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Combat Climate Change in Your Backyard

About seven years ago, Mike and Caroline Mason of Katonah happened upon a lecture at the Katonah Village Library that changed the way they think about their lawn and garden. During the lecture, given by Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, the Masons learned that the grass and many plants they currently had served as poor “hosts” to native insects, bees, butterflies and birds. “We learned that the native plants require less maintenance, that they provide a home for those native populations, for example, a place for larvae to mature, and the insects in turn are food for the birds,” Mike explained.

Soon after, the Masons began introducing native plants into their garden and yard. They noticed an increase in butterflies, different kinds of bees, and a greater number and variety of birds, emphasizing their joy in having hummingbirds visit their garden, “which are fascinating to watch,” Mike added. 

The interconnectedness—the relationship of the landscape to birdlife—suddenly became obvious

An added benefit of shrinking their lawn is less mowing. This, in turn, means a reduction in carbon pollution contributing to climate change. In maintaining the grass they do have, Mike explained that they never “bother picking up or blowing the clippings.”

Bedford residents Joe and Virginia Maybank noticed similar changes in their property when, about five years ago, they introduced native perennials and committed to using no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. 

They find native plants to be more disease and pest resistant, while also attracting more birds and bees. They referred to some of their plants hosting a “feeding frenzy” for bees. “Our garden is alive,” remarked Virginia.

The Maybanks also opt to plant native trees and shrubs, which help to sequester carbon dioxide and also look better in Bedford’s environment, in Virginia’s opinion. “They look like they belong here, they grow better, and require less attention,” she commented.

The Maybank’s property is home to native dogwood trees, a sycamore, an American holly, a Chioanthus or fringe tree, a cucumber magnolia, and several types of Viburnum shrubs. Besides being lovely to look at, many of the flowering trees are food sources for birds and small mammals. 

Both the Masons and the Maybanks commented on the ease of caring for native plants. They are adapted to the weather extremes and typical rainfall in the area, require less watering and pruning, and generally have longer bloom periods than exotic varieties. 

However, it is a long-term effort. Some plants need to be moved around a bit in order to find the place where they are happiest. Virginia also recommends thinking about the whole growing season when choosing your plants. Both couples favor Virginia bluebells, a native spring ephemeral for shady areas. The sky-blue flowers provide an early nectar source for bees and are hardy once settled for a year or two. 

Talk to your landscaper and go to a good nursery to get planting advice particular to your yard.

For more resources:

You can visit a native plant garden and attend lectures at the New York Botanical Garden

The Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College offers classes and their website includes plant lists and links to other resources and sites to visit. 

More about the work of Doug Tallamy can be found on YouTube and his website: Bringing Nature Home

For advice on creating a healthy yard, check out the Outdoor action pages

This story by Teresa Donkin appeared as a Climate Story in the Record Review (modified)