Add Your Lawn to Gigantic Garden
Noisy yards have become scarce, says Jody Susler, vice president of Orange County Audubon Society, echoing concerns expressed by ecologist Doug Tallamy and others. They worry about the widespread habit of covering yards with grass and plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides that damage the nervous systems of insects and birds. Consequently, pollinators that keep plants reproducing are disappearing, and the chirping chorus is silenced. They suggest remedies, large and small.
Tallamy has launched a large remedy with small components. A University of Delaware entomology and ecology professor, he initiated Homegrown National Park (HomegrownNationalPark.org), aiming to engage people with yards in restoring biodiversity with native plants. The goal is to include 20 million acres, half the green lawns of private properties.
“We are at a critical point of losing so many species from local ecosystems that their ability to produce the oxygen, clean water, flood control, pollination, pest control, and carbon storage—the ecosystem that sustains us— will become seriously compromised,” Tallamy says on his website, asking for “small efforts by many people. Together we will create new ecological networks that will enlarge populations of plants and animals, enabling them to weather normal population fluctuations indefinitely.”
Susler advocates the idea of these “contiguous spaces to create pollinator pathways,” and explains the climate protective rationale for native plants.
“They’re lower maintenance, requiring less water because they’re adapted to local environmental conditions,” she said. “Trees store CO2 and don’t use artificial herbicides and fertilizers. They protect animals, including the pollinators.”
In contrast, she said, “Grass destroys the environment. It uses so much water, herbicides and polluting machinery,” said Susler. “It hurts children and animals. The insects are dead. People need to get over manicured lawns. Some are just grass, shrubs, trees and leaf piles.”
Meanwhile, invasive plants crowd out native plants and alter the soil, so native plants can no longer grow there. She cited Japanese stilt grass as one invader that grows densely and leaves neither space nor suitable soil for natural biodiversity that nourishes needed birds and insects.
The invaders resemble junk food.
“Asters are nutritious for birds, but knapweed, which is similar, has lots of sugar and isn’t nutritious,” said Susler. “If there are no pollinators, there’s no food.”
She encourages multi-level bird friendly gardening with native plants, such as black-eyed Susan, echinacea, orange milkweed, oak and maple trees. Beneficial insects flock to those trees—300-500 species of them, she said. Even dead trees, “snag trees” she calls them, make good bird habitats, as birds nest in them and peck and eat insects that are part of the decomposition process.
Susler has a vegetable garden, along with echinacea, black-eyed susans and sunflowers whose heads protrude from snow and provide bird perches in winter—when not knocked over by squirrels, she said.
For gardening information and more, see http://www.orangecountyaudubonsociety.org
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