7 Steps to a Healthy Yard
Lawn requires a lot of water, chemicals and gas-powered machinery to look good. It provides few benefits to the ecosystem. For a healthier yard, remove some or all of your lawn. Replace it with native shrubs, flowering perennials and bunch grasses.
If you decide to keep some lawn, cut it less often and set the mower blades higher to avoid cutting the grass down to the brown stems. Cutting grass too short means it will struggle to survive and will require more water especially during hot weather.
Consider using an electric mower or a reel mower to reduce pollution and noise.
Avoid using chemical herbicides and fertilizers (weed & feed) - they pollute our water and are unsafe for people, pets and wildlife.
Soil is a complex mix of minerals, air, water and organic matter - both dead and living organisms. Soil is capable of supporting plant life and is vital to life on earth.
Soil in urban and suburban yards is often compacted and depleted. When your soil is compacted, it’s harder for roots to grow and for water to soak in. Depleted soil lacks necessary nutrients. Add compost or mulch to keep your soil healthy.
Avoid using weed barrier cloth, as it will destroy your soil by blocking air, water and organic matter which are necessary to keep your soil healthy, suppress weeds and retain moisture.
Rake by hand and leave some of the leaves to decompose and feed the beneficial microbes in your soil.
Many native insects are not adapted to using introduced or hybrid plants as food or nesting sites. That's why native plants are so important. Bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects depend on native plants for nutrition, for places to lay their eggs and as food for their larvae.
Birds need insects to survive, especially baby birds which can't eat seeds or berries. So, native plants are essential for birds, too.
Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil, so they will thrive with minimal watering (once established) and no fertilizers. They don't require pruning or shearing, so they are low maintenance.
You don't have to grow all native plants to have a healthy yard. Aim for 50% to 70% natives, or as many as you can.
To ensure that bees and other beneficial insects are not accidentally poisoned, stop using pesticides. High doses can kill foraging bees and butterflies outright.
Low doses of pesticides can weaken bees' immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to pathogens and parasites.
Pesticides kill caterpillars that birds need to survive. They also kill the beneficial insects and organisms that keep your soil healthy.
Use hand-tools to pull weeds.
Don't use rat poison, which kills owls, hawks, coyotes and other predators.
Leaf blowers erode the soil in your garden, exposing the crowns of plants and damaging roots that are close to the surface.
They also remove the leaves and other organic matter that are necessary for healthy soil. When you constantly blow away all the leaves, you kill the beneficial microbes in the soil by starving them to death.
Leaf blowers also kill hibernating insects like bumblebees, lady bugs and butterflies in the egg, caterpillar or chrysalis phase of their lifecycle.
In the fall, rake by hand and allow some of the leaves to stay on the ground and decompose - this provides food and shelter for insects, which in turn become food for birds and other critters.
When you plant native trees, shrubs, flowering perennials and grasses, you can water less, once the plants are established.
New plants (even if they are drought-tolerant) will need to be watered regularly during the first year, while their roots are getting established. Water long enough for the moisture to soak into the ground and reach the roots.
After the first year, you can water less often. Water drought-tolerant plants once a week during hot weather. Water less often during cooler weather.
Don't water every day or every other day. It's a waste of water and is not good for most plants.
Plant a range of native shrubs and flowering perennials that will provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other pollinators throughout the growing season.
For birds, grow plants that produce seed heads in the fall. Plant native trees and shrubs that produce seeds, nuts and berries.
Add a pond, birdbath or fountain for drinking and bathing.
Bees, butterflies, birds and other critters need safe places to raise their young. Create a wild area in your yard, where leaves and twigs can pile up and decay. If you have a dead tree, consider leaving all or a portion of it standing. Place logs, branches and stumps around your yard to add visual interest, create wildlife habitat and provide nutrients for your soil.