By Candy Venning
Plant a native tree*, native shrub** or group of native perennials***.
Did you know an Oak supports the largest number of species? This includes over 400 different types of caterpillars; the only thing baby/ fledgling birds can eat (because they can’t eat seeds or nuts when still in the nest) Pollinators may support our crops & almost every plant on earth, but they, in turn, support birds as a source of food. We need more caterpillars, larvae & insects! Maybe you’re thinking ‘Nope, we don’t need more bugs’ as you eye up your lawn, but remember that the majority of problematic insects are invasive species. I.E. Emerald Ash Borer, Gypsy Moth & Japanese beetle – these creatures run rampant because they have no natural predators in Ontario; local species would need thousands of years to co-evolve & adapt to knowing them as a food source.
Leave the Seedheads please! Unfortunately our native bird populations are under as much threat as pollinators. Don’t be too fastidious around the garden; leaving seed on stems, especially of Coneflower species or native shrubs & trees with fruit or berries, means you’ll supply essential food for (adult) feathered folk.
Compost – any spot in the corner of your garden, hidden away so it can be messy, will do. Even if you only compost leaves and sweepings from your garden in a loose heap – it’s the source of all soil and it’s what plants thrive on.
Don’t use weed barrier & avoid mulch. The theory I’ve adhered to is ‘use plants not mulch’. A full garden with low growing plants filling in under and around your shrubs doesn’t leave room for weeds and will have no need of mulch at all. Bare soil should have leaf matter constantly decomposing on top of it which acts as a type of weed barrier all on its own. Give up the entirely human act of ‘turning’ or ‘digging over’ or even ‘double digging ‘soil as it disrupts a series of beneficial natural processes and provides a perfect seedbed for invasive plant species (aka weeds)
If you have a lawn, consider over seeding with clover & ‘Eco lawn’ (available through www.wildflowerfarm.com) A diversity of species helps lawns become more drought tolerant, provide flowers/pollen for pollinators & will be less prone to grubs or grub damage because there’s no longer a monoculture of traditional sod for them to eat.
Let go of using, and dispose of properly, all insecticides, weed killers and even fertilizers. Leaf mulch and the occasional sprinkling of bagged manure on top of a garden (rain and worms will do the work for you) is all the fertilizer that should be needed.
*Black, White, Red, Pin or Burr Oak. ‘Ontario Tree Atlas ‘online, will have many more suggestions.
** Serviceberry (many varieties) Dogwood (multiple varieties) Viburnum acerifolium/Maple-leaved Viburnum & Viburnum trilobum/Highbush Cranberry
***Wild Columbine/Aquilegia canadensis (easy to grow from seed) Monarda fistulosa/Wild Bergamot. Eupatorium perfoliatum/Boneset & Rudbeckia hirta/Black eyed Susan are a good start.