We’ve all heard that one doesn’t plant a tree for now, you plant a tree for the future. You make an investment when you plant a tree, especially one destined to be a tall canopy tree, soaring high above you, your home and most of the living things around it. Sure, you’ll enjoy it while you’re there, but it will live on after you move away and even after you die.
The concept of making decisions that yield benefits for future generations is one that appeals to most of us that write here. Yet the benefit to future generations isn’t so far in the distant future.
Your botanical investments affect more than just generations of humans, they affect generations of beetles, frogs, lizards, birds, butterflies and squirrels … the list is long and varied. All of them benefit from the plants you choose – whether they eat part of the plant itself or they eat the bugs that eat the plant. And new generations are born every day, every week, every month!
When you go to purchase a plant for your garden, what goes through your mind? “It’s pretty, it’s evergreen, my neighbors already have one so I’ll be in step with other yards” – those are generally the reasons that I hear people express. You usually garden for reasons of your own. How about gardening more for future generations? How about:
- Planting nectar rich flowers for next year’s crop of pollinators?
- Planting goldenrod for the beetles?
- Planting host plants for the caterpillars?
- Leaving leaf litter for toads, pill bugs, worms and snails? And the birds that eat them?
- Planting native red honeysuckle and red salvia for the hummingbirds that get protein from nectar – protein that isn’t found in sugar water?
How about thinking about how your choices can make a difference to an entire world around your house and your neighborhood?
When you make your plant choices, you are gardening for all the creatures around you. In a sea of suburbia, your yard and your neighbors’ yards can be an essential oasis for now and the future. And I mean right now. You can make a difference not just for future humans but future everything!
Every single plant choice you make can make a difference to some creature. The more diverse choices you make (that is, don’t plant huge masses of just one thing – choose lots of different things!), the more impact you can have on different bugs, birds and small mammals.
The milkweed (Asclepias) that you plant provides nectar to butterflies and to other pollinators, but it also provides food for monarch butterfly caterpillars. The passionflower (Passiflora) that you let scramble up a portion of your fence creates beautiful purple flowers for you and food for zebra longwing and gulf fritillary butterfly caterpillars. As these caterpillars grow, they provide a very local classroom for you to introduce your children, grandchildren or neighborhood kids to the wonderful world of nature.
The oak tree (Quercus) that you plant also plays host to over 500 different species of caterpillars, and it drops nutritious nuts, encouraging a variety of wildlife to explore your yard: turkeys, squirrels, deer, chipmunks and others.
As winter closes in and our garden plans play out in our head and we wait for spring to return, think about who you garden for … and who you could garden for. There are a thousand little creatures just outside your door, wondering if you could make some choices for them. Consider these three points as you plan:
Plant native plants.
Research your choices so that they are suitable for the place you choose.
The next time you see a bird fly across your yard or watch a butterfly float by on a warm summer day … you can think “I did it for you!”
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