What’s more, the habitat provided by native plants can help birds adapt and survive amid a changing climate. More than half of North American bird species are threatened by climate change, and native plants can help increase their resilience by giving them food and places to rest and nest.
Better for People
When you landscape with native species, you can spend more time with the birds and less time with the mower. How does that boost human health? During the growing season, some 56 million Americans mow 40 million acres of grass each week—an area eight times the size of New Jersey! Mowers and weed-whackers burn gasoline to the tune of 800 million gallons per year, contributing to the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.
If you’ve ever filled a lawn mower or weed whacker with gas, you know that spills happen. The EPA estimates that Americans spill more than 17 million gallons of fuel each year while refueling lawn equipment, polluting the air and groundwater. Older, less efficient two-cycle engines release significant amounts of their oil and gas unburned. The less lawn you mow, the less air and water pollution you create.
Less lawn also means less noise pollution. According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, a typical gas-powered push mower emits 85 to 90 decibels for the operator (90-95 for riding lawnmowers). That doesn’t just scare away the birds—it can cause hearing loss over time.
By planting native species, you will also:
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30 to 60 percent of fresh water in American cities is used for watering lawns. Native plants have adapted to thrive in their regional landscape, without added water or nutrients. With climate change models predicting increased episodes of extreme drought such as California is experiencing, it’s a good time to shift to water-wise yards and native plants.
Cultivating vertical structure in your yard by planting many different species of herbaceous flowering plants, shrubs, and trees creates layers of vegetation that deflect pounding rains, increasing the chance for water to be absorbed by your soil before running off into storm drains and streams.
Use fewer chemicals
Less lawn mowing, fertilizing, and pesticide application means cleaner air and water.
Homeowners apply nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides to lawns in the United States each year. What’s more, they use up to 10 times more pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. During storms, lawn chemicals can be carried by runoff and wind, contaminating streams and wetlands many miles away.
Native plants are often hardier than non-native ornamentals and thrive without pesticides or fertilizers. Moreover, as you work to create a bird-friendly sanctuary in your yard, insects that may have seemed like pests before become allies. Since caterpillars are premium bird food, the holes they make in your oak’s leaves are badges of success and the caterpillars themselves cause for celebration.
Less lawn means less time mowing, weed-whacking, and edging. Landscaping with native plants isn’t maintenance free—invasive weed species are an ongoing issue in any garden. But with careful landscape planning and plant selection, you can create a garden space that minimizes the ongoing input of time and money. That’s a mighty nice change from constant lawn care. And when the mower’s tucked away, you can hear bird song in the silence that reigns.
What does a beautiful outdoor space look like? What does it mean to have a “well-kept” yard? For decades, our standard of green beauty and orderliness has centered on a carpet-like lawn and manicured foundation plantings, an aesthetic that largely excludes birds and other wildlife, and has a hefty carbon footprint. By putting in native plants, you can create a colorful, visually appealing landscape that helps give birds a fighting chance in a changing world.