It is no secret that population numbers and species diversity have been dropping around the globe. Birds and insects, in particular, have drawn a lot of concern in recent years. Rightfully so, as bird populations are on track to decline roughly 29%, that's about 3 billion fewer individual birds on the planet than in 1970. Insects as well are vulnerable to decline by 40% in the coming decades, which will have catastrophic effects on our ecosystems and food systems. These declines are not exclusively in rare or threatened species but are being observed in species considered common and unthreatened for both birds and insects. The most foremost cause of decline is land-use change and deforestation, which can completely destroy a habitat or fragment it into smaller parcels that are harder for critters to utilize. And with land use change, use of harmful chemicals such as pesticides become more commonplace. Of course, there are other factors such as climate change but we will be focusing on land-use change in this blog post.
Entomologist Doug Tallamy's new book "Nature's Best Hope" details how homeowners and everyday Americans can help combat population and species decline by transforming our yards. How we can provide and nurture an oasis to invertebrates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, plants, and ourselves.
Tallamy drops some stunning facts in this article published in the Washington Post such as the amount of turfgrass in the United States. Did you know that turfgrass covers nearly 40 million acres of land, comparable to the size of New England? And that we are adding 500 new square miles a year? While some turf is nice, it provides little to no habitat and food sources for native animals.
To be clear, his work does not advocate for abolishing the lawn as we know it, but instead discusses how we can increase biodiversity by decreasing turf and increasing plantings of native trees, shrubs, and perennials. Furthermore, he does not recommend going from 0 to 100 on native plantings but slowly increasing over time in manageable chunks. One study, suggests that up to 30% of your plants can be non-native plants and still support local biodiversity. He recommends placing more formal plantings in the front of your home (to keep the neighbors happy) and experimenting with looser or more exciting designs and plants in your backyard.
There is always hope and even the little things can make positive change.
As a new homeowner I have recently started to transform sections of my yard to native plantings. Contrary to recommendation, I started at the front of my home with my hellstrip (the small strip between the sidewalk and road.) Our hellstrip was in bad shape when we moved in. It was run by introduced grasses and noxious weeds such as Knapweed. Because of the increased heat and sun this area receives, I figured it was best suited for native plants or hardscaping, so naturally I chose native plants.
I began the project in the fall of 2019 (my favorite time to plant,) planting about half of the area with native shrubs, forbs and grasses. I have continued on this spring with a goal to complete the project before the brutal heat of July. I plan to add more plants this fall as I observe how the area grows and matures. Already, I have seen more insects than last spring! Native bees (including bumblebees!), wasps, butterflies and other insects I can't name are always exploring the new plants and habitat area. Stay posted for a separate posts with photos from the hellstrip.
But! You don't have to start with a large area. You can start with a small patch or even a limited garden bed. I began my native plantings at home with small beds lining our porch. I focused on shrubs and flowers, only planting about 10 potted plants. It has been slow to mature, as it is in a shady part of the yard, but it has been a great learning experience for me to experiment with was does and doesn't work. I anticipate it becoming an asset to the chickadees that frequent this shadier, more protected portion of our yard. I'll keep you updated!
Here are some reading recommendations to get you started on the journey!
p.s. all the blue links in this post are great for further reading as well
Nature's Best Hope by Doug Tallamy
Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West
Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher
Visit these links for downloadable brochures for yourself or your customers!