How To Save The Planet: Start With Your Own Yard (Part 2)
The Little Things that Run the World
You may recall from Part I a little story about an even littler butterfly called the atala, which was unwittingly saved from extinction when landscapers began incorporating their host plant into private gardens.
It’s a sweet story and all, but you may have found yourself asking, “Why should I care about some butterfly in Florida?” It’s a fair question. I’ll pose one even more challenging: why should we care about any insects at all, particularly the ugly, bitey, or annoying ones?
Well, in the words of the great American biologist E.O. Wilson, “Insects are the little things that run the world.”
Surely those silly moths that can’t seem to figure out your porch light couldn’t possibly have an effect on the great, intelligent human race… right? You’d be surprised. The complexity and interconnectedness of the food web illustrates otherwise. We’re all connected, and every piece of nature has its place.
“Saving The Bees” has become a big catchphrase in recent years. The general public is slowly starting to understand the importance of pollinating bees to our food production. And it’s absolutely true - many bee populations are in danger, and we need to save them!
But what many don’t realize is that bees are not the only pollinators. Other flying insects like butterflies and beetles pollinate too, and larger animals like birds and bats play huge roles. (Some very important plants, like agave - ahem, tequila - and bananas are almost exclusively pollinated by bats).
But that doesn’t make non-pollinators any less important. The pollinating animals need to eat, too - and many of the bats’ and birds’ favorite foods are those pesky moths or their caterpillars, and even pain-in-the-butt mosquitos! A mama chickadee will collect 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to feed a single clutch of babies, and a bat can eat around 1,200 mosquitos in an hour.
The “Great” American Lawn
There is more lawn in the U.S. than there is land in our 29 largest national parks - combined. That’s around 45.6 million acres of lawn.
More than likely, when you look at a lawn, you think nothing of it. Lawn is so normal to our eyes that most of us think it’s natural. Think again! The concept of a lawn as we know it came about no more than a few hundred years ago, and existed as a status symbol for the elite.
Think about it: why would I go through the trouble to clear an area, plant something from across the world, and spend my precious time and money to continually re-seed, fertilize, water, aerate, trim, bag, and edge it - if not just to prove that I were wealthy enough to do so?
Of course, a lawn can provide a comfortable and visually appealing place to walk, sit, or play on. That being said, I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of 45.6 million acres is hardly enjoyed at all. Lawn has become such a default landscape that much of it serves merely to fill space and look tidy. But tidy lawn doesn’t serve wildlife.
Usage aside, boy, is lawn hard work to maintain. Grasses guzzle water. They also need lots of fertilizer to continue growing full and vibrant. This is because they need all the energy they can get to continue their mission of growing upward; a mission which we, of course, are continually working to foil.
Consider the fact that we have created an entire industry just to keep grass short. Grass, when left to grow as it’s meant to, typically grows to several feet tall.
Why pour time and money into helping a plant grow tall so we can keep spending more time and money to cut it back again? Isn’t it starting to sound a little crazy?A naturally shorter plant, or ground cover, wouldn’t need constant attention.
Lawns are sterile. This means they do almost nothing to support insects, birds, amphibians, mammals - anything. Unless you’ve got cows, almost nothing eats your lawn (if it did, you might not have to mow it so much). With our careful trimming, nothing bigger than a cricket can hide in it (and even then, it runs the risk of getting chopped up by the lawnmower). When it’s cut, grass doesn’t ever get tall enough to flower or seed, meaning we mow away the only potential benefit it’s got. Basically, grass is as good as concrete when it comes to supporting nature.
Getting Down & Dirty: How Can I Make Change?
Consider Going Grassless
Replacing lawns with micro turfs and/or clovers may not help the bugs much more than regular grass, but at least provides similar utility to us without all the mowing and fertilizing.
For lawn that’s not often used for running or playing on, consider a beautiful moss lawn, wildflower meadow, or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, just letting nature take over. Ask yourself the question, “what would this area look like if it had never been touched?” Perhaps that means planting more trees - which is always a good thing!
Ditch the Round-Up
Unfortunately, nature these days is not typically in balance. Invasive pests like the spotted lanternfly, emerald ash borer, and, yes, deer, can wreak havoc on your garden. But spraying is still not (usually) the answer! Try these easy, homegrown methods first. You can also install discreet bat houses on your own home for built-in pest control service. As for the deer, if a good fence is out of the question, I’ve had success using my dog’s fur! Even just the scent of a protective dog can help keep them off of your plants.
Natives for your needs.
Within our own front yards lies the power to make change. Here’s the catch: it only requires a little work, but from a whole lot of us! If we work together, even the smallest of spaces can link together to make massive restored habitat.