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Promoting Public Awareness Of Wildlife Habitats Through Environmental Education

Native Gardens Can Attract All Sorts of Critters

AsterThe days are getting longer and while my birdfeeder can still be reached by the chipmunks on the ground, I can feel the warmth of spring coming! The green spaces around your house will begin to unfold and some of you may be wondering how to bring in the birds, the bees, the butterflies. Think native. Here’s why.

NATIVE PLANTS: WHAT ARE THEY?

Simply put, native plants are those that are naturally found in the area. Without human help. That last bit is important because so many of the species that we encounter in Ontario are not actually from here. Now this isn’t always a bad thing; the non-native species only become a problem when they persist within the new environment and out-compete the native species for the essentials (I’m looking at you phragmites, garlic mustard, and purple loosestrife).

This does happen, although not as frequently as you might think. An introduced species must be able to reproduce over and over again, creating a well-established, destructive population, before they are deemed invasive. But there’s more. Not only does the species need to be able to reproduce successfully (and relatively quickly) in the new area, they must also lack sufficient predators to control the population. Climate and other environmental factors need to be just right and sometimes even with all of these characteristics lined up perfectly, it may take several introductions over a period of time before the species can become established.

THE BENEFITS

Planting native species is highly beneficial to the surrounding environment. These plants know the turf. They know summer is going to be hot and dry and they know the winter will be long and cold. These qualities make for the perfect garden plant as you won’t need to fuss over them in the fall, digging them up and moving them somewhere warm; they also won’t need frequent watering in the summer like many non-native plants do.

You’re saving water and time, but what else? Bugs. Hummingbirds. Butterflies. Native bees. All of these species are more likely to visit your yard if you have something to offer. You might be wondering why you want to attract more bugs and bees to your house but trust me, they’re much more interested in the pollen and nectar being selflessly produced by the flowers to even notice you.

The benefits of attracting these native species to your garden are enormous, even if you don’t see them. You’re creating natural diversity, a garden ecosystem, by bringing in native plants and once those plants are established and flowering, the rest will come. When you have a strongly diverse community, you’re less likely to have invaders – they just won’t have the room (less weeding!).

If you have a vegetable garden, there are even more reasons to plant some native species since your fruiting veggies will be pretty sparse if there aren’t any bees coming around to offer some cross-pollination. Despite the stereotypes surrounding bees, just like you and me, they will take the shortest path to their favourite food source (native flowers). If your tomatoes and peppers are along the way, they’ll be stopping in for a snack.

PESTICIDES & FERTILIZERS

Although non-organic pesticides are now banned in Ontario, it’s still worth a mention. Rainfall, high winds, and even watering the lawn can move chemicals and fertilizers into or across the ground. Eventually these additions make their way into a water source. This process, known as leaching, is a dangerous one, especially to the wildlife that inhabits the water bodies at the end of the line. Swamps, rivers, lakes, and streams are all affected by the chemicals that we wash into them and certain species, like salamanders, toads, and frogs, have sensitive skin that is easily damaged by changes to the environmental conditions.

Having native species around helps to eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers. As you increase the diversity, you bring in the ‘good’ bugs, the predators. You help to balance out the good and the bad to the point where you won’t even notice the bad bugs or the damage they used to cause. And since native plants are so good at sourcing their own nutrients, fertilizers are unnecessary.

WHAT DO I PLANT?

Here in Orillia, we are fortunate to have plenty of native species that will last through the heat of the summer and the freezing winter temperatures. The Ministry of Natural Resources has put out a great little pamphlet for Southern Ontario that will help you choose native options over the non-native ones.  Kids For Turtles have also developed a pollinator garden booklet filled with all the native plants that our pollinators love which you can download from our website…..or stop in the office this spring to say hi and pick one up.

WHEN TO PLANT

If you’re looking to plant native flowers (wildflowers), now is NOT the time to be sowing most of these seeds. They need winter so plan for them in the fall. Shrubs, trees, and wildflowers that don’t need cold, moist stratification are OK to go this spring!

Start planning now for a great, native garden this spring! You’ll be surprised at what shows up.

Written by: Marette Sharp, a volunteer with Kids for Turtles. Kids for Turtles Environmental Education is an educational and outreach organization working to bring a better understanding of and stewardship to the environment around us.

 

Photo caption: Native wildflowers, like this aster, are not weeds. They are beautiful additions to any garden, require little maintenance, and are a healthy food source for native bees.