Ideas on Fostering Nature in Your/Our Area

Thought I would start a thread as a catchment for ideas and thoughts on encouraging and promoting nature in our backyards*. When I say backyard I mean it in a broad sense realizing that not everyone has a private backyard and more in the sense of the area close to where one lives.

Within this broad catchment of ideas I am hoping ideas are shared that might include but are not limited to stewardship, naturescaping, educating, learning, mentoring, leading, introducing, removing, patronage, and best practices.

Welcome are any tips, trick, shortcut, skill, modification, or novelty method that remedies shortcomings of, aids in, or increases all things to do with fostering nature in your/our [area]. MacGyver, Duct Tape, mnemonics, and etc. approaches are welcome. Including things that are literally in your backyard.

I am also keen on views across the globe and how things are done, there, in someone else’s [area]. Google Translate works for me if it is another language.

  • [Realizing now (3 days later) that “backyard” might remain confusing, I am substituting in the word “area” instead, not to exclude “backyard” , but to be more inclusive. I am also very much aware that some live apartments, suites, condos, etc. with no access to changeable personal outside space - therefore area seems to be a better fit.]
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Plant native plants!
Each plant species produces different chemicals to prevent things from eating it, and only insects that evolved alongside the plant know how to deal with them (like Monarchs and milkweeds). As a result you can end up with like 500 species of moth that feed on native oaks in North America and barely any (usually also introduced) species that can live on an introduced plant. Moth caterpillars are a major food source for tons of bird species, and most likely a tree that supports lots of moths also supports lots of other insect groups.

If you live in the US here is a website that will tell you what native plants support the most species in your area: https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/Plants
In the eastern US it’s generally goldenrods for small plants and oaks, cherries, and willows for trees.

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I would also encourage people to plant native species that are known-native to your locality (for the US, such as known reported in your county), using online range maps. I’ve been burned in the past by being told to plant something that was “native”, when it was native to my country- but actual range >1000 km away from my house.

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Locally written Ethical Guidelines for the Collection and Use of Native Plants
But general concepts would appear to be valid elsewhere.

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I hasten to add that the “introduced spp are inedible to bugs” idea, while often true for oligophagous toxin-resisting arthropods, is not applicable for many less well-defended plants and toxin-vulnerable generalist grazers. Non-synanthropic forest floor tenebrionids like Nyctoporis will happily eat apples and lettuce, but they are rare in gardens because they usually cannot fly (the sheer quantities of concrete prevent them from migrating out of forests) and because gardens are often lacking the large quantities of leaflitter and rotted wood they need for long-term population sustenance. Nevertheless, lawns and many street trees are quite unpalatable to many non-synanthropic insects, and fieldfuls of introduced weeds tend to make poor habitat even if highly edible and prevented from invading more natural ecosystems (some local syrphids do occasionally visit such weeds’ flowers though).

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Definitely plant native plants. From as close to home as possible. If you live in California there is a tool from the California Native Plant Society called Calscape. It shows you a bunch of the species that are native to your zip code.

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One approach is to focus on the basics: food, cover and water. How those are provided can be tailored to meet the needs of the species you’re interested in attracting to your yard or area, or to provide what is lacking in your yard/area, such as available water, winter cover provided by evergreen shrubs and trees, berry or other fruit producing plants, native plants for pollinators, etc.

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People always say native plants are insect resistant, but I don’t think they are resistant to non-native bugs. The only native plant in my large collection of patio potted plants has both scale and whiteflies.

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There are some really successful programs here in Oz for raising awareness of wildlife etc in people’s backyards which can then help lead to fostering nature.
These include
Birds in Backyards
Wild Pollinator Count which has recently set up an iNaturalist Aus project

Another getting some great traction in Victoria (Aus) is Gardens for Wildlife

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plant native plants, but also think of restoring or creating wetland-like habitats. Of course not everyone has a wetland to restore, but you can do a lot with a little rain garden or even small pots in water. Keeping mosquitos out is not hard. You will get tons of biodiversity plus help with water quality and reduce flooding too.
If you don’t have any land you own or can adopt, there may be nearby places you can volunteer and ‘adopt’ a little piece of habitat that needs tending.

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@arboretum_amy Certain polyphagous pest hemipterans and lepidopterans seem capable of detoxifying nearly anything that is an angiosperm - I have even seen Homalodisca vitripennis breeding on “lucky bamboo”!

honestly, i think the idea of fostering nature in your backyard is a little oxymoronic. really, i think in most cases, if you really want to foster nature, you need to have little to no backyard. pack the people as densely as you can, and leave more space for nature.

if you must have a backyard, and it’s not a giant space, then i think the key for fostering nature in that space – which i think most people think of as fostering natural diversity – is just to create as many microenvironments as you can with as little effort/maintenance as possible – have a sunny spot there, a shady spot here, a nice tree or vertical element there, a nice leaf or stick pile here, a some bare sand there, some water here, some rich soil there, etc. then leave it alone mostly, except to just observe. maintain as little as possible. let nature do its thing.

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While I don’t have any property of my own, I do know that large tracts of wetlands were drained/destroyed during the big waves of immigration to and settlement in Israel (then British Mandate Palestine) in the late 1800s to mid 1900s. I don’t know if there are any plans to restore them, in fact, I don’t even know where they used to be! But now I’m curious to find out.

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  • Don’t rake or mulch your leaf litter.
    At least, don’t do it until spring. There’s some amazing biodiversity overwintering and otherwise living in your leaf litter. That leaf litter is much warmer than the air above it because of the decomposition happening. Salamanders, nematodes, centipedes, moth pupae…a lot of things rely on it. We live in woods and have a small yard in front of the house full of native meadow plants. In spring, we move the leaves to the edge of the yard. The meadow plants that can’t grow in our neighbors’ lawns have a place to grow, the animals living in the litter aren’t killed by a mulcher, and when it composts enough, we’ll move it back to the lawn as fertilizer.

  • Echoing the need to plant native plants.
    A wide variety of them. The more microhabitats you can create, the more biodiversity you’ll support. And don’t deadhead your native wildflowers. Those seeds will make new plants or feed animals.

  • Remove the invasives.
    Not just plants—animals too. Some non-natives are okay so long as they aren’t invasive, but they aren’t going to contribute to your ecosystem anywhere near as much as natives will. And yes, this 100% means getting rid of your lawn if you have one and are willing. Lawns are terrible wastelands as far as ecosystem health is concerned. Be prepared for a lot of surprises about the invasive nature of certain widespread invertebrates you always assumed belonged there. Like freaking Lumbricus terrestris, the Common Earthworm…

  • Leave the natives already there.
    There are going to be certain species you just prefer not to have because you consider them pests or have an aversion to them. You’ll just have to use your judgement about their contribution to the ecosystem vs your own desire not to have them around.

  • Leave dead and dying trees
    Woodpeckers and many other cavity nesters rely on standing deadwood for breeding and foraging. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker went extinct because we took away their standing dead trees. If there’s a problem tree that might hit your house or something, it’s okay to remove it. To decrease your impact, you can put its parts off to the side somewhere so there are rotting logs and brush piles that feed and house other animals. Do make sure it didn’t die/isn’t dying because of an invasive disease or pest, though. You’ll want to handle those differently.

  • If you have a cat or dog, don’t let it outside unsupervised.
    The negative impacts cats have on ecosystems are intense and well-documented. Dogs aren’t studied near as much, but if your pooch is constantly chasing squirrels, those squirrels are wasting precious energy running and being stressed all the time, and not getting to forage as much as they need to.

  • Just because you have native plants doesn’t mean your ecosystem is healthy.
    If you live in an area with a lot of deer, you might notice a distinct lack of understory in your woods. Or that it’s all made up of just a couple species they don’t like to eat (like paw-paw and spicebush). Do some research into what your ecosystem would have looked like when they had apex predators controlling their population and influencing their behavior. Plant things they love to eat and protect them with deer fences and such until they’re big enough to survive being browsed.

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I think I’m going to do some “guerilla restoration” in my neck of the woods. There’s a lot across the street where someone started to build and then stopped just after digging a giant hole. I’m going to try to plant things to outcompete the invasives.

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Does anyone have any resources to find out what can be planted over the leach field? Thanks.

Perennials, grasses, and non-woody groundcover plants that are shallow-rooted. I recommend finding out if there’s a native plant group active in your area who could help you learn which local species fit the bill.

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Just about anything in my experience … never had a problem.

They say - build it and they will come
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27861584

  1. Be aware of plans to build over nature. Cape Town has a HUGE building project planned over a wetland, where neighbouring suburbs can be flooded (and that is before the mammoth construction). With an artist’s impression kindly labelled eco-corridor - across a mown lawn!!
    A road planned along a wetland where protected leopard toads breed.
    Plans to build over farmland which is a recharge area for the aquifer.
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  Don't use biocides.  Learn to tolerate "pests."
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