Sustainable Gardening
Dandelions and Grasses, Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/40/Weeds_in_Waterloo%2C_Ontario.jpg

Written by: Shelby Paxton

Lawn grass and invasive plants, the bane of invertebrates when it comes to Ontario’s backyards. Each pose a separate threat to local invertebrates. Grass lawns are a monoculture that provide minimal nutrition and shelter to invertebrates [1]. On the other hand, invasive plants take over local habitat and out-compete native plant species that invertebrates need for food [2] With this said, why is it expected to plant our yards full of harmful plants instead of keeping our native flora?

White Trillium, Flickr, https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2493/5714515797_a2774aab0f_b.jpg
Lawn Bowling, fr.wikipedia.org, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Moody-Park-Lawn-Bowling.jpg

Lets begin with a brief history of grass lawns. Lawn grasses were originally planted by European Settlers in North America as food for livestock [3]. The North American grasses were less nutritional than the ones in northwest Europe so many livestock were unable to survive through the winter and needed the grass from Europe [3]. The need for grass seed made it widely available on the market and wealthy individuals began experimenting with creating grass lawns, many taking inspiration from European art and literature [3]. In Canada, leisure sports such as lawn bowling helped the spread of lawns as they required well-kept lawns to play [4]. Grass lawns became even more abundant when Frederick Law Olmstead, an American landscape architect, popularized their use in public parks and in suburban yards [4].

Today, a person’s lawn is supposed to represent one’s socio-economic situation, a lush green, mowed, and weed-free lawn is seen as a symbol of an upstanding and wealthy citizen [3]. On the other hand, weedy lawns are often seen as a sign of a bad neighbour but in reality, this neighbour is a hero to invertebrates. Many weeds are beneficial to invertebrates as they provide both food and shelter to them [1]. For example, dandelions provide food for pollinators, like honeybees and pollen beetles [5]. Grass, however, provides minimal nutritional value and shelter for invertebrates and very few will be able to establish on it [2].

Weed-free lawn vs. weedy lawn, Flickr, https://live.staticflickr.com/3405/3645390889_38d4779d90_b.jpg

Lets move onto invasive plants, why do we want to avoid them? Invasive plants out-compete native ones that animals need for food and shelter [6]. They are also capable of changing the soil chemistry and physical attributes of an ecosystem [6]. For example, by out-competing native plants that provide shade, they create a dryer and warmer ecosystem. Also, plants are at the bottom of the food chain so any impact on them affects all the animals higher up the chain [6].

There is a plethora of ways invasive plants spread, the most common methods being through horticulture, trade, unchecked seed mixtures, and by clinging to wildlife [7]. Some invasive plants were also planted by European settlers for use as food and medicine [8]. Common examples of invasive plants are: periwinkle, field bindweed, European buckthorn, yellow flag iris, and Phragmites [7].

Periwinkle, Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5b/Vinca_minor_Nashville.jpg
Field Bindweed, Pixabay, https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2018/06/17/03/49/hedge-bindweed-3479882_960_720.jpg
European Buckthorn,https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Rhamnus_cathartica_5456085.jpg commons.wikimedia.org,
Yellow Flag Iris, Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Yellow_Flag_Iris%2C_Iris_pseudacorus_-_geograph.org.uk_-_822830.jpg
Phragmites, Flickr, https://live.staticflickr.com/2848/10160968504_5d156c9b89_b.jpg

If you find one of these plants in your backyard or have one currently growing and would like to compost live plant material, check with your local municipality to see if they have a compost facility capable of killing the plant material [7]. You should never use your own compost for getting rid of invasive plant material, it does not kill the plant material and allows them to propagate and spread [7].

Why is it good to attract local invertebrates in your backyard? Many invertebrates act as pollinators like bees, butterflies, and beetles, so turning your garden into a bug-friendly habitat allows them to spread and pollinate local plants [9]. In fact, 60-90% of the flowering plants rely on insects to pollinate them [10]. Many local invertebrates also help to manage pest populations, for example, attracting lacewings and native ladybugs to your yard can help manage the populations of aphids and thrips [11]. Beetles, woodlice, and molluscs also decompose organic matter in backyards, this adds nutrients back into the soil, nourishing plants and creating a healthier and lusher garden [12]. Some invertebrates like butterflies also add more charm to a yard.

Monarch Butterfly, Pixabay, https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2016/12/22/20/23/monarch-1926184_960_720.jpg

On top of that, invertebrate populations have declined by 45% over the course of 35 years [13]. One of the leading causes of this declining is habitat loss [13]. This means by planting native species in your backyard, you’re helping to support native populations by creating more habitat.

If you’d like to give your yard a sustainable make-over or know somebody who would, here are some resources to sites where you can check what plants you should grow in your lawn and sites where you can buy them:

https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/resources/grow-me-instead/

http://nanps.org/nanps-plant-sale-locations/

https://www.onplants.ca/

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