A Beginner's Guide to Landscape with Environmental Responsibility

After over a year of the pandemic gardening knowledge accruing in your head, and the current gardening season right around the corner, you're probably ready to get into your garden and get dirty, but here are a few environmentally conscious tips to consider before starting that will make your gardening “clean”, sustainable, and restorative. 

From simple and quick solutions, to creating a biodiverse community in your own backyard, these tips will help you to craft a gorgeous space for you to observe the local wildlife while supporting a sustainable future for them, and keeping environmental responsibility in mind.

Start by learning about the local flora and fauna

If you think of your garden as your canvas, you can think of the local wildlife and plant life as the color palette you have to work with.  Spend time learning about the beautiful creatures that have adapted to the specific landscape you inhabit to begin crafting your masterpiece.

Learn without leaving the couch

  • Check out your state's Native Plant Society  to learn about the plants that grow naturally in your community.  This valuable resource contains information on where to source native seeds, lists of native plants and information on conservation programs occurring in your community and how to get involved.
  • Download apps that help identify and learn about plants and wildlife like iNaturalist, which also helps gather important information for scientists to analyze, as well as promotes conservation.

Take a Hike!

  • See the natural beauty of your local environment by simply taking a hike near-by.  Take note of the plants that catch your eye while you catch your breath. Hint: iNaturalist can come in handy here to help identify the plants and animals you find.
  • Visit the botanical gardens and arboretums in your area.  Not only is this a great way to gain inspiration for how you can set up your own landscaping, it's also a great place to ask any questions you need answered and find out about local conservation efforts that you can get involved in.  

Planning your Space

After learning about the local wildlife that exists right outside your doorstep it’s easy to get excited to start planting and attracting all the beautiful creatures in your community, but landscaping with environmental responsibility takes some thoughtful planning. This planning will be well worth it to establish a sustainable and self-sufficient ecosystem that will be able to cherish and enjoy indefinitely. 

When attracting local wildlife keep in mind:

  • The natural food sources of the animals you want to attract and key locations for those resources to comfortably flourish. 
  • Providing a clean drinking source, or providing plants that collect water to be naturally consumed, especially for birds or insects. 
  • Create cover from the elements to provide a safe space to rest and hide from predators.
  • Be aware of the amount of space that you have to work with to realistically support wildlife.  Some animals are more territorial than others so make sure you are keeping enough distance between resources to have harmonious biodiversity at your backdoor. 

When looking at native plants keep in mind:

  • The soil type found where you will be planting.  Is it peaty, sandy, clay?  What sort of native plant life can it support?
  • Take note of the sun exposure throughout your garden.  How long do areas of your yard have exposure to the sun, and what plants will flourish there?
  • What plants are already established in your yard?  It can take some native plants a few years to establish their deep roots systems and reach maturity, helping keep the integrity of your soil and prevent erosion, so keeping native plants that are already established gives you a leg up on the sustainability game. 
  • Identify invasive plants, or non native plants that require pesticides or extra resources compared to native plants which require none, and see if there is a good alternative plant to switch it out for.

Keep wildlife healthy by avoiding:

  • Most commercial bird feeders, which play a role in the transmission of deadly diseases in birds.  Instead provide a variety of plants that birds naturally forage from. 
  • Hummingbird feeders, which can play a role in transmitting disease between hummingbirds.  It can also create territorial tension and aggression between hummingbirds visiting feeders at the same time.  Instead provide plants that allow space for multiple hummingbirds to feed from. 

Get involved with Conservation Organization

Local conservation organizations will have incredible resources for helping your landscaping dreams become a reality.  Lots of organizations will even have programs that are helpful to your specific community and focus on creating resilient ecosystems for at risk wildlife.  You may also be able to receive seed kits, or other resources, that help with attracting native wildlife.  See the USDA’s list of Conservation Organizations to get started.