Sustainability: How exactly do I rewild a patch of my lawn or garden anyway?

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There’s a lot of interest right now in rewilding. It’s a pretty complex subject, and can mean a lot of things, from dismantling dams to allow fish and wildlife to travel the river, to providing a hospitable environment for a reintroduced species. It’s easy to get bogged down in discussion because there’s a lot of biologists and scientists talking about it. But if I’m just an ordinary person with a bit of a lawn or garden, and I want to attract some butterflies, or help out some bees and other pollinators, how do I go about doing that?

Gradually, people are realizing that maintaining a short, monoculture crop of non-native grass out in front of their house is not ideal. Monoculture does not support life. It does not provide a place for native insects and animals, requires a lot of water, pesticides, and herbicides, and takes a lot of time that could be spent doing fun stuff! But, if you just stop mowing a lawn, chances are you will get some nasty looks from your neighbours, and possibly a ticket from bylaw. No one is suggesting that you abandon your lawn to a future of wild parsnip and burdock. 

One of the best things you can do to begin to shift from high-maintenance grass is to begin to add some clover. The Dutch White or the mini purple clover both work well. Dutch White Clover will stay green while a lawn of grass becomes brown in the dry heat of July. Clover takes less water, and needs little to no mowing. It only grows between 2 to 5 inches. Many people mow it in mid-summer to deadhead it, and keep it looking tidy. When you do mow it, you do not have to bag it. Use the mulch blade on your mower if you have one, but even without a mulch blade, it will still look good. Clover is a nitrogen-fixing legume. Essentially, it creates its own fertiliser, and stays green. Furthermore, if it’s planted into existing grass, it keeps the grass healthier and greener. It never needs herbicides. It is robust, and will usually keep out “weeds.” It attracts beneficial insects, both pollinators, and parasitic wasps. Parasitic wasps are tiny and harmless to humans. They feed on un-beneficial bugs like aphids. They also decimate insects like the tomato hornworm by laying its eggs in the hornworm. If you have a taste for the gruesome, google it! Clover grows well in poor soil, and doesn’t go brown when a dogs visit your lawn. Clover is the ideal ground cover for people who would like to help out the pollinators and butterflies, but still want the look of a more traditional lawn. Clover is great on a budget, for the seeds are cheap, and it doesn’t need mowing, fertilising, or watering. 

If you have a patch of lawn or garden that you want to turn over to native wildflowers and grasses, most of the seed companies sell good-quality native wild-flower mixes. OSC, Ontario Seed Company, for example, has many different blends of native wildflowers, or you can buy them individually. Some examples are wild asters, brown eyed Susans, or purple coneflower. Wildflowers will self-seed every year. Keep invasive plants out of the area, such as burdock or wild parsnip, while you are establishing your wildflowers. It is still your lawn or garden; you can decide you don’t want to let something grow!  Pull it out as it begins to grow. Avoid pesticides and herbicides.  Dandelions are the first food for pollinators, so leave them if you can. You can eat their tender leaves in the spring too. Try to choose native plants for ground cover, or for your wildflowers. Once you start growing some wildflowers, add a birdbath, or some bird houses. A lot of people feed the birds in winter, but there are a lot of native birds who need insects to survive; insects that are harmless to us, and that live in wild-flowers. We need diversity in both plants and animals. Even a little re-wilded area helps. 

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