How to Increase Biodiversity In Your Garden
Want to have a healthier, greener garden? Follow these five steps to improve the biodiversity of your backyard, balcony or whatever green space you have.
Donald Giddings, from Green Living Zone, talks us through his advice.
Thu 14 May 2020
“I can't imagine anything more important than air, water, soil, energy and biodiversity. These are the things that keep us alive," said David Suzuki, the science broadcaster and environmental activist.
Considering the current state of the natural world and ongoing climate changes, putting an active effort in increasing biodiversity has never been more important than now.
Our health, well-being, and economic prosperity are conditioned by the health, well-being, and abundance of the natural world around us. Biodiversity plays a critical role in this, as it is the key element for maintaining natural balance amongst species.
Creating a little oasis of biodiversity in your backyard will not only have a positive impact on the environment but will also provide you a rich source of healthy food and a breathtakingly beautiful view.
So let’s look at the basic principles of maintaining biodiversity and how to apply that knowledge in the garden.
How to Increase Biodiversity In Your Garden
1. Say no to synthetic pesticides and harsh chemicals
Synthetic pesticides have gained a notorious reputation in the last couple of decades due to their toxic effect on human health and non-target species.
Aside from the direct danger these chemicals impose in the environment of their application, they can also be washed off by the rain or water used for irrigation, and thus end up waterways, wreaking havoc amongst aquatic species, killing fish and beneficial algae.
Millions of pounds of chemical pesticides for pest control in lawns and gardens are being purchased every year in the USA only. What goes around comes around, so it is not a great leap to assume that this massive output of toxic chemicals will cause very severe negative effects on the environment, biodiversity, and our health.
A great number of synthetic pesticides have already been banned, and the evidence against many others is mounting.
Natural Pest Control
There are many natural solutions for controlling pests and diseases, especially if small scale plant cultivation is in question, including physical removal of pests, good maintenance habits, adding beneficial plants, insects and bird species, and also a variety of environmentally safe pesticides – from newest biological solutions to old faithful copper and sulfur fungicides. Prevention is the best way to deal with pests and diseases, so keep your plants well-groomed and regularly check them for unwanted visitors.
Fertilisers – the natural way
Instead of using artificial mineral and liquid fertilisers, opt for organic alternatives like peat, manure, and homemade compost. These products can provide all the necessary nutrients for proper plant growth, without consequences for the environment or native species. Besides, making your own compost is an efficient way to utilise organic waste from your home.
2. Attract pollinators and other insects
Modern lifestyle has brought an insect phobia into our culture, making us believe that almost every six-legged creature with antennae is potentially harmful, but the truth is very different.
The number of beneficial and important insect species is significantly greater than what you might initially think.
A greater variety of insect species will ensure a better natural balance in the garden and prevent a single species from becoming too dominant.
Pest insects won’t be numerous enough to cause any greater damage to your plants if their predators and parasites are present in the garden too.
Depending on the species of the given pest insect, your choice of predator/parasite will differ; to pick the right one it is best to consult a good book, trustworthy sources on the internet, or a plant protection expert.
You can attract butterflies and create a butterfly garden by planting species with flowers rich in nectar, as well as host plants for their larvae.
Some of the best nectar plants for butterflies include Eastern beebalm, butterfly bush, black-eyed Susan, lantana, zinnia, New England aster, purple coneflower and butterfly weed.
The plants that support caterpillars include dill, parsley, spicebush, pansy, white oak, and river birch.
Permaculture revolves around the idea that all habitats should be designed to be regenerative and self-sustainable, just like Mother Nature is
The presence of pollinators in the garden is highly desirable and very important, especially if you grow crop plants.
The most popular insect pollinator is the honeybee, but there is also a wide variety of bumblebees and solitary bees, which are just as important and valuable to the environment. For example, a mason bee can forage on significantly lower temperatures than the honeybee, which is very important for plant species that bloom in colder parts of the year.
To lure pollinators into your garden, add plants with flowers that produce a lot of nectar and pollen, like sunflower, ninebark, mountain mints, goldenrod, mimosa tree, apple tree, basswood, lavender, dandelion, snapdragon, and many others.
There is a very wide choice of plants that both look amazing and are very attractive to pollinators.
3. The more native species, the better
Plants thrive in their native habitats, as it is the environment they are adapted to, where the climate and soil is just right for their growth and development.
They also form symbiotic relationships with other native species, which help them to spread their seeds or fight off certain pests and diseases.
For example, some species of trees have the ability to release a stress signal, which attracts parasitic wasps to come and lay eggs into their hosts - tree-eating caterpillars that have started to feast on tree leaves. These calls for aid are usually quite specific, which means that they will be answered only if the plant grows in a habitat where the specific parasitic/predatory insect is present, which is usually their native habitat.
Forming relationships like this enables the plant to naturally defend itself and avoid greater damage to its leaves, shoots, and flowers. Aside from having better chances to naturally fight off pests and diseases, native plants also require fewer resources and maintenance to grow happily compared to non-native species.
There are probably many attractive plants in your part of the country that can adorn your backyard and provide shelter to local wildlife and beneficial species.
4. Add an open water source
Adding a pond, bird feeder or any other open-source of water will attract birds, insects, and small mammals like hedgehogs to your garden.
If you have space and resources to make a pond in your backyard, you can also add some aquatic plants, fish, turtles, and frogs, which will further enhance biodiversity and attract more species.
If you are concerned that mosquitoes might use your pond to lay eggs and multiply, you can introduce predators like backswimmers, topminnows, tadpoles, and water boatmen which will eat their larvae and significantly reduce their numbers.
Increased biodiversity in your backyard will also attract dragonflies which feed on a wide variety of insect pests, including mosquitoes.
5. Rely on the principles of permaculture
Permaculture means permanent agriculture and refers to a set of principles used in agriculture, environmental design, and ecological engineering.
Permaculture revolves around the idea that all habitats should be designed to be regenerative and self-sustainable, just like Mother Nature is.
The 12 permaculture principles are:
- Observe and Interact
- Catch and Store Energy
- Obtain a Yield
- Apply Self-Regulation and Feedback
- Use and Value Renewables
- Produce No Waste
- Use Small, Slow Solutions
- Design from Patterns to Details
- Integrate Don't Segregate
- Use and Value Diversity
- Creatively Use and Respond to Change
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal