Be Greedy About Supporting Wildlife in Your Yard!
OR How to optimize the habitat value of your yard.
In his book Nature’s Best Hope Doug Tallamy explains how “greedy” he is when it comes to wanting multiple bird species to thrive on his property. He makes the point about how overwhelming it is to think about how many thousands of caterpillars would be needed for these birds to successfully breed on his 10 acres.
I feel a similar imperative to support nature as much as possible on the small .2 of an acre semi-urban part of our earth that I have any control over. To sustain a robust food web, I realize I need to have as many insects as possible completing their lifecycle in my yard. The following are the main ways I make sure every inch of my property contributes to a healthier wildlife habitat.
I ruthlessly rip out and replace non-native plants with higher value native plants. For example native lyre leaf sage is visited by butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, is a moth host plant, attracts finches to the seedheads, and is a much better choice for wildlife than its more common non-native doppelganger ajuga. A better replacement for non-native invasive liriope is native blue-eyed grass (sisyrinchium angustifolium) which attracts butterflies, beneficial native bees, pollinating flies, and has seeds that offer a food source for songbirds.
I plant natives right up to the edges of my property.
I let assertive natives including mountain mint (pycnanthemum), grass-leaved goldenrod (euthamia graminifolia), milkweed (asclepias syriaca), beggarticks (bidens alba), horsemint (monarda punctata), passionflower vine (passiflora incarnata), wild strawberry (fragaria virginiana), and frog fruit (phyla nodiflora) battle it out along the sunny low prairie fence that runs near the edge of the property line with my eco-destructive neighbors. My row of improvised southern prairie welcomes wildlife to a safe space!
The narrow strip along our driveway with our other neighbors is planted with native edging plants including blue-eyed grass (sysyrinchium angustifolium), lyre-leaf sage, fleabane (erigeron), shallow sedge (carex lurida), river oats (chasmanthium latifolium), and common rush (juncus effusus).
I've made my right of way strip a joyful tangle of native plants! It is a challenging public space that is not on my property but is my responsibility, and the perfect area for carefree natives including butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa), muhly grass (muhlenbergia capillaris), phlox, prairie coneflower (ratibida pinnata), obedient plant (physostegia virginiana), wild strawberry (fragaria virginiana), frog fruit (phyla nodiflora), goldenrod (solidago), coneflower (echinacea) and rudbeckia. I recently added a beautyberry bush and tiny redbud, crabapple, and chickasaw plum saplings that were gifted to me by fellow native plant friends.
I’ve planted the area along my front sidewalk with dense and deep-rooted sedges and grasses. In addition offering food and cover for wildlife, these plants mitigate the erosion and filter the stormwater runoff that started after my neighbors cut down most of their mature landscaping and added more impervious surfaces,
I let ambitious native plants ramble in once "dead spaces" in my yard such as under trees or in dry shade. Instead of covering these areas with mulch, stones or invasive non-native groundcovers like liriope or English ivy, I often plant wild strawberry (fragaria virginiana) which hosts 60 butterflies and moths in my zip code! (click the link to find the best host plants where you live)
I add vertical biodiversity by sneaking in native vines everywhere!
This spring I planted native vines along a new 6-foot tall backyard fence on one side of my property, including American wisteria (wisteria frutescens), native clematis (clematis virginiana), wild yam (dioscorea villosa), virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia), climbing hydrangea (decumaria barbara), passionflower (passiflora incarnata), trumpet vine (campsis radicans) and greenbriar (smilax). These vines will in varying degrees attract pollinators, host butterflies and moths, and provide cover for birds and other wildlife. I intentionally planted the most aggressive vines like the greenbriar in an area where I play whack-a-mole with my neighbor’s nasty invasive Japanese/Chinese wisteria that pops up from the other side of the fence. I have no control over their landscape choices, but my native vines will at least be able to compete and add more food and shelter options for wildlife in the same space.
I let some vines climb up my brick home, including virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia), which contrary to popular opinion does not harm the mortar.
I think crossvine (bignonia capreolata) is a perfect vine to enhance a habitat. I have it growing 30 feet up a poplar tree where its stunning display also provides cover for wildlife and nectar for pollinators, including hummingbirds. I also keep a much more diminutive crossvine pruned to cover my mailbox where it offers more wildlife value than the more traditionally used non-native clematis.
Naturescaping means rethinking why and how we landscape. We need to view every corner of our yard as an opportunity to help rebuild the ecology of our fragile ecosystem by planting native plants.
(I want to give a shout out to @smallefforts_native_nursery for an Instagram post that inspired me to write this)