Guardians of our gardens

17 years ago

Whether you grow a few potted plants or a green solace where you sit and enjoy the flowers, butterflies and birds, our gardens are a place where we can connect with nature and enjoy its bounties. Here we serve as guardians of our back yard environment.
In light of growing concerns about our warming climate, the National Wildlife Federation has created a Gardeners’ Guide that provides many simple and thoughtful steps we can take to help solve that problem and make an enormous difference in our back yards.
Gardeners can play an important role in minimizing the increasing threat of invasive species that are crowding out the native plants that support wildlife food chains. Invasive plants like purple loosestrife, Japanese honeysuckle and English ivy are turning some ecosystems into monocultures that out compete with native plants and diminish the number of wildlife species that can survive there.
We can replace invasive plants in our gardens with an array of native alternatives. The USDA Forest Service has identified a number of plant options for gardeners to consider as substitutes for some of the more harmful invasive plant species. To replace the harmful invasive – English ivy, they recommend plantain-leaved sedge, marginal wood fern, white woodland aster, Meehan’s mint and creeping phlox. Consult the web site www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/htmpubs/2500.htm for more information on native alternatives.
Purple coneflower, gayfeather or shaggy blazing star, are better native alternatives to replace the invasive purple loosestrife. Finally, native alternatives to the invasive Japanese honeysuckle include American wisteria, leatherflower, Carolina jasmine, trumpet honeysuckle, sweetbay magnolia, or purple passionflower.
By incorporating a diversity of native plants into our landscapes with bloom times that overlap, we can help maintain some of the important connections between pollinators, hosts and wildlife food sources. Check out the NWF “Certified Wildlife Habitat” program online that offers more suggestions for turning your garden into a true haven for birds, butterflies, amphibians and other wildlife at www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife.
Reducing water consumption in the garden will become more important in a warming climate too. Placing mulch in your garden beds can help conserve water, moderate soil temperatures, reduce weeds and provide organic nutrients to the soil. Installing rain barrels to collect rainwater for use during dry periods is a great way to conserve. Adjusting your watering schedule either early or late in the day can minimize the water that would evaporate in the midday sun. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are much more efficient ways to water your garden than sprinklers.
You may have read an earlier In Our Back Yard column on rain gardens that are a great way to practice water conservation too. Xeriscaping is a relatively new approach to minimize water use through the use of native, drought-tolerant plants.
To stem the effects of climate change on a larger scale, you could team up with other gardeners in your community to become an NWF certified community. Community certification unites back yards, school yards, businesses, church yards and neighborhood open space for wildlife. Gardeners plant native species that provide important habitat basics (food, water, cover) for wildlife to raise their young and help maintain or reconnect fragmented habitats that will help wildlife cope with global warming. Learn more about community certification at www.nwf.org/community/.
The information in this column is from the National Wildlife Federation Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming and was contributed by Deb Avalone-King of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. In Our Back Yard is a column of the Maine DEP. E-mail your questions to infodep@maine.gov or send them to In Our Back Yard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.