Go Wild: Suburban Garden Restoration

Why not just let nature do its thing? Over time agriculture, urbanization, as well as the introduction of exotic and invasive species have impacted the land. Quite frankly, we  have man-handled mother Earth and the environment is no longer in its “natural” state, “letting it be” is not an option. The non-native plants we’ve introduced into our gardens compete with the natives depriving them of space and nutrients. These alien species have altered ecosystem in such an invasive manner that their hostile takeover has given rise to temporary or permanent changes to the biological environment.

Change is difficult for all living things. Change requires adaptation to a new way of living. When lives are interconnected to one another, change can be difficult or even impossible. All living things are connected in the food web of life. Entomologists and wildlife ecologists suggest that a change in the available food sources within an ecosystem cascades down the food chain creating an environment that no longer supports some native species. Without a healthy, diverse, native species, loss and resource endangerment will continue.

photo by Paul Geiselhart

Native Sustenance photo by Paul Geiselhart

At the hub of the food web are plants. They are vital to the continued existence of most other creatures on Earth. Plants provide most of the oxygen living things breathe as well as the food they eat. Plants transform the sun’s energy, through the process of photosynthesis, into food for the plant’s consumers. Some consumers, especially native insects, have not evolved to eat, pollinate, or reproduce using the alien plants of their altered habitat.

Birds and many other native creatures rely, indirectly or directly, on native plant species for food and shelter. The fate of the higher level wildlife in the habitat’s food web is dependent on the native insect population. Habitat destruction and species loss have a direct and undeniable correlation. As landowners and gardeners, we can make a substantial contribution toward restoring ecological balance if we design our landscapes to accommodate native plants and animals.

Heron's Catch photo by Jim Schuler

Restoring balance to the habitat requires that  we remove the invasive plant species from our site, so that as we reconstruct the plant community the native plants are afforded the greatest opportunity to thrive. Eradication of invasives can be accomplished by mowing, smothering, tilling, burning, or herbicide application. Unencumbered germination and seedling development of local ecotype seeds is required to reestablish the health and biodiversity of an ecosystem.

Local ecotype native plants not only provide a food source for animals they also use their extensive root system as a natural filter to purify one of Earth’s vanishing resources, water. Whether from a creek, rain runoff, or groundwater, water needs to be conserved and protected. Restoration efforts made by residents, businesses, and the public sector to prevent sediment and rain runoff has been shown to reduce area erosion, flooding, and improves water quality. Reduction of impervious surfaces and lawn size are two ways to minimize flooding and its negative impact on the riparian community.

Native plants restore balance to the ecosystem and add beauty to the land. Native host plants also improve the food and habitat resource base needed support native wildlife. Gardens composed of natives plants conserve water and protect the soil from erosion as well as exposure to herbicides and fertilizers. The benefits of landscaping with native plants or naturescaping are many and the disadvantages few. Most importantly, naturescaping gives suburban gardeners the opportunity to “go wild” in their effort to sustain the local ecosystems.

Recommended reading:

Tallamy, Douglas A. Bringing Nature Home: how native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens. Oregon: Timber Press, Inc. 2007, Print.

Wasowski, Sally. Gardening with Prairie Plants: how to create beautiful native landscapes. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. 2002, Print.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s not related specifically to prairies, but the second half of the book “1492” is an interesting and thought-provoking challenge to the idea of “pristine wilderness”. Humans have been around for thousands of years and have been transforming the natural world from very early on. When we think of human effects on the environment, we often have pictures of asian carp, “Silent Spring” and other profoundly negative ways we have manhandled the world. However, prairie burns and the great forests of New England are beautiful examples of human’s effect on the natural world. Like all things, it’s about striking a balance. Definitely take a look at the book and other articles by the author , Charles C. Mann (there was one in a recent National Geographic).

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