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Small Changes, Big Impacts

APRIL 2022

by Katie Jackson, Contributing Writer

When it comes to gardening for nature, big changes come in small packages and work best when approached with baby steps.

A goldfinch feasts on the seeds of a purple cornflower. (Photo Courtesy: Kathy Diamontopoulos/American Meadows)

That’s the message that ecologist Michelle Bertelsen, naturalist David Mizejewski and entomologist/conservationist Doug Tallamy all try to emphasize whenever they share their passion for nature-friendly gardening.

“Developing a wildlife-friendly landscape only becomes scary and undoable if you think you have to do it all by tomorrow,” Tallamy says.

Instead, he suggests approaching it with an eye toward one or two of the four components of a healthy ecosystem (supporting pollinators, supporting the food web, sequestering carbon and managing the watershed).

“Look at your property and ask yourself, ‘Which one of these can I do better?’ Almost everyone can do at least one of those better,” he says.

All three experts encourage the idea of starting in a small and specific area of the yard or garden, rather than trying to makeover the entire yard. This saves time, money and allows gardeners to learn as they go.

They agree that the basis of any nature-minded landscape is the use of native plants, which are suited specifically to local environments.

Once established, native plants can also help lower maintenance demands in the landscape. “There’s no garden in the world that is ‘no maintenance,’” says Bertelsen, “but you shouldn’t have to water and fertilize native plants as much as you do nonnative species.”

It’s also important to plant natives densely and diversly. Filling a space with lots of compatible but different plant species is ideal. “The more plants you have and the bigger the grouping of them the more likely you’re going to support wildlife,” Mizejewski says.