Suburban Ecology: A healthy planet begins at home

Butterflies and bumble bees are beneficial to a healthy ecosystem.
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Editor’s Note: Morristown Green is delighted to welcome Carolle Huber, co-founder of the nonprofit Grow It Green Morristown, as a guest blogger. Carolle will be sharing her wealth of knowledge about environmental issues that affect us all.

 

What does your home landscape have to do with climate change and species loss?

Plenty.

Our home landscapes are mini eco-systems. Ecosystem you say? Yes, that’s the tiny microcosm in your own yard that supports life; the beginning of the food web for insects, bees, and caterpillars, up through birds and small mammals. (Your yard can also replenish oxygen, sequester carbon, recharge and filter groundwater and moderate weather extremes. But all that for another day.)

Carolle Huber

Most of us enjoy our gardens, but there’s a lot you can do to make your garden and landscape friendlier to our ecosystem.

You see, the pollinators not only ensure we have food to eat–they also ensure that your shrubs set fruit, which the birds are going to need in the fall.

By increasing your backyard biodiversity, you are playing a big role in combating species loss. What this means for our home gardens is that we need to plant more variety and more natives.

Eliminating all or most of the lawn in your front yard is also a great way to invite more wildlife to your home. And let’s face it, most suburban front yards aren’t large enough to be useful play areas anyway.

I am a landscape architect with an environmental science background. I love good design, and I want to practice it in harmony with the world around me. At my house, we removed our front lawn 20 years ago and created a lush garden. Maybe a little wild for some, yet it is teeming with life.

The lawn in my back yard is getting smaller and smaller. As I continually bring home new plants to try out, I inadvertently am increasing the biodiversity of my own yard: From a sterile green lawn, to a plot with many trees, evergreens, shrubs and perennials. So many layers create many chances for life. My yard these days is replete with birds, pollinators, and bugs. And I enjoy them all.

We are in precarious times, and sometimes feel we cannot make a difference. What can one person do? How can what I do at home make a difference? I’m here to tell you, it can, you can. While we wait for the politicians to do nothing, we each can do something that, collectively, is a lot.

For example, since the 80’s, Monarch butterfly numbers plummeted by 90 percent. That’s a shocking number. But this year, the numbers are climbing up. I’m sure you’ve seen some Monarchs this fall. This happened all because a call went out to you and me to plant more milkweed, the only plant they lay their eggs on.

Homeowners, as well as transportation departments in all 50 states, planted milkweed like crazy, and guess what? It helped. This year, Monarch numbers are up, by 300 percent since 2014!

While the butterflies are not out of the woods yet, this is exciting. So yes, suburban homeowners can make a difference. In fact, we have to.

Right now, all our pollinators are in decline. Pesticides are a big factor. While honeybees are a big part of food crop pollination, bumblebees are hugely important pollinators in our ecosystems; they are helping plants reproduce. Plants and insects evolved together in a symbiotic relationship, where each is served.

The hundreds of species of bombus (bumblebees) can be categorized into three tongue lengths. Why is this important? Well, the long tongue bees are in most danger. So we should be thinking of plantings with tubular flowers so they can get the nectar they need, and different plants for their pollen. Turtlehead, obedient plant, lobelia, hyssop and blueflag iris are some good ones. (See Beecology Project).

So, back to your yard. Think of it as a mini ecosystem, and how you can enhance it. It will reward you in spades, I promise. Planting more natives is a good place to start.

With 75 million suburban homes in the United States (146,000 in Morris County), imagine what would happen if all homeowners did just one or two things to make their landscapes more diverse. Suburban ecology. Let’s do more.

Carolle Huber is a local landscape architect, and a founder of Grow It Green Morristown. See more of her blog posts at www.carollehuber.com

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Here here! I’ve added milkweed to my perennial garden and the Monarks float through like never before. Even my neighbors have remarked on it – everyone is happy!

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