Eight steps to battle climate change in your own backyard
1. Reduce the size of your lawn. If you already have beds of flowers or shrubs, make them bigger. Those plants require less input and have less negative impact than grass.
You can do this gradually, until you’ve left only the lawn area you really need, she said.
2. Plant regional natives. Plants that grow naturally in your area are survivors. They’re adapted to the conditions where you live and can take pretty much anything nature dishes out — frigid winters. spring floods, marauding insects, plant diseases. Typically, they don’t require much in the way of additives or even extra water to thrive.
3. Add native trees and shrubs. They’re great at drinking up storm water, which reduces the amount that runs off to storm sewers or bodies of water. That runoff picks up fertilizers and other pollutants along the way, which can foul our water.
Trees have lots of other benefits, too, Eierman noted. They absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen and have a powerful cooling effect.
4. Plant a rain garden. This is another good way to handle storm runoff. Rain gardens are filled with deep-rooted native plants that don’t mind being wet for a while, and they’re also designed to hold water temporarily and encourage it to filter down into the ground. What doesn’t get absorbed by the plant roots gets cleaned naturally by the soil.
5. Reduce or eliminate pesticide use. We’re continually discovering that certain chemicals can have devastating effects on beneficial insects. And when we destroy those insects, we harm everything that depends on them, including ourselves.
Keep in mind, Eierman pointed out, that pesticides aren’t just insecticides. They comprise a whole range of substances, including herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides and more.
She’s particularly worried about the widespread use of weed killers such as glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup. Concerns have been raised that it may cause cancer and that its overuse is creating resistant “superweeds.”
6. Emulate nature. A natural landscape has layers of plants, Eierman said — short and tall perennials, grasses and sedges, shrubs, shorter understory trees and taller canopy trees. That diversity provides food and shelter for a variety of creatures and organisms, all of which depend on one another.
You don’t have to turn your yard into a forest, but mixing things up the way nature does will help create a healthier ecosystem.
7. Tolerate some imperfection. Allow a little untidiness in the landscape, such as letting leaves stay on the ground (as long as they’re not smothering the grass) or leaving a fallen log alone. It can have all sorts of benefits, such as creating habitats for wildlife and enriching the soil.
And don’t confuse plant damage with “nature doing its thing,” she said. Caterpillars chew leaves before they turn into butterflies. Leaf cutter bees cut circular pieces from oak and rose leaves to use in creating their nests. By tolerating some unkempt foliage, you’re supporting creatures that play important roles such as pollinating plants and feeding birds.
8. Recognize our interdependence. “We tend to think of ourselves as [being] in here and nature as out there,” Eierman said. But nature isn’t just what’s outside our walls, she said.
Realize we’re a part of nature, not separate from it, she urged. That can help us see the bigger picture and understand that our choices have effects, either good or bad.
If we’re thoughtful, she hopes, those choices will be the right ones.
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