As you plan a garden for the spring, you may not be thinking much about its biodiversity. You should. Biologists explain biodiversity as the variety of species living on earth. For a garden, it means incorporating native plant species. It may not seem like a huge deal, but it’s a decision that matters to all of us.
The effect of biodiversity
Without biodiversity, we can lose species of trees and plants. With them go pollinators that ensure fresh produce, birds that perform natural pest control and animals who spread seeds.
Here’s some things that biodiversity does. It ensures enough trees to release oxygen that replenishes and cleanses the air. Biodiversity provides food for pollinators, like bees and butterflies, which turn apple and pear blossoms into fruit. Biodiversity means having enough kinds of birds to eat insects so crops aren’t overrun. Biodiversity ensures we have enough animals, like squirrels, deer and mice, distributing seeds to grow new forests.
The consequences of losing biodiversity
The U.S. is losing a large part of its biodiversity. The primary reason is the increase in population and the growth of suburban environments relatively close to cities. Areas with lots of people fragment the habitat and change the ecology of areas.
For every new suburban development, trees are cut down. Soil that once held grass, plants and marshes is covered with housing. Streams may be polluted with chemicals or soil runoff. Fish and air quality can be affected, too. Water is used by the gallon to keep grass green and gardens watered, even in areas threatened by drought.
An increasing population affects biodiversity. Suburban development means loss of habitat to every animal who ever lived in the woods, fields or wetlands paved under.
Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to biodiversity across the world. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of species across the world have become extinct due to loss of habitat.
It isn’t only loss of habitat that’s at issue, though. People have decreased biodiversity due to cultural reasons, as well. Lawns and gardens have styles. Green grass, perhaps the plant most identified with the American lawn, is not native to many areas in the U.S. Many suburban lawns and gardens are dotted with popular non-native plants, like roses or flowering shrubs. Despite their beauty, they can cause diversity problems.
If plants aren’t native, it means the surrounding wildlife may not be able to eat them, which can endanger the animal life. It also endangers the wildlife’s function in the ecosystem. Butterflies, for example, pollinate. But not every butterfly can pollinate every plant.
If gardens don’t contain plants they can pollinate, they are unable to contribute to food production. Since part of the process of pollination is food for them, they may also die. Biodiversity in a garden helps ensure biodiversity on the planet.
Ways to bring biodiversity back
But if human actions took some biodiversity away, here’s the good news. Human actions can bring biodiversity back. If you have a yard and garden, you’re the proprietor of an important piece of land that could be habitats for various wildlife. There are three important things you can do to promote biodiversity in your garden.
- Feature native plants in your garden
The importance of native plants in any garden can’t be stressed enough as a method for fostering biodiversity. They also help control soil erosion. In many ways, it’s a bedrock of every other biodiverse action. Native wildlife — animals, insects and birds — will begin to flourish once native plants do. If you’re planning a major landscaping project, double down on preventing soil erosion by hydroseeding your lawn. It doesn’t require much work and will have your lawn looking great in no time. By reintroducing native grasses and plants back into your yard, you’re helping the environment thrive.
Do you have a flowering cherry tree and aren’t sure whether it’s native? Do you have a spot for a bush and want to choose one native to your region? Look here for a handy guide to native plants in your area.
- Promote the natural growth of grasses and plants
Specifically choosing plants for your garden is not the only activity involved in putting a yard together, of course. Your lawn and trees are also part of the picture.
Foster biodiversity by designing a yard that promotes the natural growth of grasses and plants. A green, manicured lawn is not the only way a lawn can go. Try grasses that would have grown had your house never been built.
Don’t like the look of a wild field? Plant part of it in native grasses, edged with flowering native plants. Plus, if your lawn sprouts clover or dandelions, go with the flow. They have their own prettiness, and there’s no need to use chemical-based herbicides to remove them. They are part of natural growth.
- Conserve water
One great thing about native plants and grasses is that they will flourish without requiring more water than your climate is likely to have. And water conservation is crucial to the environment’s health. If you are trying to grow roses in an arid climate, you must use more water than the climate produces. If you live in a temperate climate with adequate rainfall, watering can be kept to a minimum.
Another method of conserving water is to design a garden with stone or woodchip walkways and paths. They will reduce the size of your garden, so any watering you have to do takes place over a smaller space.
You have a potential habitat full of biodiversity waiting for you in your yard. Follow these steps to help your region become more biodiverse.
This is a guest post written by Megan Ray Nichols.