by Cara Fernandes
One of the best ways to provide habitat for wildlife in your own backyard is to plant native species of flowers, trees and shrubs. Native plants are more beneficial to birds and insects, and are easier to grow in your outdoor space than non-native plants. Non-native plants do not share an evolutionary history with insects and animals the way native plants do. In fact, over 90% of herbivorous insects rely on just one or a few native plant lineages for survival.
Fall is actually the best time to add new plants to your yard. The mild season allows plants to establish roots and grow more robustly in the spring. You can even broadcast native seeds at this time to allow the seeds to germinate. Some seeds need cold stratification to grow, which means that they need a stage of exposure to cold temperature to germinate in the spring. Milkweed is one example of a native plant that needs cold stratification. As the only host plant of the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, this is a really important plant to have if you are a lepidoptera lover. Come pick some milkweed seeds up in the Nature Center this fall.
If you have large trees in your backyard, making the effort to take good care of them can be a great service to wildlife, as native trees are imperative to the conservation of native ecosystems.
According to ecologist and author Doug Tallamy, one oak tree can support over 4,000 species of insects and animals. Insects are undoubtedly a key factor in the food chain for other animals like birds and bats. Black-capped chickadees, along with 96% of other terrestrial birds, feed their chicks insects. Without insects, they would simply not survive. And they need A LOT of insects! Chickadees need 5,000 insects per clutch to raise their young. They find these insects in native trees, shrubs and plants. If your backyard has mostly (70%) native plants, that’s great news! Chickadees thrive with at least 70% native vegetation but cannot sustain a clutch if non-native vegetation is over 30%. If you have many non-native plantings, consider adding natives to your garden this fall. You don’t necessarily have to remove non-native plants (unless they are invasive); adding natives to your garden is crucial to supporting biodiversity of wildlife.
In 2020, Quogue Wildlife Refuge began an initiative to encourage people to “Go Native for Wildlife.” Learn more on the QWR website where we list a variety of local businesses and garden centers who have committed to selling at least 5 native plant species to the public. The Long Island Native Plant Initiative is another great source of native plants with genetically appropriate plant lineages for Long Island. Visit their website at linpi.org.