Gardening for Wildlife

View Profile A photo of a bee mimic and ladybug next to a flower with the caption: “BLOG #BeTheChange: Gardening for Wildlife Greg McGean Network Administrator”

When we work, we contribute to society, create, innovate, and support ourselves and our families.

When we volunteer, we build social networks and strengthen our communities.

When we garden…Well, it is 2023, and we are all aware of the perils of climate crisis, ecosystem collapse and mass species’ extinction, but can we do something about it in the same productive ways as when we work and volunteer? Absolutely, if we garden for wildlife.

In the United States, by some estimates, there are 40 million acres (16 million hectares) of residential lawn. In Canada, we have over 57,000 hectares. Most of this space is never used, and in fact is a virtual wasteland. Worse yet, massive amounts of water and energy are wasted maintaining these spaces that provide no benefit beyond a dubious aesthetic.

We can do better.

By converting or “rewilding” some or all our lawns back to native plants, we can create not only aesthetically pleasing gardens, but also vital habitats for increasingly at-risk pollinators and other wildlife that are vital to our very survival.

In 2019, my wife and I embarked on our own project to convert our garden from the bland, lifeless, green carpet of grass we inherited from the previous owners of our home to the vibrant, colorful explosion of life we now enjoy year-round.

We started planting a variety of trees, shrubs, and perennials that are local to our area, and that were known to be great sources of food for local wildlife. This includes plants that are larval hosts to important pollinators like moths and butterflies. We also dug a small pond and stocked it with native pond and wetland plants. Adding some small brush piles and water features provides for the requirements of wildlife habitat, food, water, and shelter.

As the saying goes: if you build it, they will come. Even a small corner of your yard is important. Many people have even created mini habitats on apartment balconies. We have seen an amazing increase in biodiversity in our habitat in the few years since we started. In fact, we noticed the change almost immediately. The variety of visitors, and now residents never cease to bring a smile to our faces. Watching birds nesting and raising young in the bird houses, toads and frogs singing in the pond. Dragonflies and damselflies buzzing around eating the mosquitoes, making those summer evenings on the patio much more enjoyable. Bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, snakes – you name it, we have it. Not forgetting the all-important pollinators. We have a seemingly infinite variety of native bees, wasps, moths, and butterflies, all busily working away day and night. A note: they are all very polite guests as well. When you provide native wildflowers and other plants, pollinators won’t be interested in you or your dinner.

We talked about some do’s for native gardening, and now for a few don’ts. Avoid the use of pesticides, insecticides, bug zappers, and the like. When possible, switch to an electric mower for the parts of yard you must keep shorter, and skip using leaf blowers altogether. In the fall, leave the leaves! They are vital overwintering space for pollinators. In the spring, wait until there have been a few consecutive weeks of temperatures above 10°C to rake (not blow) the leaves. Collect them in a compost pile and they will make great food for your trees and shrubs. Leaves can be left as mulch around trees and shrubs, and in flower beds. It supports insect life and birds will root around to feed. Dried perennial stems should also be left over winter, bees’ nest in the stems and the seed heads feed the birds. Consider turning off outdoor lights at night. Light pollution at night is highly disruptive to nighttime pollinators and negatively affects patterns of migrating birds. Switch to motion-activated lights instead.

Please enjoy some pictures and video clips from our habitat.

I would highly recommend the following books: Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope by Prof. Douglas W. Tallamy, The Humane Gardener by Nancy Lawson, Pollinators of Native Plants by Heather Holm, and A New Garden Ethic by Benjamin Vogt. There are also numerous helpful resources on the web and Facebook dedicated to planting with native plants and gardening for wildlife.

At RVA, we believe that climate action not only relies on what our organization does, but on the individual choices we make each and every day. Our #BeTheChange stories seek to inform, challenge, and inspire people to learn about the impacts of climate change, and empower them to take make responsible choices at home and at work. By increasing climate literacy and promoting a culture of sustainability within our firm and beyond, we can help drive collective action at the scale required to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon future.