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Ecological Landscaping in 10 Links
A quickstart guide
Ecological gardens and landscapes support wildlife, help to restore the environment, and offer benefits to humans at the same time.
If you’d like to embrace ecological principles in your outdoor spaces without wading through hundreds of websites, here’s a curated checklist for getting started.
1. Find your North American ecological region.
An ecoregion is “a relatively large area of land or water containing a characteristic set of natural communities that share a large majority of their species, ecological dynamics and environmental conditions” (Encyclopedia of Ecology (Second Edition), 2019).
Knowing your ecoregion gives you a lot of information about the soil, plants that naturally grow there, and growing conditions. For example, my own ecoregion in Central New York is “Glaciated Low Allegheny Plateau.”
2. Know your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.
Plant hardiness zone ranges appear on plant tags and in plant profiles online. “Plant hardiness zone” or “planting zone” or just “zone” refers to the average coldest winter temperatures of any given location.
You want to make sure the plants you plan to grow are hardy in your area, meaning they can survive your winters. And most perennials, for example, need to go fully dormant in the winter, so planting them in too warm a zone doesn’t work either.
3. Get a native plant list with the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder.
Native plants are historically indigenous to a location. Local insects have evolved to be able to consume these plants but are often not able to consume “exotic” plants imported from elsewhere (e.g., inkberry vs. boxwood shrubs in upstate New York).
Native plants are usually the easiest to grow precisely because they are naturally adapted to their environment.
4. Support local birds with a plant list from the Audubon Society.
The Audubon Society’s native plant database site states, “Native plants are the foundation of a region’s biodiversity, providing essential food sources and shelter for birds, especially those threatened by the changing climate.”
5. Check out the Xeres Society’s monarch butterfly conservation guide.
Xeres distinguishes between eastern and western monarchs and provides resources for supporting and protecting monarchs in many different types of settings.
In this webinar, the excellent landscape designer and author Benjamin Vogt discusses the best way to eliminate existing turf (lawn grass), which is not as straightforward as you might think.
Vogt also details instructions for using a native grass matrix as a basis for designing a natural garden and how to deal with resistant homeowners’ associations.
7. Use the Better Yard Builder tool at American Meadows to plan your strategy.
American Meadows is a commercial seed and plant supplier. I’m currently testing their “Deer-Resistant Wildflower Seed Mix” in my community-garden raised bed, which I hope to plant next year in my pocket meadow-gardens in front of my house.
The Better Yard Builder tool allows you to select your goals and then input information about your growing conditions to come up with a low-mow lawn solution or meadow plan perfect for your site.
8. See an overview of climate resilient landscaping at Wild Ones.
From using water wisely to leaving your fall leaves in place on the ground, Wild Ones boils down ten things you can do in your home landscape immediately to “slow down climate change, promote climate resilience and fight biodiversity losses at the same time.”
Wild Ones also offers free native-plant garden designs and a native-plant nursery list by state. Consider joining your local chapter of Wild Ones if you’d like to connect with others in your area and receive region-specific information.
One tree can support over a hundred species of insects and wildlife, and trees can contribute significantly to reducing the negative effects of climate change.
It’s so important to plant trees in your landscape or become involved with tree-planting projects in your neighborhood, but planting and caring for trees and shrubs can be a complex task. This manual beautifully illustrates how to do it correctly.
10. Watch the truly inspiring How to Start a Food Forest the Easy Way.
Even if you have no interest in growing food, David the Good addresses the concept of “analysis paralysis” in this funny yet very profound presentation about how plants–and ecology in general–work.
His message is a great call to just go out there and get started!
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