One of my biggest soapbox issues is how the modern yard, with a homogeneity of grass and manicured flower beds, is harmful to nature. There are so many ways to have a beautiful yard and garden and still encourage biodiversity.
By having a diverse array of ground coverage, flowers, and other plants you create a welcomed sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife and pollinators.
There are so many reasons why you want a diverse yard: they’re often easier to care for, attract pollinators, and can even provide you food. I also find it much prettier than a boring green-grass land.
Whether you’re just dipping a toe in the water or you want to dive in an revamp your yard with biodiversity in mind here are some great ways to make it happen.
What Does Biodiversity Mean?
Before we jump in, I want to quickly explain what I mean by biodiversity here. Biodiversity means having a variety of plants, animals, and insects in nature.
Modern lawns aren’t biodiverse: we typically only have one species (grass) growing throughout the lawn. When other plants are introduced it’s in controlled areas (gardens) and we remove any species that pop up naturally (weeds, wildflowers, etc.)
We also discourage insects from visiting by using pesticides. This discourages even desirable visitors, like birds, because it removes a food source.
Encouraging biodiversity in your yard means allowing naturally occurring plants to grow, planting a wide variety of plant species, and encouraging wildlife and insects to visit.
Why You Want a Biodiverse Yard
I touched on this previously, but really it’s so beneficial to have a biodiverse yard. Both your front and back yard have potential for biodiversity, and the only limits are really with your area’s bylaws or HOA.
Here’s some reasons why a biodiverse yard is better than the modern grass yard:
- Helps bees, which need all the support they can get right now
- Attracts other desirable pollinators like butterflies
- Promotes stability in the environment (more on a large scale, but your lawn still contributes)
- Reduces erosion
- Provides a habitat for insects, birds, and small animal species
- Supports the lasting sustainability of native plant species
- Less need for watering and fertilizing, further benefiting the environment
- Aesthetically nicer, especially if you have a lot of pretty plant species like flowers
- Can be a source of food
10 Ways to Encourage Biodiversity in Your Front and Back Yards
Swap Grass With a Different Ground Cover
Why do we cover our yards with grass? Well it looks nice enough, is pretty soft, and provides a nice ground coverage so kids have a place to play and our yard doesn’t wind up full of mud every time it rains.
Grass might be the most popular ground coverage, but it’s hardly the only option. In fact, there are a bunch of great grass-alternatives that consume less water, don’t require mowing, and are even nicer to put your bare feet on.
While switching from one single ground cover to another might not feel like a huge step in biodiversity, if all your neighbours have grass it will definitely help your area. You can also mix and match compatible species; use it to create a unique landscaping design.
Let the Wild Flowers (and Weeds) Grow
Look, I’m not suggesting you leave those thistles or cocklebur weeds growing in your yard, but so many wild plants and “weeds” are actually harmless. On the contrary, most contribute to biodiversity and help feed wildlife including pollinators like bees.
Dandelions are one of the best examples. Most people consider them weeds, but the yellow flower is a source of pollen for bees. It’s not exactly their favourite food, but it’s certainly better than nothing. Yes, the pollen might affect hay fever sufferers and yes, those deep roots will affect the rest of your garden, but when controlled weeds like dandelions can be a positive in your yard.
Other “weeds” you should consider letting grow are tall prairie grasses and clover.
Grow a Vegetable Garden
This has an added bonus of providing some fresh vegetables too. The more we can feed ourselves out of our own yards the better! You can save money, eat better, and encourage biodiversity at the same time.
Since vegetable gardens are typically comprised of various plant species they’re naturally a benefit to the plant diversity in your yard.
To get the full benefit, make sure you plant compatible species together and grow flowers that attract the pollinators who will help your garden grow.
Plant Native Species
One of the most detrimental effects of our grass lawns is the erasure of native plant species in our local area. Most grasses that we grow are actually an invasive species, meaning they wouldn’t naturally be found in a lot of our yards.
We rip up naturally occurring vegetation and replace it with grass, which disrupts the ecosystem that developed over millennia. All so we can have a “yard”.
Look up what plants naturally occur in your area, especially ones that are threatened, and plant those to encourage biodiversity.
Invite Birds to Your Yard
Plants aren’t the only biodiverse species that benefit your yard. Birds are also essential for the ecosystem. They help act as pollinators, control insect populations, and spread seeds around through their diet.
Invite birds to your yard by planting trees, shrubs, and flowers that attract them. You can also add some bird feeders in, just make sure you’re using high quality bird-safe seeds in them.
Don’t forget to provide water and shelter for birds. Bird baths seriously work! As a bonus, you’ll get to enjoy birdwatching in your own backyard.
PS. If you have outdoor cats, make sure you put a bell on them to protect the birds.
Choose Flowers That Feed Pollinators like Bees and Butterflies
Most bees are harmless so don’t be afraid to invite them to your yard or garden. One of the easiest ways is to plant phacelia flowers; they’re a bee favourite. Sadly they’re not winter hardy for colder areas, but they are super easy to grow from seed each year.
Butterflies are another welcomed guest for most gardeners, especially ones with young kids. There’s a perennial shrub called butterfly bush that’s best in zones 5-9 but is actually hardy to most growing zones that you may want to plant, but it will likely be invasive to most areas.
Most fragrant and brightly coloured flowers attract pollinators, which is a win-win for nature and you having a beautiful garden.
Finally, don’t forget to provide other shelter for insects. Flat stones, for example, are a welcomed resting spot for butterflies. Milkweed, dill, and asters are also great for encouraging butterflies by providing the perfect environment for caterpillars to grow up.
Add Water (But Beware Mosquitos)
A biodiverse yard includes a variety of region-appropriate biomes. In most places, that means water is a great addition to your garden. You can do this in whatever way works best: whether it’s a pond, water feature, or various bird baths.
If mosquitos are an issue, avoid standing water whenever possible. I strongly recommend adding some kind of water feature to your pond or opting for a waterfall-type set up. This will keep the water moving and make it difficult, if not impossible, for mosquitos to lay their eggs in it.
The downside to moving water is you can’t have the same range of plants growing. If you prefer still water, make sure you clean it regularly.
To help encourage biodiversity, add water plants in your pond to invite frogs and other wildlife. You can also add some hardy fish like koi if you’re willing to undertake the maintenance that goes with it.
Always be cautious adding water features of any kind to yards with kids or pets.
Consider Natural Pest Control
I’m a big proponent of natural ways to keep pests out of your yard and avoid using pesticides whenever possible. The issue with pest control is that it often kills insects that are good for your yard and garden too, including bees.
Planting aromatic plants like basil and lemongrass that help repel mosquitos and flies can help you be more comfortable when relaxing outdoors.
Start a Compost Bin
Composting isn’t just a great way to reuse kitchen scraps and fertilize your garden, it also contributes to your yard’s biodiversity too. You’ll find all kinds of critters thriving on your compost (which is needed to help break it down).
If you compost you’ll also be able to use less artificial fertilizers, which is good for the environment.
Let Harmless Mushrooms Grow
I strongly recommend educating yourself on the mushrooms that naturally grow in your area before undertaking this one. It’s essential to recognize mushrooms that can be toxic to humans and pets, and promptly dispose of any that pop up in your yard.
That being said, most fungus that you’ll see is completely harmless, and actually good for the ecosystem. If you have any rotting wood, for example, you’ve probably spotted some crusts growing off it. They’re totally safe (but inedible).
Brave mushroom fans might find edible mushrooms in their yard, but even if you’re not willing to eat them, at least let harmless mushrooms grow whenever possible to encourage biodiversity.