Learn how to invite wildlife into your yard. Certify your yard as a National Wildlife Federation wildlife habitat.
Want to make a bigger impact? Work toward getting your entire community certified.
Where to buy milkweed in outstate Minnesota and Wisconsin:
Keep food scraps and organic waste out of the trash. Dirty pizza boxes, egg shells, uneaten leftovers, coffee filters and grounds, tea bags, paper egg cartons, dryer lint, and more, accepted. If you don’t have curbside pickup, locate your local organics recycling drop-off location. This waste will be turned into nutrient-rich compost for yards and gardens.
Only Rain Down The Drain:
Our lawns are polluting our water. Keep grass clippings, leaves, fertilizer, pet waste, pesticides out of the street curb and sweep away and remove from the stormwater drain in front of or near your home. Adopt your local stormdrain and keep it clean, year-round.
Fertilizing and spraying our yards addicts our lawns to chemical inputs. It also destroys microbes in the soil that provide important nutrients. Consider weaning your lawn off of artificial adjuncts and maintaining your lawn as an ecological resource instead.
Learn more and keep up on how to green your neighborhood. Read how others are making an impact in their community. It is the cumulative impact of individual actions that will create the butterfly effect. Subscribe to this free e-journal.
Catch rain where it falls. Don’t let it become stormwater. Once rain rolls down your driveway or off your property, it transforms into polluted stormwater. Plant a rain garden or pollinator garden. At home. Your place of worship. A local schoolyard or boulevard. Where you work, play, shop.
Resources and ideas to get you started:
If you live in a community that does not plant boulevard trees, create your own street canopy (with neighbors) and strategically plant trees to create a community canopy. Canopied streetscapes have numerous benefits like intercepting and preventing rain from becoming polluted stormwater, and cooling heat absorbing streets in the summer. If your city does plant boulevard trees, give your tree a thank you and take good care of it!
Don’t flush medicine. Our water systems weren’t designed to remove medicine from our drinking water. Don’t throw medicine (prescription or nonprescription) in the trash either. “Garbage juice” from landfills contains medicines. This toxic brew is transported to water treatment plants where it encounters the same challenges to our water supply. Bring unused meds to your local drop-off facility or to a participating pharmacy so they are disposed of properly.
More on meds in our drinking water:
Take only what you will use. About 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away. Landfilled fruits and vegetables produce a greenhouse gas–methane–when they break down.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States… Methane is a potent greenhouse gas 28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period…”
What to do with sometimes unavoidable produce scraps? Home composting!
Plant shrubs, trees, and flowers that sustain birds all year long. Shown here: winterberry shrub.
Bring more birds to your home with native plants.
Learn what native plants are best for birds in your region by using Audubon’s zip code finder!
Regional native trees and shrubs offer the best nutrition and habitat for our birds, bees, butterflies, and other critters.
The Chickadee’s Guide to Gardening
Boulevard gardens provide pollinator habitat, beautify the neighborhood and connect community, help infiltrate and purify stormwater, and help keep polluted stormwater from running down stormwater drains.
Create a native plant pocket garden. Encourage your neighbors to do the same. You will be starting a neighborhood pollinator pathway.
Learn about one effort in Minneapolis:
Leave some bare ground in your yard to invite in important ground nesting insects. Pictured: a Minnesota native mining bee.
Salt is forever pollution. Sweep it up. Especially from the stormwater drain and the curb outside your house or apartment. Salt that goes down stormwater drains ends up in our lakes, rivers, ponds, wetlands, and groundwater. And stays there. We’re turning our freshwater into saltwater. Fifty Minnesota lakes are listed as impaired because of their salt levels. More will no doubt be added to the list.
One teaspoon of salt permanently pollutes 5 gallons of water. Sweep it up before it dissolves (you won’t see it then but it’s still there!) and goes to our waterways.
Water softener salt that goes down the drain inside your home is a problem, too
Attracting these magnificent creatures into our yards requires just three basic ingredients: larval host plants, nectar plants, and sheltering habitat.
The first ingredient, larval host plants, are the plants caterpillars must eat to survive. You may be surprised to learn that both shrubs and trees play an important role as hosts in the butterfly garden.
Initiate and support a greener community with creative thinking.
In Minnesota, dandelions are some of the very first flowers to bloom in the spring. Consider letting them bloom in your yard, schoolyard, government properties, places of worship, boulevards, and more, so that pollinators have early spring resources. Mow before the flowers turn to seed.
Start seeing buckthorn–everywhere. Learn how to remove it. Then get started!
Why is buckthorn such a problem?
Out-competes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture
Degrades wildlife habitat
Threatens the future of forests, wetlands, prairies, and other natural habitats
Contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor
Serves as host to other pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphid
Forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation
Lacks “natural controls” like insects or disease that would curb its growth
“Native plants are those that occur naturally in a region in which they evolved. They are the ecological basis upon which life depends, including birds and people. Without them and the insects that co-evolved with them, local birds cannot survive. For example, research by the entomologist Doug Tallamy has shown that native oak trees support over 500 species of caterpillars whereas ginkgos, a commonly planted landscape tree from Asia, host only 5 species of caterpillars. When it takes over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees, that is a significant difference.
Unfortunately, most of the landscaping plants available in nurseries are alien species from other countries. These exotic plants not only sever the food web, but many have become invasive pests, outcompeting native species and degrading habitat in remaining natural areas.” (from Audubon Society)
Pollinators are insects and insecticides kill insects. Think twice before reaching for insecticides, pesticides, herbicides: are they really necessary? Are there alternatives?
“Pollinators are a keystone species group; the persistence of a large number of other species depends upon them. As pollinators disappear, the effect on the health and viability of crops and native plant communities can be disastrous.” (Xerces.org)
Beneficial insects are the foundation of all life on earth. Create habitat so that these vital creatures can thrive.
As stated by Douglas Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home, “Because so many animals depend partially or entirely on insect protein for food, a land without insects is a land without most forms of higher life.” Or, stated more forcefully by E.O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, “If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
Notice nature. Let her tell you her story. This insect’s story is a good one. If you were a would-be predator of this beetle—the Eastern-eyed click beetle—those two fake supersized-eyes might make you think twice! This beetle will “play dead” on its back when threatened. When the coast is clear, it makes a clicking noise as it flips itself upright. Over an inch long, this species of click beetle is not a threat to our Minnesota gardens. The beetle pictured at left was first spotted resting on the tire of a car parked in a driveway. Look for this interesting creature in wooded areas, especially from May to July. Notice nature everywhere.
Somewhere along the way we decided to convert most of our living and working spaces into huge expanses of lawn. So far we have planted over 62,500 square miles, some 40 million acres, in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area eight times the size of New Jersey to within one inch and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done.”
–Doug Tallamy, Ph.D., from the book
Bringing Nature Home
Next time you visit your favorite gardening center, be sure you are a well informed consumer. When it comes to purchasing mulch; flowers (such as the highly manipulated Echinacea purpurea, left), trees, and shrubs; and soil amendments, and more, some items are best left at the garden store.
By destroying the amazing microbes that live in soil, the world beneath our feet loses its life-generating abilities. Once dirt exists, plants require a human-supplied chemical cocktail. In dirt, plants become sick. They are exhausted by pumping a lot—up to 50 percent—of their energy into the soil, calling to their microbe friends for help without reply. (Kassandra Brown)
Photo credit: Kassandra Brown, Renaissance Soil
When you take a shower, do the dishes, or flush the toilet, the water you use inside your home goes to a water treatment plant (unless you are on a septic system). Water outside the home is an entirely different matter. Water that goes down the stormdrain on your street does not go to a water treatment plant. It flows to our local water bodies.
Water that goes down the stormdrain on your street is polluted in some way. Outside your home, water from rain, or excess water from a sprinkler system, rolls down your driveway or sidewalk, or off your lawn, continues down the road, and picks up pollutants on your street along its way–fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, grass clippings, fall leaves, winter salt, and more. Some of this pollution is invisible–like residue from our automobiles—or dissolved, like salt. All of this water goes down our stormdrains and makes its way to our local waters.
You can help be a solution to water pollution in many ways. Here’s one of the most simple things you can do to make a big impact: point your downspouts into your yard or garden, not down your driveway or onto your sidewalk. This will keep water in your yard where it can be naturally absorbed rather than flowing down your driveway, and picking up street contaminants and debris that end up in our local waters.
Pick it up. Even if it’s not yours. Better yet, bring a bag along with you when you go on a walk and pick up trash along the way. Bending is great exercise. And this will make you happy. Feeling happy adds years to your life.