Mission Statement

Bearing Witness to Local Natural History-- from the wildness of Indiana

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gardeners Can Change the World! Ecosystem Gardening!

Don't Mow! Grow! I have done much reading about gardening with native plants and ecosystem gardening. This past spring was the beginning of my serious attempt to make a difference with one of my yards. Even though I live in "the country" (for now--as urban sprawl continues this direction), my goal was to change my monoculture of grass-- my lawn into habitat. Less lawn means less mowing, less money, less pollution, and more biodiversity and beauty!

Tilling of East Yard-Preparing Ground

There is a great deal of info on the internet and I will share some really helpful sites at the end, but let's talk about some background.
Gardeners can make a difference in a time when natural acreage is shrinking. We continue to have more people, more parking lots, strip malls, roads, etc. and less natural land and less biodiversity. Habitat that does exist is highly fragmented. Wildlife need food, shelter, and nest sites. Enter the gardener who can make a difference for wildlife by planting native plants, trees, and shrubs-- practicing what is known as ecosystem gardening.

A book I highly recommend is Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy. This book is an easy read about the reasons why you should create native plantings. Tallamy, a professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, states that the success of our plants/gardens will determine the diversity and numbers of wildlife that survive. Gardeners are who decide what plants they will grow on their properties and therefore the responsibility of our nation's biodiversity lies with us--the landowner/gardener.

Ground Tilled--Seed Bank was released. I do not use herbicides or fertilizers

Biodiversity runs the ecosystem on which we depend. The more diverse our ecosystems are, the more services they provide us. Services they provide us include watershed protection, oxygen, carbon dioxide sequestration, water purification, soil building and stabilization, pollination services, garbage recycling, moderation of weather systems, etc. 
Human population continues to increase which means we need even more ecosystem services but as we kill off our biodiversity, we get fewer and fewer ecosystem services from them. Tallamy states, "Because 54% of the U.S. is now in a matrix of cities, suburbs, or fragmented habitat too small to sustain wildlife, and 41% is in agriculture, biodiversity will have to survive in those areas if it is to survive at all."

Plants beginning to flourish-- Prince's Feather growing profusely!

Insects are the most important group of animals that transfer energy captured by plants to other animals. A food web soon collapses if insects are removed. Why? Because so many animals depend on them for food. According to Tallamy, "For example, 96% of all terrestrial birds rear their young on insects. No insects. No baby birds."

Then there is the problem of introduced or invasive plants-- plants that evolved from outside of the United States but are planted here and often overrun the natives . Our native insects (90%) that eat plants require native plants to complete their development. These insects have a co-evolved with these plants. They have not been exposed to plants from Asia or Europe for a long enough period to develop adaptations necessary to use them for host plants. Tallamy says, "Every time we plant an introduced plant, we are reducing the local insect population and thus depriving the birds and wildlife of the food they need to survive and reproduce.

Plants peaking. The smaller in height plants are not visible.

So I am very pleased with my plot of native plants. I hired a local man to till 90% of my east yard. I knew this would disturb the seed bank of plants lying dormant in the soil and I would grow many plants that were not what I preferred but was content to see what would grow. I do not use herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. I refuse to put these chemicals into the ecosystem regardless of "safe claims". I want a natural area so natural it will be. 

I bought wildflower seed mixes from Prairie Moon Nursery and after the tilling, I hand  broadcasted the seed mixes. I also planted Sunflowers to add additional bloom and food for birds and pollinators. A few of the species in the PDQ Mix were Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Black-eyed Susan, Purple Prairie Clover, and Yellow Coneflower. Early Summer: Foxglove Beardtongue, Early Sunflower Side Oats Grama, and Little Bluestem. Fall: Showy Goldenrod, Sky Blue Aster and Little Bluestem Grass. I also tried planting Common Milkweed-- a great plant for Monarch Butterflies! 

I allow the field behind my house to grow wild. I keep it mowed every 2-3 years to stop the process of succession-- the growth of woody plants (although it is a battle with Locust tree saplings). The most common plants that grow in my field are Goldenrod, Ironweed, and Common Milkweed. All are great prairie plantings for your garden or property as these support many wildlife species.
Did you know that the best plant for Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) is Goldenrod?
Goldenrod (Solidago), supports 115 species of butterflies and moths! Plant use by butterflies and moths is correlated with high usage by other insects and wildlife as well.

Goldenrod growing in late summer in my field

 Besides all the benefits I have discussed in this blog post, the other benefits for me are the stunning beauty on my property, the knowledge that I am making a difference, the increased biodiversity, less time and money spent mowing lawn that supports virtually nothing, interesting dramas that occur every day with the bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, katydids, anglewings, pollinating flies, songbirds, frogs, toads, mammals, caterpillars, etc. using my prairie area for cover, shelter, food, nesting, and life cycle completion. And lastly, it is a prolific source for my nature photography!

Cope's Gray Treefrog Resting Inside a Leaf of a Plant

Pollinators at Work on Sunflower-- Laden with Pollen!

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Early Morning in the Native Garden

Male American Goldfinch Feeding on Sunflower

Beauty in my Prairie

Bee To Partridge Pea
I hope the information provided will help you rethink the way you garden or landscape your yard. My native plant plot required very little work. The only time I weeded was when I noticed Ragweed growing and I pulled it. I also know many of the plants people consider "weeds" are some of the best plants. Remember--weeds are simply plants growing where someone does not want them.

Start small. Perhaps do a small flower bed. Instead of designing where you will develop flowerbeds in your large lawn, design where you need lawn for walking areas and place the rest in native plants, trees, and/or shrubs.
We are in late summer with autumn approaching. This is a great time to begin to prepare the areas for planting. Be sure and check out the "How to Grow a Prairie From Seed" below for details on how to prepare & plant your ground. I plan to place more lawn into native plantings. I have shady areas that I can tackle next in the front of the house and more sun/shade area in the west yard. Be the change you wish to see and start planning! Let Nature take over while you sit back and enjoy the biodiversity!

Helpful Links: (These are tremendous resources!)

Top 10 Herbaceous Plants to Attract Wildlife to Your Ecosystem Garden

Top 10 Woody Plants in Ecosystem Gardening

How To Grow a Prairie From Seed *

Beautiful Wildlife Garden
Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens  

Wild Ones

Doug Tallamy: Plant Native

Doug Tallamy: Ecosystem Gardening Hero

Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS)

Midwest Invasive Plant Network 

Prairie Moon Nursery (Great Interactive Guide to Proper Selection of Plants & Seed/Plant Source)

Cardno JFNew: (Seed Source & a Great Interactive Guide for selecting appropriate plants for your site)

Go Botany: ID Key for Plants


Unknown said...

This is a wonderful post, Joni.
Lots of information and resources.
We have done a bit of this where we live, but not to this extent.

Carole Sevilla Brown said...

Wow! Thanks for the link love :)
Don't know why I'm just getting notified about them, but I just shared this post from my Ecosystem Gardening Facebook page. Great stuff here.

Joni James said...

Carole Sevilla Brown--glad to provide links and thanks for reading my blog. I love what you do and enjoy all the info that comes from your blog(s)! I need to get back to posting on my blog. Can't wait for spring!