5 Steps for an Eco-Friendly Backyard
Every year at this time when I'm watching the snow melt, I can't stop thinking about garden ideas for the backyard. Our backyard is about a quarter acre and a total blank slate. It has a few trees and a fire pit but no gardens. Last summer was our first spring in the house but we didn't get a chance to do much work back there due to other house projects. We put up lattice work under the porch (to block the dog from getting underneath) and emphasized the fire pit with some crushed stone around it but that's been it.
Now (finally!) I have been planning some gardening and landscaping changes to the backyard. Growing up my mom always had big, beautiful gardens. I have such wonderful memories chasing around butterflies and watching all the birds. I have been doing the planning based on key factors which all connect to each other:
- Planting native species
- Attracting bees, butterflies, insects, birds, etc
- Mostly perennials
- Sustainable management (ie. no pesticides or unnecessary sprinklers)
My goal is to create a backyard that my family can enjoy not just for the beauty, but for supporting ecosystems that are struggling. Planting native species is crucial to create a habitat for those creatures in your area. Every creature is connected from large to small. Native insects feed off of native plants, not foreign plants. Without native plants, there is no insect food and without insects there is no food for birds and larger creatures. The native plants are the basis for life.
Native plants aren't only important for the food chain, but since they are adapted to your location already they require less water and attention.
In addition to the positive practices I want to develop, there are many practices that can instead hurt the environment you're trying to build. The use of fertilizer and pesticides can kill any chance of developing a habitat in your backyard.
Let's focus on how to create a healthy, harmonious ecosystem in your backyard to provide happiness for years to come.
Attract the "Good Guys" to fend off the "Bad Guys"
The main reason chemicals are used in gardens and yards to begin with is to fight off damaging insects. But not ALL garden dwelling creatures are bad. In fact, some act as natural predators to the bad ones.
For snails and slugs that eat away and damage your garden, birds act as an excellent protector. To attract more birds, install bird feeders, baths, and nesting boxes so birds can make a home and fend off the bad guys.
Harmful bugs such as the potato beetle and aphids can singlehandedly destroy all the work you've put into your garden. They can stunt plant growth and spread plant diseases. Ladybugs and lace wigs eat these bugs and are not harmful to your backyard. Ladybugs love sunflowers and marigolds, so consider planting a border of these to attract them.
Use Rain Barrels
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 40% of water usage in the summer months is for landscaping and gardening uses. Using a rain barrel to divert rain water can save up to 1,300 gallons of water!
A rain barrel attaches to your gutter for water runoff and has a hose you can use to water your plants. Especially in drought prone areas, water conservation is crucial.
There are many attractive options out there to blend in or add beauty to your garden.
Keep Your Grass Long
Grass is notorious for its water guzzling needs. To cut down on water consumption, don't cut more than a third of the blade when you mow and leave those clippings on the lawn. Clippings are a natural source of moisture and nitrogen and and quick easy way to dispel nutrients back into the yard.
Ground Cover Instead of Grass
Because of the water needs of grass, try a different ground cover in other areas. Grass can be difficult to stay thick, green, and healthy (which is why fertilizers are so prevalent). Moss is fantastic for shady areas and stays green and moist during the heat of the summer.
Many grasses seen in yards are also not native to the area, which adds to why it can be difficult to keep hydrated and green. Regardless of the ground cover you choose, find one that is native to your area.
Choose Plants to Attract Bees
One of the biggest environmental issues occurring worldwide is the rapid decline in the bee population. In the US alone, 40% of the bee population has declined since just 2006. Bees are absolutely crucial to the world's food supply. Manual pollination is time consuming and expensive so bees are the only true option. To reverse this decline, it is imperative to work on stopping pesticide use and promoting ecological farming.
To do your part in saving the bees, plan your garden around what attracts them. Some flowers that bees love are bee balm, black eyed susans, and butterfly bushes. Here is a wonderful compilation for more details.
If you are interested in how else you can help, read more here.