There is one thing that you can do to improve your piece of this Earth to help the flora and fauna that you share it with. What is that one thing? Well, I don’t know because I don’t know what you are currently doing. Perhaps I can help you discover what that one thing is.
You see, there is always one thing you can do. It’s just that easy: one thing. After you do that, you can do another “one thing” later – a week later, a month later or even six months later. Improving your piece of the world can be seen as one step at a time. Do as many as you want or as many as you can. Do them at your own pace either according to your time or ability.
So what are your choices? When I visit someone’s yard for the first time, here is what I look for:
- Are there invasive non-native plants that are actively fruiting? If so, remove the fruit and safely discard it so that it cannot get back out into the natural environment. Examples might be privet (Ligustrum spp.), oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), burning bush (Euonymus alatus), nandina (Nandina domestica). Cost to do this? Free (unless you need to hire help).
- Are there invasive non-native plants that are taking up space that could be used to grow native plants? If so, remove these plants and replace with mulch until you can afford to add native plants. A box turtle came and laid eggs in my newly cleared area while I was deciding what to replant this year. Examples of such plants to remove might be English ivy (Hedera helix), Japanese stiltgrass, privet, nandina, mahonia (Mahonia bealei), bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). Cost to do this? Free.
- Are you using chemicals to spray for pests in your yard? Pesticides often take out beneficial insects while also killing the targeted species. Or you could be spraying for cosmetic reasons. Stop spraying and let the ecosystem learn to balance out the pests. Over time, insectivore birds (those that eat insects) will increase in the area, other insect-eating predators will increase and the whole area will be better off. Cost to do this? Free.
- Stop throwing away your yard waste (lawn clippings, leaves, cut branches) and use them to mulch your trees and shrubs, create paths, compost or create a brush pile for birds. Also, stop cutting back your perennials in the fall – the seeds on them support birds and the dead stems become winter homes for small insects (which are then sources of food for winter birds); larger stems may even become places for solitary bees to lay their eggs. Cost to do this? Free.
- Increase the diversity of native plants in your yard. You may already have native plants, but increasing the diversity of species will increase the life that your yard supports. For example, if you don’t have any goldenrod (Solidago) or milkweed (Asclepias) then you are lacking in key support for several critters in their life cycle. Cost to do this? Depends on what you select or whether you get seeds or free divisions from friends or groups. At the Georgia Native Plant Society’s end of year meeting we always have a big seed swap/giveaway – free!
- Convince your neighbors. There is no better way to double your impact than by convincing another person to make changes as well. If that person is your immediate neighbor, you have now created a bigger habitat which is more than twice as good as two fragmented habitats. Cost to do this? Free.
So those are the things you can do. Pick one that is applicable for you and do that one thing. If you’ve already removed invasive plants, perhaps the next thing to do is add diversity. Or perhaps you are using pesticides, or throwing away yard waste; whatever it is, pick the change you can do.
Each and every item can make a meaningful difference and you can feel good about the progress you have made. Make a list of the items that apply to you and execute your list over time as you have time and, if applicable, money. Many things can be accomplished just by your own time and effort.
So, what’s the one thing you can do?
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