How to Turn Your Yard Into an Oasis

Native plants provide habitats for the birds and the bees.

May 6, 2020

Nicely manicured lawns complete are a big part of the American dream of home ownership. But grass and ornamental trees and bushes may be going by the wayside as environmentalists call for more yards full of native plants that can provide an ecological oasis for birds and pollinators.

One of the biggest advocates of going native is Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware and the author of Bringing Nature Home. On his website by the same name, Tallamy explained that the natural habitat has been destroyed in so many places that nature preserves are not large enough to support species. With over 85 percent of the land in the US privately owned, we need to redesign residential landscapes to support nature.

How to accomplish this, according to Tallamy, means replacing half of the lawn areas with plants that are woody and herbaceous species that are indigenous to the area

A recent study concluded that forests with a large variety of species are more productive and stable even with the additional stressors related to climate change. The same is true for non-forested areas in public and private places; like people’s yards. But this may be a difficult sell to people who are used to seeing neatly trimmed lawns.

“As climate change and droughts worsen, we might get to a point where there’s political support to outlaw lawns,” Sarah B. Schindler, a professor of law at the University of Maine told Yes Magazine. “I do think we’re seeing a change in norms, and I think part of that is tied to rising awareness.”

Yes Magazine explained that in some drought plagued areas like California, Colorado, and Arizona, cities are offering rebates for each square foot of lawn that is replaced by native plants or water saving landscapes.  

Many municipalities are recognizing that the loss of habitat is contributing to the decline of pollinators. In 2019, Minnesota passed legislation to pay homeowners to transform their lawns into bee-friendly habitats filled with wildflowers, clover, and other plants native to the region.

An organization Food Not Lawns advocates for turning yards into gardens for growing food for themselves and a community of home growers. Growing food at home isn’t just reserved for suburban landscapes. There is a big community garden movement in urban areas in vacant lots and rooftops that is growing in popularity.

There are ways for homeowners to gradually dip their toes into grass lawn replacements. One eco-friendly suggestion from Gilmour, a lawn equipment company, is to plant native perennial flower beds to provide food and habitat for birds and pollinators. They suggest you ask a local nursery for recommendations of what plants are indigenous to your area.

More suggestions from Gilmour are to plant native ornamental grasses that require little or no watering, fertilizer, and absolutely no mowing. You can also plant ground covers and succulent plants instead of grass.

Since traditional lawns are so environmentally unfriendly with heavy water use, chemical fertilizers, and gas-powered mowers, any change large or small makes a difference.  Whether you are a toe dipper or diving right in and changing all of your yard into an ecological oasis, one thing is clear, the birds and the bees will thank you.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.