Gardening for Biodiversity

A well-groomed garden with lawns and non- native plants is no magnet for butterflies, or other insects and birds that share our local ecosystem. If you want your garden to bustle with life, use native plants and a wide array of colorful nectar producing flowers.

At a special Sippican Lands Trust presentation on Tuesday June 19, Horticulturist Debi Hogan shared this advice and explained how conscientious gardening can enrich biodiversity – which means the number, variety and genetic variation of organisms found within a specific geographic region.

“We know that plants make the world go round,” she said of their importance in supporting and maintaining insects, birds and other animals. With 37 percent of the animal world represented by insects, their livelihood relies on plants as food – and birds rely on insects as critical nourishment.

From the rise in suburbanization came manicured lawns and a taste for non-native plants, which 90 percent of insects do not consume. Insects adapt to chemicals in plants after co-evolving with a plant over a long history, underscoring the importance of gardening with native plants, she said.

Hogan’s husband, Warren Leach, noted during the talk that lawns take up double the land than national parks. Mowed lawns are not good incubators for life, he said.

“If we can change our own practices, we can change our landscape,” Hogan said.

To create a garden attracting butterflies, a variety of plants should adorn a yard. Fragrant yellow, purpose, and white flowers will attract butterflies, which often rely on smell to locate nectar. Also many plants should be available for choosy female butterflies to lay their eggs. Trees also are important harboring grounds for these

insects. “A lot of butterflies actually grow up in trees,” Hogan said. She also advised that a water source be available to nourish the insects and birds.

Hogan listed off many plants that attract butterflies: butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa) for monarch butterflies and red clover (asclepias tuberosa) for monarch butterflies, hummingbirds and clearwing moths.

Other plants she recommended to attract the winged beauties include: dandelions, purple cane flower, black eyed susan, daisy fleabone, sunflower, Mexican sunflower, hawkweed, yarrow, butterfly bush, ironweed, New Jersey tea, honeysuckle, violets, among others. She also recommended laying out ripe fruit.

“I’m trying to encourage a change in practices… gardening with a little less lawn,” she said.

 By Laura Fedak Pedulli

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