Protecting Natural Ecosystems with Your Home Garden

“Nature is built from millions of specialized interactions and relationships.”
– Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.

That powerful quote from Dr. Tallamy is meant to inspire members of the National Wildlife Federation to revolutionize the way people garden and landscape to benefit wildlife and communities. Dr. Tallamy has researched how non-native plants, that have evolved elsewhere, impact food webs and biodiversity creating ecosystem-wide problems. We now know how important it is to restore and protect our natural ecosystems for survival. 

Concious Concern

As a home gardener, you can take steps to protect future ecosystems and humanity. And one step is planting native plants in your home garden.

Importance of Native Plants 

Many native animals and insects have lost food sources due to urban development and degradation. Native plants are important to ecosystems as they restore food and habitat sources for biodiversity of wildlife and environmental health. The more native plants, the healthier the insects. The healthier and wider variety of insects, the healthier and wider variety the food webs.

Plant species provide nectar, pollen & seed that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals who primarily feed upon native foliage thanks to adaptations formed over millions of years. Some insects can feed only with one specific plant. Also, some insects manage garden pests while pollinating plants which humans depend on.

Native plants are beautiful, with a variety of structures and colors, along with being hardy. They have deep roots which help to prevent erosion. Deep roots also encourage infiltration from runoff while absorbing nutrients, reducing the risk of flooding and polluting our waterways. 

According to Erika Buri, Executive Director of Olander Park, native plants, adapted to this region’s climates and soils, don’t need fertilization.  They attack native insects (pests) acting as natural pesticides, meaning they limit the use of harmful chemicals  Also, native plants require much less watering than non-native species, which allows for our precious water source to be preserved.

Native plants are not maintenance free, but do require much less care over time. Replacing a grass lawn, with shallow roots and minimal nutrients, with native plants,results in less mowing which means less carbon emissions and better air quality. According to Natural Resource Specialist Jessica Wilbarger of the Soil and Water Conservation, perennial native plants take about three years to actually establish. The plants’ energy is directed into making roots for the first couple of years, so you will not see the entire plant right away. The benefit of root mass holding onto water and preventing erosion begins in the first year. 

“If we don’t have the base of the ecosystem, we can’t have everything else.” explains Cindy Carnicom, co-founder of Poppin Up Natives. “Plants are that base.” Poppin Up Natives is a great local resource for how to start your own rain or pollinator garden. (Check them out at facebook.com/poppinupnatives)

Native plants to match soil and climate conditions

Board Member of Wild Ones, Jon Zabowski says that with any gardening, the type of plants you have depend on soil type (sand or clay), sunlight (shade, partial, direct) and water requirements. Zabowski lists other important considerations when making garden selections. What kind of pollinators or birds do you want to attract? What colors do you like? What do you want to see in bloom? How tall or short? How formal or wild? How much maintenance are you ready for? Do you want plants or seeds to start? Will this be a rain garden? Will this be a pollinator garden? Conditions are species specific. It’s important to find what are the species requirements and put them in the right place. 

Resources for the local gardener

If you want to see native gardens in person, Olander Park and several Toledo Metroparks are great places to view different styles. It’s helpful to see how heights, colors and shapes of different species work together.

-Sacred Grounds, a Garden for Wildlife program of the National Wildlife Federation,
highlights rain garden and pollinator garden designs. raingardeninitiative.org

-Learn about invasive plants with the Ohio Invasive Plants Council. oipc.info/invasive-plants-of-ohio.html

-The National Wildlife Federation hosts a native plant finder web tool. Type in your  ZIP code to find important and nutritious trees, shrubs, and native plants for our region. nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/

-Research local gardening communities. Reach out to your neighbors to build a support for this experimental process. Gardening is a great community builder, so do not feel you have to do this alone. 

-For a guide to purchasing native plants and seeds in person and online and to keep on the lookout for the upcoming 2021 plant sale events, visit wildonesoakopenings.org/native-plant-sources

-A great start to learn about our region’s land and ecosystems would be ‘Living in the Oak Openings,’ created by The Green Ribbon Initiative, a partnership of conservation groups from Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan working together to protect the beauty and biodiversity of the Oak Openings Region. oakopenings.org/landowner-guide

-Wild Ones is a national nonprofit organization with local chapters that teach people about the benefit of growing native plants. The Oak Openings Region Chapter is named to highlight the locally-threatened ecosystem Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. wildonesoakopenings.org

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