Six Sustainable Ways to Maintain a Natural Garden
The National Wildlife Federation has been educating and empowering people to create wildlife-friendly gardens through the Garden for Wildlife program since 1973. Each of us can help support local wildlife populations by making sure our gardens or landscapes provides the four components of habitat: natural sources of food, water, cover and places to raise young.
But’s there more to creating a wildlife habitat garden than just these four components. How you maintain your garden is also critically important. Creating a wildlife-friendly space that attracts birds, butterflies and other wildlife and then spraying toxic pesticides everywhere or letting your cat catch and kill the wildlife defeats the purpose.
Here are six sustainable ways you can maintain your natural for wildlife beyond just providing the components of habitat.
Plant Native PlantsNative plants are the most environmentally-friendly choice because if planted in the proper place to match their growing requirements, they thrive in the soils, moisture and weather of your region. That means less wasteful supplemental watering and pest problems that require toxic chemicals.
Native plants are also the plants that native wildlife have formed symbiotic relationships with over thousands of years, and therefore the most sustainable way of offering habitat.
Exotic plants that evolved in other parts of the world or native plants that have been cultivated by humans into forms that don’t exist in nature do not support wildlife as well as native plants, and sometimes even escape into the wild and become invasive exotics that destroy natural habitat.
Cultivate Healthy SoilYou don’t need to use chemical fertilizers to have a thriving garden. Creating garden beds and landscapes that have active underground ecosystem of earthworms and microorganisms that keep plants healthy can be achieved using composted soil with organic materials that include micronutrients and minerals. Applying compost also provides an aerated, non-compacted base for plant roots to thrive and to absorb water and nutrients, which is key in ensuring plant health. Healthy plants mean better wildlife habitat.
Conserve WaterConventional lawns and many ornamental exotic plants require an exorbitant amount of clean water to stay green. Choosing native plants that are adapted to regional rainfall and soil moisture content is a great way to conserve this precious resource. You can also collect water in rain barrels for use in the garden.
In suburban and urban areas, much of the water that hits the landscape washes away down the storm drains, often carrying pollutants and soil with it. Reducing your lawn in favor of densely planted garden beds helps minimize runoff, and you can plant a rain garden specifically designed to collect and absorb rainwater to keep if from pouring into storm drains.