Our landscape choices

While small parcels of Long Island are still natural, a lot more of it is developed into subdivisions with manicured lawns and tidy, neat yards. These manicured lawns need to be watered regularly and are often treated with pesticides, weedkillers and fertilizers to keep them looking their best. But at what cost? The chemicals we spray on our weeds and the insecticides we use on our plants and grass end up in our waterways and drinking water and are really BAD for our environment. 

The problem lies not only in our our quest to have the perfect lawn, but also in the plants we choose. Plants purchased from big box stores are often treated with bee killing pesticides (see Neonicotinoids) and hold little, if any, nectar for pollinators (think Knockout Roses). Many bushes and plants used in local landscaping are not native and sometimes invasive (as in the case of Purple Loosestrife and Japanese Barberry). If you have a flowering plant and there are no bees or birds using it, something is wrong.

Without realizing it, we have created a barren monoculture of plants and grass that can't sustain important native and necessary lifeforms. This is a huge problem. Why not change the way we garden to bring the bees back, provide nature a boost with earth friendly solutions, and learn about native plants and "weeds" that are necessary for beneficial birds and insects? Here's what I suggest doing to help pollinators and local wildlife…

Give pesticides, weedkillers, and fertilizers the boot. Let Robins and other insect eating birds and animals be the natural pest control in your garden. It's a win for nature and a win for us.

Ask these questions when purchasing plants - have they been treated with pesticides? Are they hybridized? Are they native to this area? I include a link to invasive plants so you know what not to buy.

Keep some natural areas in your yard. Collect or buy some jewelweed seeds and sprinkle them in moist, shady areas. Jewelweed is a native, fall flowering plant that is crucial to Ruby-throats in their 2,000 plus mile southbound migration. Yet by manicuring our curbside areas, we rip it out and mulch over it, then replant with useless vegetation, or leave wood chips so nothing else can grow. Let's stop this silly practice.

Leave spent flowers standing in fall, like Echinacea, Bee Balm, and Black-eyed Susans, they will provide seeds for birds in winter. 

Wait until leaves have fallen in late fall/winter to cut down and trim bushes and trees so you don't disturb nests or fledglings. Instead of raking or blowing leaves and putting them into bags, spread them over your garden beds in fall. They will help protect tender plants and provide a home for all kinds of beneficial critters while creating excellent mulch at the same time.

To learn more, Bringing Nature Home is a very good book by Dr. Doug Tallamy, Professor & Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. It includes excellent information and advice. And check out this link from Audubon on making your yard bird and wildlife friendly. When you are all finished with your new hummingbird and wildlife habitat, you can certify it and display a sign proudly by the National Wildlife Service. Click here to certify your garden today! 

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