Boost Your Biodiversity

How to invite wildlife into your garden.

Sustainability is a buzzword that is all over social media. Companies use the term in their marketing, and whole industries have been created around it. Unfortunately, the repeated use of it has an adverse effect – it begins to lose meaning and significance. But, in the environmental crisis we now find ourselves in, commitment to true sustainable practices is more important than ever. It’s not all doom and gloom though. If every next-generation gardener across the world were to do their part to help the environment, it could have an incredible impact. And one of the best ways to help is to invite wildlife into your garden and do what you can to protect it through biodiversity.

Biodiversity in the garden

Every sustainable gardener should have biodiversity top of mind. An abundance of bugs, birds and other animals is a sign of a healthy garden. But how do you increase biodiversity without risking your plants in the process? Let’s start small. There are some pests that may technically contribute to biodiversity, but you still don’t want them in your garden – they are called pests for a reason.

Unfortunately, many methods of eradicating pests also deter the good bugs, decreasing your garden’s biodiversity. To tackle this problem, sustainable gardeners are using integrated pest management (IPM). Previously used in agriculture, IPM has been adopted by home gardeners looking for eco-friendly solutions to their pest problems. The goal of IPM is to reduce harmful impacts on your garden and the environment by understanding pest-management methods and using the safest possible avenue to target pests.

The first step in IPM is learning to identify bugs and understanding how they operate. It’s a ‘know-thy-enemy’ situation. This way, you can identify which pests do the most damage and which should be left alone. It’s also important to learn the relationships between bugs and the plants in the garden. Each insect forms part of an ecosystem, and getting rid of one element can upset the entire balance. For example, removing a pesky beetle from your garden bed could kill the food supply for animals you want to attract, like birds.

By learning the ins and outs of insects, you can decide when to step in and when to let the garden take care of itself. As the saying goes, ‘the best defence is a good offense’ (or something like that). In other words, preventing pests is far better than controlling them once they are established. Try choosing plants that are pest resistant and keep them healthy to allow their natural defences to do the work for you.

Some harsh pests are almost impossible to remove once they are established and can spell disaster for all the plants in your garden. Do your best to prevent an infestation rather than have to try to cure one. If you find a pest problem, don’t lunge for the first pesticide you see. Try introducing new plants that will draw the pests away from the ones you want to keep safe or will attract other bugs and animals that can act as predators, to remove them naturally. Some natural pesticides can be made with products from your kitchen, or you can even remove the bugs from your plants by hand. If you have exhausted all your options and desperately need to purchase a pesticide, choose the least harmful option, and apply it carefully and selectively.

Only use a pesticide in the affected area and don’t water afterwards, to prevent runoff. Always follow the instructions exactly and examine the post-application effects, so that you can mitigate any soil- or water-quality problems in the future. IPM is an approach that understands that chemicals may sometimes be necessary, but that they can often be avoided with knowledge, good planning and natural processes. While you are doing your best to deter harmful bugs from your garden, you should also be trying to attract as many good bugs to your garden as possible.

To attract smaller bugs and animals, cordon off a part of your garden to create a wildlife shelter. Gather a pile of old logs, drill a few holes, and throw in some organic materials. You’ll attract a wide range of bugs, birds and even small reptile and mammals to your garden. Plus, they’ll be more likely to stay away from your prized plants if they have their own space to themselves.

Unfortunately, some gardeners view all bugs and other animals (not just the bad ones) as a nuisance, but they do a lot for our gardens. It’s like a tiny eco-system you can foster yourself – there’s nothing more environmentally friendly than that. And finally, it’s impossible to talk about protecting the wildlife without mentioning pollinators. Butterflies, birds and bees keep our environments running.

Without them, we would have few flowers, little food and barely any resources – it’s impossible to overstate their significance. The easiest way to help pollinators is to grow a pollinator-friendly garden. Plant a wide variety of flowering plants in a dense area, adding water sources and shelters for the pollinators that may visit. To really help the pollinator community (and score some free honey), take up beekeeping as a hobby. Although it takes some equipment and knowledge to start – as all great hobbies do – a hive or two in your backyard is not difficult to manage once you get started. (Just make sure to check with neighbours and municipal by-laws before taking the plunge.)

Sustainable gardening is about attitude. Start gardening with the environment in mind and it’s hard to go wrong. We all know what needs to be done, but it takes a commitment to sustainable gardening to put it into action.

Start small: if many gardeners each make a small change, the overall effect will be huge.

The Gardener