Conjuring up some New Year’s resolutions? Don’t forget about the ecosystem of which we are a part. Promise to do something positive in your yard this year to help dwindling wild species whose habitats have been ravaged. If you don’t have a yard, volunteer with an organization that’s working on a restoration project—it can be satisfying and enjoyable.
You certainly don’t need to replace every plant in your yard or eliminate all of your lawn to give back to nature. And you don’t need to do anything all at once—baby steps are fine! In fact, incremental change is usually best, since wild species using existing plants might be harmed by a drastic, rapid change.
Here are six suggested resolutions to help make your garden more REAL in 2015. Choose one (or preferably more):
1. Get rid of invasive plants that compete with natives. Depending on the plant species, this can be an easy job or one likely to give you headaches, backaches, and an urge to scream. It can take a few days or a few years. Once your task is accomplished, though, I guarantee that you will feel an extreme sense of satisfaction. If you have several invasive species in your yard, determine which may be the most invasive and start with that. Nonnatives that produce berries, like English holly trees, are particularly problematic because they spread into nearby natural areas not only by birds, but also via vegetative reproduction. English ivy also produces berry-like fruit and spreads by rooting on the soil surface and on tree trucks (at the very least, periodically cut it at the base of trunks to prevent it from harming trees). Check with city, county, and/or state agencies to find lists and descriptions of invasive plants; the USDA also offers information. My book offers some tips for removing invasive plants, as does Green Seattle Partnership.
2. Remove some lawn. Lawn for the sake of lawn is not beneficial and is simply wasteful. When deciding which part(s) of your lawn will receive walking papers, choose areas that you never or rarely use. Often this is the front yard. If you’re not ready to go all the way and remove a large area of turf, consider at least removing lawn under trees and in areas that are difficult to mow, such as slopes. Lawn can also be minimized by enlarging existing beds and adding ecologically beneficial plants.
3. Grow native plants that are endemic to your area. For this I suggest you consult my book if you live in the Pacific Northwest (west of the Cascades); another fine resource is the Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants, which offers more plant options (but little design advice). Always choose species that will flourish in your site’s soil, light, and moisture conditions.
4. Add some water. Birds, insects, amphibians—all creatures—need water year round to survive. Even just a birdbath can help, but keep it clean, change the water every few days, and keep it out of reach of marauding cats and dogs. Plates or shallow bowls filled with pebbles or clean gravel and water will provide for insects; butterflies will also appreciate mud holes to obtain moisture and nutrients.
5. Don’t use pesticides. Synthetic ones should be avoided at all costs, but even so-called organic controls can be deadly and indiscriminate, especially if used improperly. If a pest if causing enough damage in your kitchen garden to warrant a control, consider hand removal, barriers and screens, companion plants, or streams of water. Allow a natural balance to be achieved by welcoming natural pest control such as birds and predatory insects.
6. Let natural systems flourish and harmonize by minimizing maintenance. Yes, this one makes you work less! Allow leaves to remain on the ground, raking or sweeping them only off areas that need to be clear, like sidewalks, driveways, or lawn. Leave dead wood such as snags (dead or dying trees that won’t crash on someone’s head) and “down wood” —fallen branches, twigs, and bark—which are essential for wildlife habitat and soil health. Create brush piles or rock piles to help provide cover and possibly nest sites for birds and other small animals.
Best of luck with all your resolutions, especially the green ones!
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