PUTNAM COUNTY, N.Y. -- The wildlife activity, or lack of it, in our yards can tell us a lot about the ecological health of our landscapes. Take a look right now. Do you have an abundance of birds finding the late winter foods they need, like the persistent fruits of Eastern Redcedar, Winterberry, Northern Bayberry, etc?
Have you spotted any returning migrating birds? What natural foods do you have for them to eat? Have you left any leaf litter in place for those migrating birds to search for an insect meal? Are your perennials and grasses still offering seeds to hungry birds? Have you provided a clean, unfrozen source of water for birds and small mammals?
How about early nectar sources for early-emerging native bees and honey bees? Does your yard have Red Maple, Pussy Willow, Spicebush or Redbud? Have you planted any spring ephemerals, such as Spring Beauty, Squirrel Corn, or Trout Lily that can provide nutrition to hungry pollinators, before these plants eventually disappear underground in the summer?
You are probably a busy person, and may wonder why you need to consider becoming an ecological steward in your landscape. Consider these frightening facts. According to the Living Planet Index, published by the World Wildlife Fund, between 1970 and 2013, the planet lost 58 percent of all vertebrate populations. Invertebrate species have not fared much better, some scientists estimate that in the last 40 years, we have lost at least 45 percent of all invertebrates.
With climate change, scientists expect that species loss will escalate. Your yard has never been more important. You can become an ecological steward, and it’s really not that hard. Here are some tips to get you started:
1) Begin by reducing your lawn – a good way to start is by extending your bedlines and expanding your wooded areas. Keep only the lawn you really do use -- for kids, pets and outdoor entertaining -- and maintain it organically. Perfection comes at a high ecological price.
2) Eliminate pesticide use in your yard -- especially chemical pesticides. Clever marketers have trained us to think of pesticides as essential for our landscapes. Don’t believe it. Twenty-three years and counting -- no pesticides in my yard.
3) Get on board with native plants -- the ones that are indigenous to your area. Native plants have co-evolved with each other and with the wildlife around them. Not sure what plants are native to your area? Join a native plant society and get lots of helpful information. Use online resources like the native plant database of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Look for the numerous spring sales of native plants coming up in the region.
4) Encourage biodiversity -- one of our best weapons against climate change. Plant a diverse array of native plants in your landscape, from short groundcovers to tall trees.
5) Know that any size landscape can make a difference. The environment is counting on you.
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial . She teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.