Happy Earth Day! It’s the 50th anniversary of a day to demonstrate support for environmental protection. A popular environmental slogan is “Think globally, act locally.” We celebrate this day by sharing ways you can make lasting positive change and begin conservation at home, right in your garden.
- Read books about sustainable landscaping. Two great books are Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home and his new book, Nature’s Best Hope. The first book reveals the significant connection between native plant species and native insects, a relationship that has far-reaching effects on the rest of the food chain. The second book explains how every landowner can make a difference in wildlife conservation and biodiversity by choosing native plants. An entomologist and wildlife ecologist, Doug explains his compelling rationale and extensive research in a presentation recorded last month in New Canaan, Connecticut, at the end of this article (Special thanks to New Canaan Land Trust for sharing this presentation with the public).
- Learn about and plant native plants in your garden. Native plants provide sustenance to valuable pollinators (bees, butterflies, and moths). The Xerces Society, a non-profit organization that promotes the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats all over the world, offers a pollinator-friendly Midwestern plant list.
- Convert a sunny area outside your window from lawn to plantings. Lawns require many inputs such as time, water, fertilizer, and chemicals. By converting a sunny area outside your window to a low-maintenance planting, you reduce the need for these inputs and turn it into a beautiful focal point that can be enjoyed from both inside and outside your home.
- Join the Conservation@Home program. The Conservation Foundation is one of the region’s oldest and largest not-for-profit organizations that work to promote environmental stewardship in northeastern Illinois. Their Conservation@Home program aims to create beautiful and functional gardens that conserve water and provides habitat for beneficial wildlife. An application process is required to certify that your garden meets the criteria. A certified environmentally friendly landscape is recognized with a Conservation@Home yard sign to post proudly in your garden.
- Re-direct your home’s downspouts. Downspouts that exit up against a home’s foundation increase the chances of basement seepage and can also cause stormwater runoff. Installing underground drainage pipes that exit in a low spot in your garden, such as a rain garden or dry well, helps to conserve water.
- Install a rain garden. A rain garden is a small depression with native shrubs, perennials, and flowers. It functions to temporarily hold and absorb rainwater runoff from roofs and paving, and remove up to 90% of chemicals and up to 80% of sediments from rainwater runoff. A rain garden usually drains within 12-48 hours, preventing mosquitoes from breeding. We can help with the planning and installation of one in your garden. If you already have a rain garden, refer to this helpful rain garden maintenance guide from the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and non-profit organization RainReady.
- Install one or more rain barrels. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago offers Cook County homeowners a rain barrel program to help you capture water from your roof to use when you need it. Note: their operations may be impacted by COVID-19 at this time.