensive resources to gardeners such as blogs and videos as well as a newsletter. You can also follow the park on Instagram @homegrownnationalpark.
Tallamy suggests 10 steps that anyone can all do to get started and make a contribution (see the link for more detail). They are as follows:
- Shrink your lawn – All of us could probably do with a little less lawn to cut but no need to go without. Replace some turf with trees, shrubs or gardens.
- Remove invasive species – Invasive species interfere with the ecosystems ability to function and will affect any type of garden. Removing some if not all out will reduce the impact on your plants and reduce the amount of seed that is shed into the environment.
- Encourage Keystone Genera – Research has shown that a few genera of plants are the backbone of local ecosystems especially as a food source for insects. Without local keystone plants, food webs will fail. Common keystone plants in the east are oak, willow, birch, elm, goldenrod, aster and sunflower. In my own case, goldenrod and aster is abundant on the farm. I now let it grow along the perimeter of my fields instead of cutting it down.
- Be generous with your plantings. Increasing the abundance and diversity of our plantings will assist in realizing the ecological potential of our landscape.
- Reduce Nighttime Light Pollution. White porch lights and security lights are a major cause of insect decline. Consider switching lighting with motion sensors or replace white bulbs with yellow (less attractive to bugs).
- Network with neighbours and encourage them to get involved. Be a role model by transforming your property in attractive ways. Display a sign to show your commitment.
- Build a conservation hardscape by using window well covers to prevent toads and frogs from falling into the wells where they starve to death. Mowing your lawn no lower than 3 inches helps to ensure that you mow over the turtles, toads and other small critters.
- Create caterpillar pupations sites under trees. Most caterpillars drop from trees to pupate in duff on ground. Replace the lawn under trees with well planted beds full of ground cover to encourage pupation.
- Avoid use of chemical fertilizer. Create soils rich in organic matter instead.
- Educate, educate and educate. Spread the word.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela