All the major figures leading the modern conservation movement agree that converting your yard into wildlife-friendly habitat is the most important and impactful thing you can do to turn the tide of bird and insect decline. As for how to do that, there is precious little agreement to be had. The result is analysis paralysis, and the “lawnscape” continues to dominate urban, suburban, and even rural areas.
This happened to myself and my partner. We finally own a modest home in Leavenworth, Kansas, with modest yards in front and back. Our goal is to begin planting native flora, but we were confronted with opposing recommendations on how to begin. “Kill the lawn with a single application of glyphosate” says one authority. “Suffocate it” advised another party. Heck, do we even have a lawn to begin with? Sure, there is some grass, scattered among thick patches of henbit, red deadnettle, violets, dandelions, plantain, wild….garlic?
The result is that after over a year of living here, my wife finally took the initiative to start burying a section of the yard under a layer of carboard covered in mulch. Now we wait four to six weeks….”No, it will likely take four to six months” said someone commenting on our proud social media post. Great. Next, we will hear “till once!” versus “no, don’t till at all!”
We need to stop circulating memes and sound-bite articles in the media….We want the easy fix, but it is rarely the best avenue.
I agree that one has to be patient. Nature generally operates at a snail’s pace, while we are now too eager after having flailed in the turbulent seas of “how-to” recommendations. We should know better, of course. We should learn from our previous experiences, however few.
At our previous home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where we lived in a townhouse, we had about a 5x10 “yard” in the back, a tiny patio adjacent, and a shed, with a fence enclosing all of it. We planted milkweed in hopes of attracting Monarch butterflies. It was at least three years before the plant flowered. Oh, it proliferated underground, sending up shoots all over the place, but it was at year five before we found Monarch caterpillars. Garden gratification is seldom instant.
We also put up a “bee condo,” a block of unfinished wood with holes of various diameters drilled into it. This effort did yield almost instantaneous results. Leafcutter bees and mason wasps began nesting. We also had sapygid wasps that parasitized the leafcutter bees. Neat fodder for blog posts.
Many experts now claim that bee condos are about the worst thing you can do. They attract parasites, become infested with mites and fungi, and are basically deathtraps for the very insect pollinators we are supposed to be helping. You need to replace the cardboard tubes inside the bored holes, if that is your style of bee block, or at least clean the cavities with a brush and dish soap diluted in water. I’m not sure exactly when you are supposed to do that….
Further, are we not giving bees and wasps enough credit for choosing healthy nest sites? They clean out cavities before they begin nesting anyway. Even in natural situations of old beetle borings in logs and dead, standing trees, there are always cuckoo wasps, leucospids, and others lurking, eager to parasitize the nests of other wasps, and bees. That is the way nature works.
Oh, I forgot about the dandelion controversy. Leave them, they are necessary resources for early-emerging pollinators. No, dandelion pollen and nectar has very low nutritional value. They do more harm than good. Do away with them….but, but….”No mow May!”
The bottom line is that recommendations will change based on new scientific research, and the collective experience of those gardening for wildlife. However, there is no one solution for every situation, every geographic location, every soil type, nor any other element that varies. We need to stop circulating memes and sound-bite articles in the media that claim otherwise. We most definitely need to stop the implied shaming of anyone who disagrees.
We want the easy fix. It is in our human nature, but it is rarely the best avenue. Resist the impulse to jump on the latest bandwagon, and consult your state chapter of the Native Plant Society instead. Consult the list of noxious weeds for your state and eliminate any you find. Otherwise, be “weed tolerant” and see if most of those plants volunteering themselves are actually native wildflowers. Never use pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or even fertilizers. Indeed, the soil is itself an ecosystem of microbes, and symbiotic fungi that enhance the vigor of plants.
Here at Bug Eric blog, I promise to continue sharing my own experiences, good and bad, and recommend dependable resources to further your own pursuit of biodiversity enhancement. Let me know what has worked (or not worked) for you. I will pass that along as well. Above all, please act, with whatever information you have already garnered. The inertia of inaction is the enemy of rewilding.