Planting for biodiversity
Cultivating a healthy and diverse oasis for all kinds of critters can be done by adding a variety of native plants to the home garden.
Insects can have a positive impact on the garden and are an important part of a healthy ecosystem. Certain plants attract certain living things and the right plants will support life in the garden throughout the year.
Take milkweed for example, Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed. It is well-known that milkweed is essential to the life of Monarch butterflies so in order to attract them to the garden or support the health of their population, plant milkweed or allow it to grow wild. A reduction in the amount of milkweed is linked to the reduced number of butterflies hibernating in Mexico.
This is one example of native plants that support the life of insects and birds that make for a healthy environment and bring joy to many gardeners. After a hard day of planting and weeding, sitting back and enjoying a visit from the birds and butterflies is one of the most rewarding garden experiences.
There is more to be considered in the garden than meets the eye. From the flower to the root, it is all part of an interconnected natural ecosystem that supports life. Each species exists in relation to another, with each one depending on the other for life.
Native plants do more to support life than others.
According to wildlife expert Doug Tallamy, a professor at University of Delaware, some non-native trees do little to support life but an oak tree can support hundreds of species of caterpillars, an essential food source for baby birds and mammals.
Flowers, trees, shrubs, grasses and groundcovers create habitat for all levels of the food chain. Ferns are a good native alternative to hostas, or to intersperse with other non-native plants.
Bugs will burrow into the hollowed out stalks of grasses, roll up in a leaf or burrow into the dirt so it is important not to clean up the garden too much in the fall. Birds will continue to eat seeds and hide them for later.
For the birds
Plant a variety of native seed- and berry-producing plants that produce food at different times of the year, and nectar sources for hummingbirds.
Attracting butterflies with native plants – Asters, Black Eyed Susan, Prairie Blazing Star, Echinacea, Ironweed.
The American painted lady or American lady is a butterfly found throughout North America. The larvae feed on various Aster family, such as the cudweeds, the pussytoes, and the everlastings, which all belong to tribe Gnaphalieae. Although it may seem like the larva is putting a strain on the plant, it will bounce right back after the caterpillars have transformed.
Frogs and toads
Toads and frogs eat a lot of bugs. One frog or toad can eat up to 10,000 pests during the garden season.
They need water to procreate and they consume water by absorbing moisture through their skin.
All species need water so having water nearby or adding a water feature nearby helps attract everything from birds to bees but be sure to keep it clean and don’t use chemicals in the water.
Soil retention and habitat
The roots of native plants grow much deeper than those of non-native plants which helps to aerate the soil and prevent erosion.
The root system also creates a complex support system for the bugs that live beneath the soil.
Nesting birds need access to a large amount of caterpillars.
In the case of certain species, thousands of caterpillars are required to feed a clutch of birds.
Plant woody trees like Oak, fruit trees, and Elm. Native trees foster more caterpillars so they are the preferred choice.
Attracting other wildlife
Leaving a pile of sticks, logs and brush will provide shelter for chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and other wildlife, which are part of a healthy natural environment. They can be home to snakes and toads and dead trees can be useful to woodpeckers, hawks and owls.
Opossums are particularly good at grooming themselves, which leads them to swallow most of the ticks that attach themselves. Based on a study conducted by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, researchers estimated opossums can kill about 5,000 ticks in one season, and everyone knows ticks have become a health threat because they spread Lyme disease.
Pictured: The American Lady Butterfly uses pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) as a host plant for its young. In general, the damage is minimal and the plant fully recovers, although there are exceptions. The flowers are magnets for pollinators such as butterflies and bees, while the plant is said to repel some insects that gardeners may consider bothersome.
If you’re looking to grow more drought-tolerant plants and you want something a little different, consider Anaphalis margaritacea. Native to every province in Canada as well as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, its unique look and tolerance for poor soil could make it the perfect choice for your garden.
– Canadian Wildlife Federation
Thank you to Creemore Horticultural Society president Judi Parker for sharing her ideas and photos as inspiration for this article.