Inside: Learning how to increase biodiversity around your home is not hard. Avoid monoculture and instead introduce polyculture by adding a variety of trees, shrubs and plants to your landscaping plans.
Learning how to increase biodiversity around your home is not hard. Think polyculture not monoculture. A big lawn is an example of monoculture. Instead, introduce polyculture by adding a variety of trees, shrubs and plants to your landscaping plans. By increasing your plant varieties you’re already increasing biodiversity. That increase in plant biodiversity will in turn attract a greater variety of birds, insects and other wildlife. As a bonus your need for pesticides and fertilizers will be drastically cut as well.
Ideas on How to Increase Biodiversity at Home
- Create gardens to attract specific groups of organism.
- Plant fruit and nut trees.
- Add a water feature.
- Include a log or rock pile and/or preserve a snag.
- Include a birdhouses, bat house and/or native pollinator houses in your landscaping design.
- Have a plan to control invasive plants which can include adding more native plants in your garden designs.
- Limit the use of pesticides and avoid preventative spraying of them.
- Leave the dandelions alone.
- Grow heritage plant and vegetable species and save the seeds.
- Garden organically including composting and keep mulch and compost piles.
- Buy from local producers at your local Farmer’s Market.
- Join a community garden.
- Keep your cat inside at night.
- Turn off necessary lights.
- Enjoy your garden, relish the sounds and sights and continually add to the biodiversity of your outdoor space.
Create gardens to attract specific groups of organism
There are three main groups of organisms that are easy to plant for. Many of your gardens can have features that attract all three of these groups.
To attract these groups to your garden, three things are essential. They require food sources, shelter from predators and nesting sites. Plant a variety of plants, trees and shrubs some of which can provide all three of their essential needs. Research the birds native to your particular area. They have their own specific needs.
All wildlife including humans depend on pollinators for their food supply. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just bees that pollinate. Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other beneficial insects and small mammals pollinate plants. Pollinated plants provide lots of benefits apart from a food supply:
- they provide oils, fibers and raw materials
- plants especially along shorelines prevent soil erosion
- increase the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere
Garden Plan Resources
Click on the resources below to get some tips on plants and features appropriate for attracting specific wildlife to your property.
- How to Create an Absolutely Amazing Butterfly Garden
- 10 Absolutely Excellent Reasons to Feed Amazing Local Birds
- How to Attract Birds to your Garden
- Attracting Birds: How to Create a Backyard Bird Haven
- City of Guelph: Pollinator Gardens
Plant fruit and nut trees
Most areas have at least one or two fruit or nut tree varieties that can be supported climate-wise. Native fruit and nut trees are preferred. Our property in the Oak Ridges Moraine supports a large number of American Beech trees which have tasty nuts loved by many birds and mammals. We also have a few walnut trees. We have sumac of both the poisonous and friendly kinds. Sumac with red berries is not poisonous and the red berries are a favorite food of wildlife.
Again, native species are preferred but apple, pear or peach trees will attract an abundance of wildlife to your property. Raspberry and blueberry bushes will also provide food sources for pollinators and other wildlife as well. And you might have some left over fruit for yourself.
Check out this post on 10 Excellent Reasons to Plant Trees. Planting any native tree is a wonderful way to provide habitat, shelter and food for wildlife in your neighborhood. If planted strategically, you could also save heating and cooling costs for your home.
Add a water feature
Water is essential for all life. Having a water feature will provide a water source for birds, insects and mammals. Take my word of advice. We have a pool that has resulted in the death of a number of birds and mammals in our area. We’ve found a raccoon, squirrels and chipmunks and a few baby birds that have drowned in our pool before we’ve had a chance to open it. We’ve figured out a way to provide a lifeline for wildlife that decides to use our pool as a drinking or bathing source. We leave pool noodles in the pool so wildlife has an opportunity to cling to something. It seems to be working. After the pool is open, wildlife tends to stay out for the most part.
Have shallow water for butterflies and birds. A bird bath is ideal. The water tends to be used up quickly. Mosquito larva get eaten while the birds are drinking.
Ideas for Water Features
A small pond is a great feature for attracting amphibians and turtles. If you are able to keep fish in your pond, mosquito reproduction will be almost non existent because the fish love to eat them. You can add a bathtub or container pond or dig a much larger version if you have the space. The more elaborate, the harder the upkeep so keep that in mind before you start a water project. Regardless, make sure your water feature has an escape plan for stranded wildlife if it is too deep. We have a water trough for our horses. We often have found chipmunks drowned so we now keep a board in it that creatures can use to crawl out to safety.
If your pond is deep enough, fish and amphibians will be able to survive a cold winter as the water will not freeze completely to the bottom. A bathtub or container pond can be maintained with a heater to keep some of the water from freezing. This is how we keep fresh water for our horses in the winter time. A fountain feature might also work as moving water will not freeze although in areas like my own, minus 20 celcius is pretty cold and a fountain feature might not stand up to those temperatures.
Check out these articles for some ideas for water features:
Include a log or rock pile and/or preserve a snag
The easiest way to provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife is to include log piles or rock piles. Snakes, rabbits and other small creatures will call them home. They provide great hibernation spots in the winter for various species. Use your artistic nature if you are so inclined and get creative with placement. A snag is a dead tree that you leave as part of your landscaping. Dead trees provide nesting, food storing, hunting, roosting, and resting for woodpeckers and lots of other bird species and some mammals too. Sometimes a dead tree can have some safety issues. There are some ways to deal with this and still keep the snag as a wildlife resource:
- if you can remove only part of it; any amount of the dead tree will be a benefit to local wildlife;
- whatever you do remove, place it somewhere else on your property so wildlife still has access to it; try placing it near water, other live trees or the edge of a field – one year I had a dozen or so mourning doves regularly resting on a pile of logs at the edge of my field and they were a joy to watch and listen to
- if you have removed a tree trunk from one area of your property for aesthetics, dig it into the ground elsewhere on your property where it fits better into your landscaping vision
Include a birdhouses, bat house and/or native pollinator houses in your landscaping design
Bird houses are great way to provide nesting sites for local birds including endangered species. We have bluebird boxes set up along the tree line on top of fence posts. They have been well used over the years by blue birds and other species. Attracting them to your garden not only adds to your entertainment but birds like Bluebirds, Chickadees, and Nighthawks are fantastic natural pest controls; they eat loads of insects like moths, bugs and plant lice that can ravage your plants and vegetables. Many birds will use mature trees to build nests. If you have dead trees around, woodpeckers might have a place to nest. If your landscaping is in its early stages, bird houses will likely be the best way to provide nesting sites for your feathered friends.
Find Free Plans for Wildlife Houses
Check out the following articles for free plans to build some attractive and useful bird houses. Whichever designs you choose, make sure there are hinged sections to make it easy to clean them out. Ideally, they should be cleaned out yearly. Some designs will let you get your kids involved:
Bats are nocturnal and although some people find them creepy (thanks Dracula) they are incredible creatures that eat tons of insects including mosquitoes around your property.
We have a pretty healthy population. I haven’t built a bat house yet because we have so many places they can roost. But it is on my list of things to add to my landscaping. One brown bat can eat 60 moths or over 1,000 mosquitoes in one night. I am a mosquito magnet so having bats around appeals to me.
- Check out Build a Bat House from the National Wildlife Federation. The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Install a Bat House is also a great resource.
Pollinating Insects also benefit from created habitat.
- Beyond Pesticides –Build Your Own Native Bee House is a great resource for building homes for native bee species.
All of the above projects are great to work on with kids with lots of adult supervision of course. If you are a school science teacher building some of these houses would be a great fundraising, biodiversity awareness event at your school. You could join forces with construction and business classes to put on a super event that not only spreads awareness of biodiversity concerns but raises money for conservation causes.
Have a plan to control invasive plants
Invasive plants have few natural organisms that control their growth. They tend to have uncontrolled growth and out compete natural vegetation. Dog strangling vine is a big problem on our property. We have over 96 acres. It crops up in my garden yearly. I have areas around the forest edge where it does grow out of control. Around the house, we pull it out constantly. I try to get it well before it seeds. Those seeds are its most effective means of spreading.
Look up effective methods of control for the particular species of invasive plant your property may be supporting. We have followed some of the suggestions from this publication for the dog strangling vine. Pulling, mowing and tarping have reduced the impact of this vine on our property.
Watch out for your Favorite Flowering Plants
Keep in mind that many flowering plants that you might choose to grow in your gardens have the potential to be invasive. I had considered at one time growing cattails in a pond but discovered they are invasive. There was a very cool tall grass that I hoped to grow on my property. Invasive Phragmites (European Common Reed) is a common ditch grass in our area. I did not realize until recently that it is an incredibly damaging invasive species. I did not plant any on our property thank goodness.
Limit the use of pesticides
Pesticides and herbicides are not safe around wildlife or pets. We have never considered using them except in the most extreme circumstances and even then their use was extremely localized. Improving the biodiversity around your property will naturally reduce the number of pest species you encounter. Birds and bats will feast on pest insects and slugs. Your pets will thank you. Your pocket book will thank you. And best of all, the ecosystems around your home will be healthier.
Leave the dandelions alone
So many people love to kill the dandelions on their lawn. They spray herbicides to get rid of them. Some will pluck out every single one. I love their bright yellow flowers. We have so many it wouldn’t be practical to actively kill them them all. And with bee population decline a serious issue, dandelions might be their salvation. I find bumblebees in particular love these bright yellow flowers. So, if you love bees, keep the dandelions.
Grow heritage plant and vegetable species
Many of the vegetables we plant have been selected for specific characteristics. They have low genetic diversity. Heritage plants differ between each other in the kinds of alleles they contain. They have high genetic diversity which means if a disease attacks those plants there will be some that have the ability to survive. Preserving genetic diversity is a mean of increasing the biodiversity in an area. Check out the following article that gives some advice in growing heritage seeds:
Eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides is a good practice. Using natural ‘fertilizer’ is also beneficial to gardening. Using your own compost reduces what goes in your landfill and makes great fertilizer and conditioner for your soil. It contains natural nutrients and retains water to boot. Check out these articles, the first from Planet Natural Research Center and the second from Well Gardening:
Buy from local producers
If you can’t grow your own produce, buying at local farmer’s markets is a great way to find sustainably grown produce. You’ll make great connections and reduce your carbon footprint by buying from a source close to home.
Join a community garden
This is a great idea if you don’t have the space for your own vegetable garden. But even if you do, joining a group of like-minded individuals who love to garden and create beautiful spaces is a great way to share ideas and troubleshoot problems in your own home garden.
Keep your cat inside at night
Cats are skilled predators. I keep mine in 24/7. They are predators but there are bigger ones out there. Coyotes are a big force around here so I keep them in. A fairly busy road runs close to our home. We get a lot of stray cats setting up home in our big bank barn. Sometimes they have kittens but too often I see them killed along our road. So…I keep my cats inside. If you can, keep your precious cats inside all the time.
If they were former strays or you feel you must let them out, please bring them in at night. Cats are nocturnal hunters. Cats are often the most destructive force reducing the biodiversity in your yard. They are killing machines and your chipmunks, squirrels and birds will quickly disappear. They will do more damage to your wildlife diversity in the evening hours so keep them in at night.
Turn off necessary lights
Many creatures hunt, breed and feed at night. Lights can be a disturbance to these creatures. Fireflies need the dark to find mates. I love watching the fireflies around our home at night and purposely turn off all the lights around our home. The show they put on is spectacular.
Some creatures are seriously harmed by lights. In Newfoundland, baby puffins or pufflings are attracted to lights from homes on the shore. They think they’re following the stars to get out to sea but are instead stranded on land often near roads. Hundreds are killed each year. Read the article I wrote about my experience with an organization that strives to save as many stranded puffins as possible. They save hundreds each year and it is a community effort.
Enjoy your garden
Finally, after all the hard work you put into creating and decorating your space, enjoy the biodiversity of your space. Sit on your deck or patio. Take a walk amongst the trees and flowers. Enjoy the colors and textures. Revel in the sounds of the birds mating, and feeding. Sit out on a cool evening and watch the fireflies play. It is exhilarating. Feel your blood pressure go down. Feel your mood improve. You will be so glad you took the time to landscape for biodiversity.