Native plants, gardening, lawns

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    Hi everyone!

    I have found myself in the position of developing workshops/talks for the nature center I volunteer at, and some of these have had enough reception that I’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker at a large event (wow!). One of the main topics I cover is the power of planting/gardening with native plants, and shrinking lawns, and general things we can do at home for those of us with any outdoor space at all (anywhere from a million acres to a single balcony with some potted plants…). Is this information any of you might be interested in? It is essentially tackling the problem of habitat destruction at home, and simple things we can all do to help. I don’t want to dump a pile of information here and sound preachy if no one is interested, but I wanted to ask, as it can be one of the most important things anyone with a yard, no matter how small, can think about. 🙂

    Volunteer mod- I'm here to help! Time sensitive issues: See a spammer? Website going haywire? email me! nambroth at
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    I’m very interested in this. We’ve got a giant silver maple that’s taking everything from our lawn and my hubby wants to buy fake grass. That’s definitely not the option I want.
    So, yes, please!

    Life is beautiful.


    I’m interested too. We just moved back in with my dad and his yard needs a lot of work because he can’t see to take care of it anymore. I don’t have much of a green thumb but I’m hoping to learn.


    I’m always interested! We have a lawn, but also lots of wild native tangle around the edges. Keeping invasive stuff out is our Sisyphean task.


    Yeah I have the same problem, I live in the woods wild Turkey will cut through my property. I spent thousands of dollars on landscaping with flower beds watering systems and just trashed it all, because the wild weeds in Florida are impossible. If you do not weed constantly they will overgrow everything. Spraying weedkiller just became a no because we live on well water.


    I have a green thumb but definitely want to learn more in the green community.
    I have thorny vines that try to smother everything,very,very hard to pull,don’t use poisons at all.What is a good winter garden? I have huge Oaks and they don’t like to share,roots are everywhere making it hard to grow veggies not in pots.What is a safe way to keep grasshoppers and locusts away from them?

    "Perhaps we should all be examining what we think we know."D.Stormborn
    (Wanted:safari young & baby unicorns.)


    OKAY This is long… too long, but it’s the minimum amount of info I think I can share and still get the idea across (it’s a complex thing). I can’t hope to cover it all here, I’d be typing for DAYS, but I will try to give you a nutshell breakdown of what my talk covers, and will try to answer questions beyond that! Please note that this info is all for North America, and I can only give specific advice to people in my own eco-region (western NY state) as I think it would be impossible to learn all the species in all regions, so please bear that in mind as you read. That said, the basic guiding principles here can be applied to anywhere on earth. Some of this is copied and pasted from my powerpoint, so please forgive any weird formatting or grammar.

    >Humans with a taste for development- even on small scales such as around our homes- are fundamentally altering ecosystems faster than almost any species, large or small, can adapt.
    >Every person that has a yard, no matter how small, has an ecosystem that they can manage, and it does make a difference.
    The base building blocks for animal life on land are plants and insects (for brevity, in this, I will refer to invertebrates as “insects” even though not all are). People are removing both at rates that are not sustainable to support life.
    >Plants and animals co-evolved with one another over millions of years. Many plants and animals depend on one another for survival and reproduction.
    >Insects are wildlife!! They are animals. People don’t realize this.
    >Our lawns and yards tend to be curated for aesthetic and rarely much else. Grass lawn, landscaped plants, as neat as possible. This creates areas of little value to most native wildlife (except to invasive species and species that are extremely adaptable, such as deer, geese, and others we now consider “pests”).
    >This lack of diversity and functioning ecosystem leads to a feedback loop of pests and problems.

    86% of the land in the United States is privately owned.
    86% of the land in the United States is in your (collective) hands.
    You have the power to make huge change.

    You may hear about the fires destroying the Amazon, and it is awful, but we have a very short memory as a culture. In the US, most of the old growth (virgin) forests are gone. They grew back in succession, but that ancient diversity and rich ecosystem is gone. Less than ONE percent of our tallgrass prairie is left in the USA. The prairie, an incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem that supported unknowable amounts of wildlife, has been reduced by over 170 million acres. The prairie has been shown to store more carbon than a forest! Our beautiful land is already almost completely changed from what it “should” be. But, as you read this, please remember… 86% of the land is privately owned. If everyone that owned land (even teeny tiny yards) took my message to heart, think of what could be restored!

    You might have heard the news stories about how we have lot a net of 3 billion birds in North America in the last 50 years. This doesn’t mean that 3 million birds have died over the years, it means that 3 billion fewer birds reach adulthood now, as compared to 50 years ago. This is an extremely huge red flag, even if you don’t like birds. If you do, it’s depressing! Monarch, especially the western population, are on the verge of extinction, at the rates that they are disappearing. You may have seen articles about the overall worldwide loss of insects. This stuff is all connected.

    Everything is awful! What can we do? A lot actually! We have a lot of power… in our yards and properties!
    >Reduce and replace lawn
    >Mow less (less frequently and less area)
    >Vow to forgo lawn treatments, herbicides, and fertilizers
    >Vow to forgo pest treatments outdoors
    >Worry less about control and perfection outdoors
    >Plant species native to your region

    Do them all or even just one, and they make a huge impact! So, let’s talk about them!


    The most recent figure I can find is from 2005 on this, and it’s probably much worse now, but:
    As of 2005, there were 40 MILLION acres of mowed turf grass in the USA.
    In 2005, American used approximately 2 billion gallons of gasoline just to do mowing.
    As of 2005, gas powered lawn equipment generated approximately 13 billion pounds air pollutants and 41 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (annually) Lawns displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day (WOW CHILL OUT, LAWNS?!).
    Lawns, by acreage, are the nation’s largest irrigated crop, surpassing corn, wheat, and fruit trees combined.
    Each year, American homeowners use approximately 70 million pounds of pesticides to maintain their lawns.
    It is estimated that approximately 7 million wild birds are killed each year due to the aesthetic use alone of pesticides by homeowners.
    Turf lawns and the grass seed sold for them are almost all invasive grass species, not even native to the US.
    How much lawn do you actually use? How much lawn to you really need?
    If you have a small yard, maybe you need to keep more, to play with children and pets.
    The answer is different for everyone, but surely no one needs acres of manicured grass!
    Mowed turfgrass lawns: Do not build new soil, Store little to no carbon, Have very shallow root systems, Are extremely prone to erosion during wash-outs, Do not filter water well, do almost nothing to reduce surface runoff, greatly increase flooding (especially flash flood events), Have low to no eco-diversity, and require huge time and energy sinks to maintain.
    So, what can you do about your mowed lawn?
    Analyze: How much lawn do you need? Are there areas you don’t use or can give up?
    Plan: Each lawn is different. Naturalized settings vs. perfect monoculture turf will have different approaches!
    Mow: Wait as long as possible to do the first mow in spring *(this depends on your region!)
    Mow as infrequently as possible.
    Set your mower deck as high as it can go.
    If you opt to only mow areas once a year, find out what time of year is best for your local wildlife.
    Don’t Mow: If your lawn is diverse and might contain native species, try not mowing a patch to see what comes up.
    Identify: Attempt to identify the species most common in your yard. You might be surprised what belongs (and what doesn’t).
    Replace: If your lawn doesn’t have much native, replace it as you are able with native alternatives (there are many) or with gardens. If you live in a region with poor rainfall, consider instead xeriscaping, which is planting with native species that tolerate drought, and rocky areas… no irrigation!

    Some quick facts:
    Insect populations are declining eight times faster than vertebrates
    Worldwide, insects are thought to have a decline of 2.5% or more per year
    Insect populations could be functionally wiped out in less than a century at current rates
    Data is lacking due to lack of research, decline rates are estimated (and may be higher)
    40% of insect species are threatened with short-term (immediate) extinction
    Loss of even one insect species can have dramatic impact on the food chain
    Many plants have specific insect pollinators and cannot survive without them
    Insects are vital building blocks of life, we and most other species cannot survive without them!
    In the 1980s, an estimated 4.5 million monarch butterflies overwintered along the Pacific coast.
    In 2018, scientists counted: there were 28,000. That is a 99.4% decline. We only know about this because monarchs are a well loved and studied species. Imagine what we might be losing without even knowing…
    We have approximately 164,000 species of insects in the US. For nearly half of them, we know so little about them they are currently unknown to science.
    There are only a few known to be “pest” species on our agriculture or to our bodies, 64 of which are invasive (brought here by human activity specifically).
    We wage daily war on 164,000 species here in the US with indiscriminate toxins (pesticides) for a handful of bad guys! We are, in 2019, killing insect species faster than we can describe them.

    When given a chance, natural predators of pest insects will help us control them. Often, in a damaged ecosystem (most yards are VERY damaged!), pests will experience a population “boom” before there are enough predators to control them. Homeowners freak out, and try to control the pests, and in doing so kill all insects (insecticides are mostly indiscriminate!) including helpful predatory insects or, remove food items so that things are even more out of balance. This starts the cycle over, and makes it feel as if we must continue to treat/control!
    If left alone, in time, predatory insects will increase and balance out the pests. It takes work and restoring the ecosystem… and time. (This IS a bit more tricky for invasive insects that have no natural predator!)
    There are far, far more beneficial and amazing insects than harmful ones. You don’t have to become a bug-hugger, but re-think your approach to insect life. Our ignorant treatment of the insect world (they are animals!) is causing ecological collapse. Be thoughtful in your garden and around your home, and on how you treat insects (and other invertebrates, like spiders) especially around children. Teach them “Wow” instead of “EW”! Learn as much as you can about the things that scare or “bug” you… you may find a new friend, or at least a crawly ally!

    Okay, but WHY are bugs so important? Because without them, nothing else can survive!!



    As of April 2018, 40% of the world’s bird populations are in steep decline. Some birds are generalists (crows, pigeons, gulls), but many are picky eaters. They evolved for millions of years to eat SPECIFIC bugs! And without those specific insects, things go downhill fast. Even birds that do not usually eat insects MUST raise their babies on protein, and for the majority of bird species, this means insects.
    Insect diversity depends on plant diversity… specifically the native plants they evolved with!
    Based on data collected in the backyards homeowners, researchers arrived at an explicit threshold: In areas made up of less than 70 percent native plant biomass, chickadees will not produce enough young to sustain their populations. At 70 percent or higher, the birds can thrive.
    96% of north American birds must have (a lot of) insects to survive!
    Baby birds require a diet very high in protein to survive and grow. Insects contain more protein than beef (wow?!)
    A single pair of breeding chickadees must find 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young in only 16 days (wow again?!)
    There are approximately 10 billion birds that breed in the USA alone yearly. Imagine how many insects they need!

    Not all plants support the diversity and sheer quantity of insects that birds need, though. Oak species alone support and are vital to 557 species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), and countless other insect populations. At least 100 species of non-insect wildlife rely on acorns as a food source. A single oak tree is a food factory for its entire life, which can be hundreds of years.
    Compare this to a non-native ornamental tree. Most are beautiful but did not co-evolve with native wildlife. These tend to host fewer than a handful of species, mostly “pest” insects such as aphids, scale, and mites. Some areas with large plantings of non-native ornamental trees have almost ZERO insect diversity outside of pests!

    Do you feed birds at a birdfeeder…? I do too, but consider this:
    At least 52 million (42%) US households feed wild birds! We spend $6 billion per year on bird seed, feeders, and accessories. Here in the NorthEast, we are the biggest spenders, spending on average $103/year per household. Feeding stations (with seed or nectar) support up to twenty species. Native plants (seeds, nectar, and especially insects) support literally hundreds- nearly all of our bird species! If everyone in the US spent even part of their annual seed budget on native plants, it would be a huge step in the right direction.

    Which brings us to:


    To save birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, (and ourselves)… we must save INSECTS! Our native wildlife need diverse native insects that they evolved to eat. To save a diversity of native insects, we MUST save their diverse native plant hosts!
    Many people are trying to garden for pollinators (butterflies and bees) and birds (hummingbirds and sometimes seed/berry eaters) and think: flowers, flowers, flowers. But it is way more than just flowers.. insects need their host plant. A host plant is the plant that the insect eats as a baby—not all insects eat plants but huge numbers do, as do all butterfly caterpillars. If you don’t have the right species of plant for the kids to eat, it won’t matter if you have a million flowers… the insects cannot reproduce without food for their children.
    Butterfly gardens are an important food source for adults, but we need to make sure they can also reproduce and feed their babies. For that you need host plants! Many butterflies and moths have very specific host plants. Famously, monarchs prefer milkweed species, but many other species use trees! The Tiger Swallowtail, shown here, uses wild cherry (Prunus), sweetbay (Magnolia), basswood (Tilia), tulip tree (Liriodendron), birch (Betula), ash (Fraxinus), cottonwood (Populus), mountain ash (Sorbus), and willow (Salix).
    SO, what exactly is a NATIVE PLANT?
    All indigenous, terrestrial, and aquatic plant species that evolved naturally in an ecosystem (US Forest Service) Essentially, a plant that occurs naturally in the place that it evolved. This is an important distinction! A native plant is not necessarily anything that grows wild. Many invasive species grow wild after they are introduced. Letting your yard or property “grow wild” does not necessarily mean you have native plants growing. A native plant is also not a cultivar that has been bred for specific traits, even if its parent species is native. “Naturalized” plants are plants that are not native, but have naturalized into the local ecosystem. For today, we are sticking to pure NATIVE plants.
    In short: Native plants evolved here and have been unaltered by humans.

    WHY are they SO GOOD? Native plants:
    Evolved to grow and thrive right where you live! Don’t need soil amendments; they evolved to love the conditions they grow in! Don’t need watering after they get established! When given the chance to establish, will often choke out invasive weeds! Co-evolved with our local wildlife, to provide their natural food and shelter! Co-evolved with local fungus, to create powerful living soil! Often have deep or complex roots, preventing erosion and storing carbon! Help prevent water run-off, which helps prevent flooding! Act as a natural sponge, filtering ground water and storing it for slow release! Host most of our insect life, providing food for billions of birds and bats! And… Are as beautiful and interesting as cultivated plants! In the United States, there are over 17,000 species of native vascular plants and tens of thousands of non-vascular plants (mosses, lichens, liverworts, etc). Chances are, you can find a lot of native plants appropriate for your yard, and quite beautiful, too!
    Start as big or small as your budget, time, and energy allow!
    It’s okay to start small. Any native planting you do is beneficial. You don’t have to go “all in” if your time, budget, or energy don’t allow it. Join groups designed to help give you guidance. There are native plant societies all over the USA. If you use the internet, it’s even easier to join and reach out to experienced people. Spend some time on native plant sites or catalogues. Make note about what is native to your county and what its growing requirements are. Give yourself permission to learn, and fail. All gardening is about failing your way into success! Ask questions, be excited about learning!

    Examine the site you wish to plant. Observe sun duration, soil moisture, soil type (clay, loam, sandy, gravel…).
    Using a native plant website, nursery catalogue, or guidance from a botanist, choose species suited to your location. Write down the scientific name of the desired plant(s) to be sure of identification. Common names can be confusing!
    Seek plants out locally via nurseries (can be difficult), local plant shares/garden groups (careful of species), or via mail order. Vet your mail order company to make sure they sell true native plants, grown in nurseries (not wild harvested).
    Beware of cultivars, “nativars”, neonicotinoid treatments, and mislabeling.

    Can I collect my own wild, native plants?
    This is generally discouraged for beginners. It is too easy to disturb a sensitive site or kill the plant, accidentally transport invasives, or deplete wild populations. If you try this, seek out seed heads instead of the whole plant, and only take small amounts from properly ID’d plants with a solid population.

    Beware cultivars or “nativars” if you are seeking native plants for any of the reasons we have discussed today. A cultivar is a species that has been selectively bred by humans for a specific trait. For garden plants, this is usually for better blooms or foliage. Often, these changes make them far less valuable to wildlife and pollinators or unsuitable as host plants. Some changes render them 100% useless to wildlife! You are essentially putting in a statue, at that point. Cultivars will almost always have a unique name after the latin/scientific name. For example: Purple coneflower: Echinacea purpurea Purple coneflower cultivar: Echinacea purpurea ‘Pink Double’

    Taking five or ten minutes to research the plants you want to use will save you time, money, energy, and frustration! With 17,000 species of plant native to the USA, you have quite a selection, and some plants are simply easier to get along with than others!
    If you want a neat and tidy garden, or have a small space, select species known for being “well behaved”, and easy to control the spread of via dead-heading.
    If you are fighting aggressive invasive plants in a natural setting, a native species known for aggressively spreading may out-compete the invasive plant, but might be too aggressive for a small garden.
    Note carefully if the species is native to your COUNTY. You can get free maps online at or via trusted native plant nursery websites.
    Note carefully the soil, sun, and moisture requirements.
    Note carefully if the species is known to be tidy looking (or not!) etc. How tall does it get? Will it work in your garden?


    Have you ever seen or bought one of those “Wildflower” seed packets? Seed companies market various blends of inexpensive, mostly exotic flowers that germinate easily to well-intentioned buyers.
    These mixes are almost always based on non-native species, and often have “filler” chaff… which can contain a percentage of invasive weeds!
    If you already have some or want to buy some, carefully note each species listed on the package and research it. If the species are NOT listed, avoid!
    Though inexpensive, these are almost always best to simply AVOID! They are cheap for a reason!

    Neonictinoids: One of the most common pesticides used in the USm Used by nearly all commercial growers that supply plant nurseries and box chainsm Is taken in by the plant’s vascular system, Makes entire plant toxic to invertebrates from root to flower, Cannot be washed off; is part of the living plant tissue, Spreads into new growth on treated plants, Non-discriminatory; kills all insects… good, bad, and beautiful, Nearly ubiquitous; very hard to avoid in commercially grown plants, Insects (bees, butterflies, etc.) may take several hours or days to die, making damage hard to notice
    Manufacturers of neonicotinoids indicate they will remain residual in a plant for at least a year and up to 2 years.
    There is no regulation on labeling. There is no way for you or a store employee to know if a plant has been treated unless grown from untreated locally, under control of the nursery. Even locally owned nurseries that buy their stock are likely buying treated plants. Seek out local native plant nurseries (tricky in some areas!). Buy from nurseries that have a written pesticide/Neonicotinoid Policy (“neonicotinoid free”), several exist online. Grow plants from untreated seed. Swap and trade neonicotnoid-free plants with neighbors and friends. Neonictonids CAN NOT be washed off! They are PART of the plant for at least 1 year.

    Learn to identify any plants that are doing suspiciously well. If a plant seems aggressive, be suspicious. Confirm your ID before taking action! Aggressive and noxious invasive plants should be removed if possible. Native plants and wildlife cannot adapt fast enough to aggressive and noxious invasive plants. Research any new plant you buy for your garden or yard. Some nurseries still sell known invasive species! Sadly there is very little regulation on this. It’s up to YOU!
    Some, like garlic mustard, wage chemical warfare. It is allopathic, meaning it makes the soil toxic to plant neighbors, in an effort to out-compete them. It makes the very soil toxic our native plants! Most offer little to no food value to wildlife. Most invasive plants LOVE disturbed soil. They are often the first to take root in areas where machinery has been used. Learn about proper removal for the species you are fighting. Each has methods that work, and methods that make it worse! For example, mowing some invasives actually spreads them FASTER! Make a plan. Removing invasive plants often disturbs the soil, which will just invite them or others to grow again! Be ready to re-plant immediately, if possible.


    NO! The emphasis on native plants should not make you feel guilty, or resentful.
    Keep the mowed parts of your yard that you enjoy and use.
    Mow less frequently, if you are able.
    Mow fewer areas, and see what comes up.
    Set your mower blade as high as possible.
    Keep the plants that are not harmful and plant as many beneficial native plants as you can.
    Determine if plants non-native plants are invasive. If they set viable seed or spread via runner, there is a chance they can spread beyond your garden. Use care. If they spread easily or choke out other plants easily, consider removal.
    As non-native plants reach the end of their lifespan, consider replacing them with natives.
    Thoughtful gardening: Why Am I Planting This? As you make plant selections, both native and non native, ask yourself: Exactly what species is this and what conditions does it like? Why do I want this plant? (Beauty? Landscaping? Value to wildlife? etc.) Is there a native plant that looks similar/has a similar function, and provides more value? (often: yes!) Will this spread or get out of my control? What if I move away or someone else takes care of my garden? Has this been treated?

    You don’t have to “give up” your lawn, just re-think your approach! Define what you need in your yard for your entertainment or for your kids to play. Reserve as much as you can, to create habitat for native plants, insects, and wildlife.
    (Take) Keep non-native plants that you like, if they are doing no harm.
    (take) Keep grassy lawn areas that you use for your enjoyment.
    But GIVE what you can! In small steps, or large ones, you can make a difference!


    A teaspoon of good loam may contain a billion bacteria, yards of fungal strands, several thousand protozoas and a few dozen nematodes. Even in the middle of a city!Scientists took almost 600 soil samples from across New York’s Central Park and identified more than 120,000 types of bacteria and more than 40,000 species of fungi, protozoa and arthropods. Soil is where most carbon sequestering happens on land. It is VITAL! Traditional tillage destroys fungal networks, beneficial invertebrates, and desirable soil structure. Advocates of low-impact farming say it can restore soil carbon lost by the historic conversion of forest and prairie to farmland and help to mitigate greenhouse gases. Agricultural Research Service scientist Sara F. Wright discovered a sticky coating to fungal threads named glomalin that, it turns out, is a major reservoir for carbon. We need healthy soil, it is the basis of our life on land. Anything we put into the ground… from water runoff, to pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, dumping gas on an ant hill… all of it harms the soil. Many of our native wildlife insects depend on healthy soil. Fireflies spend the first two years of their lives as grubs in the soil and on the ground!

    Honeybees are a domesticated form of livestock. They are as natural in our landscape as dairy cows. That said… There are over 4,000 species of bees native to North America!! There are approximately 450 native bee species in NY state alone! Native bees are THREE times better at pollination of human crops than honeybees! WOW! Native bees do not form hives, and do not swarm people. Most are solitary or form small colonies. Most cannot even sting you! Honeybees may out-compete native bees for food sources where food is limited or in decline. Honeybees do not/can not pollinate some of our native plant species that have evolved with native bees. Please save your native bees! They are vitally important (and so cute!). Our native bumble bees are exceptionally good pollinators of natural and cultivated crops due to their “buzz” pollination method. Bumble bees live in underground colonies (not hives), do not swarm, and very rarely sting. It’s okay to keep domestic bees, just do it for the right reasons! Make sure you are “saving the bees” by saving native bees.

    Unfortunately, some cities and towns have very tight restrictions on grass height or plantings visible from the road. I can’t change the law, but maybe you can! Petition your local council or HOA board to educate them about your goals and to make it clear that you are not just “letting your property go”, but that you have specific goals for creating habitat. It can be helpful to be “armed” with factual information and scientific studies supporting your stance. Some cities/towns allow for exceptions to ordinances if you provide them with a plan/simple diagram or map of your intended plantings. Check your local laws. If not, see if there are allowances for food gardens or medicinal plantings specifically, and consider planting natives that have a food or medicinal dual purpose. If forbidden by law or HOA, see if you can get a vote to change the rules. Most laws and rules that are challenged and changed are done at the grass-roots level!
    If you are in an apartment, you can also see if your landlord is receptive to this information. Most people do not want to cause harm, but they are just ignorant as to the harm our lawns cause! There is also a lot of societal pressure to have “neat” and “perfect” looking lawns and buildings. It can help if other tenants (if applicable) also join you in asking the landlord.


    Reduce or eliminate pesticide, herbicide, and commercial fertilizer use outdoors
    Leave the leaves and stems
    Reduce noise pollution
    Reduce light pollution
    When safe to do so, leave dead trees, snags, and logs
    Leave a few areas of soil (no mulch) if possible (depending on your ecoregion)
    Leave a “messy” winter garden when applicable

    Leave the leaves: Burning, mowing/mulching, and complete leaf removal impacts insect populations and removes your yard’s ability to recycle nutrients. If you can, leave the leaves! You can gently rake them into a pile, or into your garden beds as natural mulch. Many insects overwinter in leaf litter, including a lot of butterflies and moths! Birds and other animals also depend on foraging in this leaf litter during winter and spring.

    Leave stems and plants to overwinter: Hollow and pithy stems from garden plants are the primary nesting sites for many of our native bee species! Leave at least 1-2’ of stem to overwinter. When cleaning up in spring, leave stems whole, and add to a brush pile; don’t burn them or send them to the dump. Migrating and winter birds rely on winter seedheads on flowering plants for food. Several species of native bee use hollow plant stems to raise their young. Cutting and removing native plant material during fall clean-up removes food, shelter, and next year’s bees. When the weather warms in spring and you are tidying, consider leaving your stems in a brush pile for the bees!

    Reduce noise pollution: Every living thing is harmed by sound pollution. For example… Flowers exposed to recordings of bees released 20% more nectar within 3 minutes of “hearing” the bee! Plants responded to the sound of bees independently of the physical presence (vibrations) of bees. Results were consistent across seasons, locations, and plants kept indoors and outdoors! Some flowers shapes may help them channel acoustic waves to “hear” the bees better… Sound pollution is a universal pollutant! “Noise is causing birds to be in a situation where they’re chronically stressed . . . and that has really huge health consequences for birds and their offspring,” said Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The constant droning of loud sounds- especially engines- is environmentally new. Species haven’t had time to adapt, and are suffering from our noise. (we are, too, actually!)

    Reduce light pollution: Low levels of artificial light at night strengthen the abilities of predators control in insect food web. Predatory wasps were studied and demonstrated that they killed twice as many aphids when there was little to no night pollution. Less light pollution means more of the damaging insects, like aphids, are getting eaten by their natural predators! Natural, free pest control, and all you need to do is turn off the outdoor lights at night. Studies have also shown that artificial light confuses and significantly reduces the ability of fireflies to communicate and breed. Many nocturnal species of animal suffer from our light pollution!

    Leave dead trees and brush piles: Dead trees that pose no danger to person or property are habitat hothouses! Over 80 species of bird in North America depends on tree cavities (holes) for nest sites. Many species of mammals also depend on tree cavities for shelter and more! Dead trees are a host for numerous insect species, including some native bees that burrow. Dead trees and decaying wood/logs are an important food source for species that prey upon burrowing insects. Most native trees enrich the soil after death; releasing nutrients back via decomposition.
    Leave a little bare soil: Many bees are ground nesters! No, not just yellow jackets (wasps), but our harmless native bees! Some species need bare patches of earth to burrow into. If you have space, leave them a little!

    WHEW OKAY are you still with me? Thank you for listening. This is important stuff, and much too complex to completely cover in a forum post!

    Again, I designed my talk for my region, but this might give you a starting point…


    Mail order plant nurseries (native, neonic-free, I’ve used these and can vouch for them):
    *Prairie Moon Nursery
    *Prairie Nursery
    *These nurseries use BONAP maps, very helpful
    Toadshade Wildflower Farm
    Helpful Stuff:
    North American Native Plant Society Many guides and planting tips.
    The Biota of North America Program Information & VERY good maps of plant ranges by county!
    The Xerces Society Reputable nonprofit for invertebrate conservation. Has many free online plant to help you.
    Online Communities:
    “Pollinator Friendly Yards” on Facebook (use the “search” function to type this into facebook if you use it)
    @buildsoil on Twitter – very knowledgeable and easy to understand information about fixing your soil, making more, and being a good steward in general

    IN CONCLUSION… your yard is habitat, no matter how small, and any effort you take to make it more like it was before settlers came to North America will only benefit wildlife. Even better is if you can get a community effort going, and create a corridor… meaning connected properties with at least some resources for wildlife (in the form of native plants). Studies have shown that wildlife corridors and “pollinator pathways” connecting valuable habitat greatly increases not only biodiversity in those areas, but allows the wildlife that use them have much greater success of survival!

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    Lot of food for thought.Thank you Ms.Jennifer.

    "Perhaps we should all be examining what we think we know."D.Stormborn
    (Wanted:safari young & baby unicorns.)


    I’m very interested in this. We’ve got a giant silver maple that’s taking everything from our lawn and my hubby wants to buy fake grass. That’s definitely not the option I want.

    So, yes, please!

    Oh no! I hope you can read him some of what I wrote so he can see how important it is not to put in fake grass…

    I’m always interested! We have a lawn, but also lots of wild native tangle around the edges. Keeping invasive stuff out is our Sisyphean task.

    Mine, too. We have huge numbers of invasive species here in the east and they have been taking over for way longer than I’ve been on this earth. I spend every spring pulling literally tens of thousands of invasive plants just in my yard.

    Yeah I have the same problem, I live in the woods wild Turkey will cut through my property. I spent thousands of dollars on landscaping with flower beds watering systems and just trashed it all, because the wild weeds in Florida are impossible. If you do not weed constantly they will overgrow everything. Spraying weedkiller just became a no because we live on well water.

    So sorry for all your struggle! I am not very familiar with your region or the best approaches to establishing a native garden there, but I know my friends in FL have replaced their entire lawn with native groundcovers and it looks awesome. You can probably find a native plant society or group closer to you that would have ideal recommendations for your region!

    I have a green thumb but definitely want to learn more in the green community.

    I have thorny vines that try to smother everything,very,very hard to pull,don’t use poisons at all.What is a good winter garden? I have huge Oaks and they don’t like to share,roots are everywhere making it hard to grow veggies not in pots.What is a safe way to keep grasshoppers and locusts away from them?

    Your oaks are great! There are many, many native species that evolved with oaks and will grow nicely under them, nature does like to share, but it needs to be the right species. Imported ornamental plants and nursery cultivars often don’t share nicely with our native plants because they don’t know how to… they have millions of years of programming that we are asking them to ignore! Depending on your region there are many native plants that would surely do well and greatly increase the value of your yard to wildlife (especially the small guys, like insects and birds). Often, in a balanced yard, pest species are no longer very pest-like, because their natural predators keep them in check. One option for a veggie garden is to surround it with native plants that pests like a lot– and to plant a few extras of your favorite veggies, and set them a bit away from the rest, as sacrificial plants in a way. It can be tough if the yard is not in balance, and it can also be tough to deal with invasive insects that have no native, natural predator.

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    I also just want to leave you with this. My yard is far from perfect (lots of invasive plants we are sloooooowly getting control of, I still have to mow some of it, I have a lot of plant failures!) but even though I have only been doing the “native plant thing” in earnest for three years, the changes I’ve seen are incredibly dramatic. Please check out this view we had in our YARD of thousands and thousands of synchronous fireflies! I had never seen so many in my life.

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    That is so cool!We get a bunch here but not that many together at one time that I noticed.
    I will check out what I can partner with the Oaks.I have a heavy canopy over the house and front yard from them that is nice and I would love to “dress” them up a bit Thank you.
    And then I have this problem.😄


    "Perhaps we should all be examining what we think we know."D.Stormborn
    (Wanted:safari young & baby unicorns.)


    Ms Jennifer,do you mind if I post this on my FB page?

    "Perhaps we should all be examining what we think we know."D.Stormborn
    (Wanted:safari young & baby unicorns.)


    That is so cool!We get a bunch here but not that many together at one time that I noticed.

    I will check out what I can partner with the Oaks.I have a heavy canopy over the house and front yard from them that is nice and I would love to “dress” them up a bit Thank you.

    And then I have this problem.😄

    Yes, tick trefoil aka sticktights. It’s a native plant with some wildlife value but probably not something you want in your yard. Be sure to throw the seeds away when you pick them off you and the dog.

    The leaves are arranged in threes (it’s a legume) and there is a species with showy pink flowers that is quite pretty. I don’t know what species you have. You can either dig out the plants to remove them or cut the flowers off as soon as they fade if you happen to like the display when it is in bloom and don’t mind living with the plants.


    Indeed, tick trefoil/sticktights are one of those native plants that often doesn’t get along with us well in common spaces, and is best left to areas that people and pets don’t frequent!

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    Just the weedy ones,no pretty flowers😁 and yep,they love my clothes too.

    "Perhaps we should all be examining what we think we know."D.Stormborn
    (Wanted:safari young & baby unicorns.)

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