3 Common Practices to Avoid if You Want to Support Wildlife

3 Common Practices to Avoid if You Want to Support Wildlife

You want to cultivate abundance in a way that can support wildlife and heal the living world around us. But have you ever wondered if there are practices you take for granted that are actually harming wildlife instead? The truth is that there are a number of common practices that end up hurting the wildlife, despite the best intentions. This post covers 3 common practices that make it hard for wildlife to thrive, resulting in less overall abundance for people, plants and wildlife. Let’s dive into each of these common practices and what you can do instead.

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Unfortunately, many of the yard care and garden practices that are commonly promoted end up hurting the living world around us, resulting in less abundance for people, plants and wildlife. And in addition to these poor outcomes, this also results in wasted time and energy.

Here are 3 practices to avoid if you want to support wildlife:

  1. Ignoring native plants
  2. Trying to eliminate pests
  3. Removing fall leaves and other debris

Far too often, native plants are simply ignored to the point that they can be hard to find in nurseries. But non-native plants just can’t do the job native plants do when it comes to supporting wildlife, as we’ll see.

But just like you would plant nitrogen fixing plants to help your other plants thrive native plants have their own unique role on your property.

And while it can be hard to see a plant being eaten by pests, if you try to eliminate the pests, you’ll end up locked in a never-ending battle.

The result is wasted time, energy, and often money, with very little to show for it.

Finally, when you remove fall leaves, downed branches and other yard debris, you remove the habitat that wildlife needs to thrive.

This reduces the overall abundance of life on your property and can result in poorer soils overtime.

Let’s dive into each of these, but before we do, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet covering 9 types of predators that eat common garden pests. When you avoid the 3 common practices covered in this blog post, you support wildlife like these predators. The result is less pests and more abundance for people, plants and wildlife.

Support Wildlife by Incorporating Native Plants

Plant native plants to support wildlife

I have native plants planted in all my growing areas. They’re always part of my planting plan, and the result has been a huge increase in the abundance of life on my property.

It’s unfortunate, but native plants are often ignored when people start planting their properties and gardens.

Or they’re relegated to the edges and less productive spaces of the property.

Rarely does it seem that native plants are planted front and center, as a core part of growing spaces.

But native plants are critical to supporting wildlife. Without them you can’t truly cultivate abundance for people, plants and wildlife.

Native plants co-evolved with the wildlife that live in your area. Many of these types of wildlife rely exclusively on native plants.

Many insects can only eat a small number (or even 1!) of plants that are native to your area. These picky insects have specialized getting around the defenses of a small number of specific native plants. The classic example of this is the monarch butterfly, which relies exclusively on milkweed.

And it turns out that upwards of 90% of all plant eating insects are specialists that rely on a small number of native plants. Monarchs are again a classic example but another is the American tissue moth which relies on cascara and a couple other native plants here in western Washington.

Without these few native plants there would be no American tissue moths—or monarchs. Or thousands of other picky insects.

Those picky insects are a key part of an abundant environment. Without them you don’t have the wildlife that eat them including most species of songbirds.

And don’t worry about the picky insects eating your lettuce or other veggies. These picky insects aren’t your garden pests. But they do still feed the predators that will eat your garden pests.

And there are many other ways that native plants support wildlife.

Many pollinators rely on the shape or timing of blooms for specific plants that are native to your area. For example, some research shows that native berries can be a better energy source for migrating birds than non-native berries. It makes sense that the berries that have evolved alongside birds and supported them for thousands of years, (and been cultivated by the birds in turn, through their droppings,) are the ones that give birds the nutrients they need—when they need it.

When you support wildlife by planting native plants, you’re cultivating abundance not just for plants and wildlife, but also for people. You will have more songbirds and other predators. This will not only create a thriving and abundance environment for you to enjoy, but it will also help keep your garden pests in balance.

More Info on Incorporating Native Plants

Don’t Try to Eliminate Pests

Support wildlife by not eliminating pests

While I’m not a big fan of aphids and other garden pests, I don’t try to eliminate them. Instead, I let ladybugs and other predators do the job for me.

A common response to seeing pests eating your plants is to try to eliminate them. But even if you’re not using toxic chemicals to control pests, you’re still creating a situation that doesn’t support wildlife.

Plus you’re locking yourself into a never ending battle between you and the pests.

The problem is that those pests (slugs, aphids, etc.) are food for other critters. Ladybugs are the classic example of a predator that eats aphids. But did you know that songbirds eat slugs?

So do garter snakes here in western Washington. And also frogs and a species of large black ground beetles.

All common pests have predators that eat them. But you’ve got to give the predators time—and the right conditions—to show up.

Wild Tip:

With large “pests” like deer this strategy may not work. The problem, in this case, is that the predators have all been eliminated. There are no wolves here in western Washington, and there are very few bears and cougars. Because of this, the deer population is far larger than it naturally would be. In these specific cases, you will need to step in. On my own property I’ve installed a deer fence because the deer are so numerous that they would degrade the environment that other wildlife need to thrive.

This year some of my plants had aphids on them, but far fewer than last year. And while it was frustrating to see the damage caused by the aphids, I left them alone.

And soon I started to see tons of ladybugs (both adults and their larvae) and parasitoid wasps (super tiny little wasps that can’t sting a person,) plus other predators. All of these were showing up to eat the aphids.

It took a while. But over time, the aphids were brought under control by these predators.

I did lose a few plants to the aphids, but now there are far more predatory insects than there otherwise would’ve been. So I should have far less issues with aphids (and other pests!) next year.

I’ve seen this sort of pattern happening year after year with multiple types of pests.

You can’t support wildlife if you’re always trying to eliminate pests. These pests are food for other wildlife but you’ve got to give the predators time to show up.

When you do this, you will gain not only an abundance of wildlife but also a balance with your pests. A balance that means you can stop fighting pests year after year.

More Info on Finding a Balance with Pests

Here are some additional resources to help you find a balance with pests.

  1. Control Garden Pests without Toxic Chemicals
  2. The Number 1 Pest Solution – Attract Predators to Your Garden

Keep the Ground a Bit Messy

Support wildlife by leaving things a bit messy

A forest floor is always a bit messy looking. Twigs, branches, leaves, etc. But all of this supports wildlife in multitudes.

What do you do with your fall leaves? What about downed branches? Or even fallen trees?

Often people rake these up and haul them away—or burn them in large piles.

Sometimes people use them for composting, which can be a great option. But really, you should just use the leaves that fall on your lawn, sidewalks or driveway for this.

All those fall leaves, branches and other debris that end up in your growing areas really should just be left in place.

Lots of wildlife use those materials to escape the cold of winter as well as the summer sun.

Frogs, for example, will often hide under leaves and downed wood to stay warm in the winter and cool off in the summer. Salamanders and toads do the same thing. And so do many other wildlife.

Wild Tip:

All these fall leaves, branches and other dead plant material also help build healthy soil. This natural layer of mulch also helps to keep the soil nice and moist through the summer months. Plus your soil will be less likely to freeze in the winter. So in addition to supporting wildlife, leaving the leaves and branches is also a great way to build healthy soil.

And remember those picky plant eating insects we talked about earlier, that rely on native plants? Well many of them also need downed wood and leaves for part of their life cycles.

Without this material, these insects may have food, but they won’t have anywhere to go come winter or to safely transform from a caterpillar to their adult forms.

If you want to support wildlife, your growing areas really should start to look a lot like a forest floor.

But don’t worry—you can still keep it a bit managed.

Downed branches and logs, for example, can be piled up to create habitat features. This way, all that downed material can be concentrated in specific areas.

And you can shred your leaves and chop up fallen branches so they lie flat on the ground. This will speed up the decomposition of this material, but it should still support wildlife.

Regardless of what you do, as long as you leave things a bit messy, you’ll be supporting wildlife. And this, in turn, will support more abundance for you, as well.

More Info on Creating Habitat Features for Wildlife

Here are some additional resources to help you create and use habitat features to support wildlife.

  1. How to Create Habitat Features for Pest Control
  2. Placing Habitat Features to Maximize Pest Control

Support Wildlife to Cultivate Abundance

Support wildlife to cultivate abundance

This food forest not only provides food for my family and I—it also supports an abundance of wildlife.

Avoiding the common practices mentioned in this post will help you support wildlife. But it will do more than that.

In the long run, you can’t have abundance without supporting wildlife and the living world around you. When we try to fight nature, the result is less abundance as well as wasted time, energy and money.

But when you start to work with nature and actively work towards healing the natural world, you create an environment that really does result in abundance for people, plants and wildlife.

When I look out my door, I always see birds and other wildlife. But I also see an environment that is filled with food for my family and I.

This abundance takes time to cultivate, but each year I take another step forward. And you can too.

By planting native plants alongside my food plants (some of which are also native!) I’m providing space for the picky insects that, in turn, feed the birds and so many other wildlife.

I when I leave the pests, I invite the predators to come and work with me to create a balance.

And when I leave the leaves, branches and other old plant material on the ground, I’m creating the shelter those predators and other wildlife need to stay and thrive.

This not only results in more wildlife, but also an environment where pests are kept in balance by their predators.

And all of this results in an environment that becomes more abundant every year.

If you avoid the common practices mentioned in this post, you will be well on your way to doing the same on your property, to make the living world around you come alive.

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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

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