I had no sooner arrived home from work when I heard a knock on the door. A representative from a landscaping company was promoting a discounted offer to “save my lawn.” Still clad in my Cincinnati Nature Center staff shirt, I politely listened to the spiel. He went on to explain their service package would spray for weeds.
I thought to myself, “I can put a name on every single one of those ‘weeds’—most of which are native plants and beneficial for wildlife.”
He added they could also treat the lawn for ants and grubs.
The phrase “insects are in decline globally” ran through my mind. Since I moved in, I’ve been transforming what was a sterile, insect-free yard into a wildlife-welcoming buzz of insect activity.
With dinner waiting, I politely declined and watched as he moved on to the next house.
Reflecting on the exchange, I noted the salesperson’s well-intended offer was speaking to our cultural norm of conflict with nature. We enjoy seeing colorful butterflies and nests of baby birds. But sometimes our efforts to create a garden haven for wildlife are thwarted by the very wildlife we’re attempting to help.
When the plants we’ve worked hard to establish are compromised by grazing deer and rabbits, we’re tempted to take the gloves off and turn to aggressive measures.
However, with a perspective shift, it is possible to remove a lot of the conflict associated with wildlife damage.
In the native gardens at Cincinnati Nature Center, we’ve found success with these approaches:
GET USED TO IMPERFECTION. There is no such thing as perfect in native gardening. Perfection is a poor substitute anyway for the natural vibrancy and abundance that make a garden welcoming for wildlife.
IS IT TRULY A PROBLEM? Native plants are meant to be eaten a little and will recover, but if you’re seeing excess damage, think like a doctor and first do no harm. Instead, customize the response to fit the challenge.
SET BOUNDARIES. A specimen plant ringed with mulch looks visually attractive to us but, to a grazing animal, it looks like a mulch carpet straight to the plant buffet.
Installing a staked wire cage around a plant provides enough protection to get it started. As plants toughen up and become established, cages can be removed.
Or, instead of a cage, consider taking a cue from nature and intermingling plants that are targets for grazing deer and rabbits among or behind plants that aren’t well-liked by those browsers.
PLAN FOR THE TEENAGE YEARS. Just as with aging children, as native garden plants “grow up,” you’ll find they’ll invite their friends over—more plants, insects, and animals. Much as teenagers devour everything in the house, plan to grow extra plants to share with the wildlife garden guests.
Whether you call it cruelty-free planting, humane gardening, compassionate landscaping, or something else, you can bring back life-sustaining habitat in places where natural areas have been long gone. Seeing a plethora of life in your garden feels like winning a Peace Prize.