Go native in your yard and in your parks this spring! Spring is about renewal, of rebirth, of fresh starts and new beginnings, a rhythm as old as time. This spring, plant in hopes of springs to come! In the end, it is up to each of us to restore nature where we can, and that can certainly begin in our own yards!
Inspired by the work of Prof Douglas Tallamy of Nature’s Best Hope, more and more people are planting native in their yards. The goal is to create habitat, to plant in your yard what would be growing there naturally. Make your yard a place to visit nature! I would encourage you to visit his site Homegrown National Park, which allows people to post what natives they’ve planted on a U.S. map, tallying up the total acreage converted from lawn to Nature as it goes.
As you go native, you’ll quickly realize that the lawn is a big problem. Think of the resources in terms of water, fertilizer, pesticides, gasoline to keep a non-native mono-crop in some state of plastic perfection. As yourself how healthy all that over-treated soil is. The suburban lawn is all but lifeless because we keep killing what it could be each year.
40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. Prof. Tallamy has calculated that if half of that were to be converted to native habitat, we could create enough to substantially blunt the coming wave of mass extinction for our local wildlife. To put it plainly, they need homes — the pollinators, the birds, our insects generally. The best place to build those homes on Long Island are in our yards. We’ve a lot of them, and there’s not much space otherwise.
I can promise you this: Planting natives in your yard will be good for your soul, the planet, and your wallet. Less than three years ago, I was stumbling around with a condition our ancestors never had: “Plant Blindness.” I discovered back starting June 21st 2020 that I had no idea what I was looking at in my yard. This was despite the fact that I considered myself an environmentalist. This day took me on a new path and it continues to change my life.
That was the day when Spadefoot Design and Construction, a company we were just launching, was beginning a large scale project — my yard, and the future world headquarters of The Long Island Conservancy.
The bioswale, which was created to redirect stormwater away from the road so that it could be absorbed and filtered by the hundreds of native pollinators we planted, has worked from Day One, and with each year, each month, the bioswale grows more effective as the flowers, bushes and trees we’ve planted along it continue to mature and propagate.
No water, fertilizer or pesticides necessary. The native plants thrive in their native habitat — Long Island. The soil here is sandy and nutrient poor. Oaks and pitch pine do fine in certain parts of the yard. Where it’s wetter, we planted 20 willows. We also planted several red maples aka swamp maples along the bioswale to take up more water. The plantings have already it seems lowered the water table around the house. The sump pump stays mostly quiet now.
The native plantings, used to the droughty conditions common to Long Island, and with their deep root systems, weathered the drought quite nicely. Except for the weeding, and that is unfortunately a big exception these days, the yard, like Nature itself, doesn’t need my attention. It just has to be beautiful.
We had to begin our “spring” planting on June 21st 2020, the summer solstice, because we were all in the process of emerging from Covid lockdown. We moved as soon as landscapers were permitted to do outside work again.
We also wanted to start our native plantings on this less than half an acre with a “clean slate,” and that meant taking out a stand of mature Norway Maples along the back of the property hanging over a nursing home, as well as 150 feet of privet my father and I salvaged some 60 years ago as fields were being bulldozed everywhere for homes. The 200 foot row of yews along the south end of the property, once three foot tall, now were 15 feet, and infested with oriental bittersweet and porcelainberry, and non-native at any event.
Meanwhile, we were also battling Wisteria and English Ivy and Japanese Honeysuckle from the yard to our north, a situation that finally necessitated a stockade fence. Everywhere I started to look in fact revealed another invasive plant — Hairy Bittercress, Narrow Leaf Plantain, Garlic Mustard and Mugwort, Lambs Shoulders, White Mulberry, and on and on. Plants from every continent. Things that looked perfectly normal — the greenery of a local park — suddenly looked grotesque. This mass of oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, and porcelainberry, was revealed to be the hostile alien mass it was, covering over everything else and killing it.
While we recommend to everyone that they get a plant identifier app on their smart phone (PictureThis!. iNaturalist), be warned. Once you see what’s really growing in your yard or in your park, you can’t unsee it. You will no longer wonder what happened to our wildlife when less than 25% of what is growing anywhere is not from here.
There is a basic scientific truth here: If insects don’t have the specific native plants they feed on available, you won’t see those insects or what they feed on. It takes millions of years for an insect to evolve to where they can get past the chemical defenses the plant is using. They can’t switch off. And without those specific insects the animals that live off of them vanish too. So we see that since 1974 we have lost 45% of our insects, according to the late E.O. Wilson, and 1% of our songbirds globally since 1964.
Our goal at The Long Island Conservancy is to make Long Island safe for fire flies and cicadas, butterflies and moths, and for all the native songbirds that we hardly see any more. Our yards could be alive with life. We just need to give Nature a fresh start!
Once we realize that our local wildlife is dependent on native plants to at all survive, our birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, and above all our insects which feed the rest, there is no other choice for us. We either plant native in as many places as we can on this crowded island, or we will watch our wildlife disappears as their habitats vanish. Many municipalities and home owner’s associations remain fixated on perfectly kept lawns, sadly, and push out Nature as a result. Some homeowners are fighting back.
We of course have been witnessing the decline of wildlife on Long Island for decades. It comes down to habitat destruction. This spring will be an important one if we are to begin to address the situation. Each year that we aren’t restoring native habitat makes it that much harder to do the same next year. We are running out of runway for our local species.
We believe the best way forward is to work with Nature to restore what was there. Once we all begin to understand how crucial native plants are to even having native wildlife, once we see just how many invasive plants we have, and how few native, we can act intentionally by planting native.
If you have a landscaping service, insist on their planting native plants. Ask for them at your local garden store. Seek out local sellers of native plants.
In the yard pictured above, there are 9 different planting zones, depending on light, water, and soil composition. The Long Island Conservancy offers tours of its grounds starting in the spring. We have hosted local garden clubs, civic associations, schools, and municipalities in groups of up to 20 to tour the grounds. Here is a page for the tour.
Contact us at email@example.com to schedule your group.