What is the 10-step solution to insect problems?

Insects have been eating your plants! What to do? Insect experts recommend this 10-step solution:

Take 10 steps away from the affected plant, and look for any damage.

Plants are meant to be eaten. It is their function within the food chain. Unlike animals, plants can tolerate having quite a large amount of their body eaten, and they continue to be just fine.

From close up, your plant may appear to be in tatters. But from ten steps away – the distance from which we more typically look at plants – you probably cannot see any evidence that the plant has been munched by insects or other hungry animals. If this is the case, then the plant is fine and so is your visual enjoyment of it. There is no need to reach for pesticides.

Remember that when you decided to put native plants in your yard, your goal was for them to form the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. This means that the plants will be eaten by the insects that have evolved to eat them. It also means that bees and butterflies will arrive to collect nectar and pollen from the plants. It means that predatory insects will come to hunt the insects that are eating the plants. It means that birds will be able to feed themselves and their young on all that plentiful insect life. And it means that you will be able to enjoy watching many species interact and thrive in your yard.

Take 10 steps back. Take a deep breath. Your garden is functioning exactly as intended.

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What is the 10-step solution to insect problems?

How many species are there?

Kingdom phylum class order family genus species. Maybe you remember learning in some long-ago biology class that these seven categories are how we describe and identify every living thing on Earth.

Animalia chordata mammalia primates hominidae homo sapiens. That’s us: humans. Within the great tree of life, we are pretty odd; we are the only member of our genus. Put in terms of a family tree, it’s kind of like not having any siblings.

Even if you look at our extended family – our cousins – we’re pretty unusual. Our planet is home to just 5,400 or so kinds of mammals. (Though the discovery of new mammals is not as rare as many people think. The past decade has seen new types of shrews, bats, and dolphins – and even a few monkeys and apes – welcomed onto the list of mammals known to science.)

In comparison, there are nearly twice as many kinds of birds – birding checklists typically include over 9,000 recognized species. And there are about 31,000 known kinds of fish.

The plant kingdom boasts some 310,000 members, from mosses to grasses to shrubs to towering trees. It’s not unusual for a dedicated natural gardener to have hundreds of kinds of plants in their yard, with many or all of them being native species. It’s not just that there are a lot of species of plants in the world; a lot of species of plants are able to coexist within small areas.

The total number of plant species is still dwarfed by the total number of animal species, though, for one reason: beetles are a staggeringly prolific family, with over 360,000 species discovered, and many more likely waiting to be found.

If you lined up one representative of every species on Earth, fully one fifth of the creatures before you would be beetles. Only one would look like us.

All told, we share our planet with at least 1,899,000 other species, each of them living in their own way and making their own unique contribution to the amazing diversity of life on Earth. When we are able to see ourselves as just one out of many, we can find the grace and humility to share our world with all of our relatives.

How many species are there?

What’s new in natural yards? February 2019

Almost two years ago, That Blog reported that the rusty-patched bumble bee had recently been added to the endangered species list. Now, there’s a happy update: in 2018, more of the bees were seen in more places than in 2017, a year which itself had increased sightings as compared to 2016.

It’s important to remember that the seeming increase in the bee’s numbers and range might be because scientists are working harder to find it. However, it’s also true that the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected 99% of the species that have been added to it.

It is well within our power to save species from extinction, when we choose to do so. If we simply plant a variety of flowers in our yards, leave a little bit of bare soil, and refrain from spraying pesticides, we have created a new area of habitat for rusty-patched bumble bees. Every person who does this contributes to the continued existence of an animal that used to be common in our country.

This spring, make a mindful choice about what you want to pursue: a picture-perfect lawn, or a planet that thrives with wondrous biodiversity.

What’s new in natural yards? February 2019

What is regenerativity?

We all know what sustainability is – living in such a way that we could continue to live that way indefinitely. Sustainability, though, is a zero-sum game, equivalent to spending exactly as much money as you earn. Sure, you could live on that budget indefinitely. But by doing so, you don’t put anything into savings to protect yourself against an emergency or to pass on to your children.

Some experts are now saying that we need regenerativity – a way of living that takes less than all of the sustainably-available resources, in order to build up our ecosystem savings account. For example, we need to plant enough trees not just to replace what we cut down, but to increase the size of forests. We need to take few enough fish from the ocean that those who are left can reproduce and increase their total population. That’s living regeneratively.

There are two main ways to live more regeneratively. Just like with our finances, we can decrease our expenses or we can increase our income. In ecosystem terms, we can use fewer resources – by reducing our energy consumption, eating lower on the food chain, and eliminating single-use disposable items from our daily lives – or we can mindfully help the Earth be more productive, by using compost to build soil, gardening with native plants that support pollinators, and taking care of trees to maximize their ability to clean air and water.

Last year, Earth Overshoot Day – the day on which we have used as many resources since January 1st as the Earth will produce in an entire year – was August 8th. This year, it fell on August 2nd.

If we were living sustainably, Earth Overshoot Day would be on December 31st every year. If we lived regeneratively, it would fall sometime in the next year. Our world’s resources would continually increase, allowing our children to live the same way we do and enjoy thriving ecosystems on a healthy planet.

What is regenerativity?

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017 #2

As the number of monarch butterflies continues to decline, scientists have calculated that more than 1.8 billion new milkweed plants need to be planted in order to provide monarchs with enough places to lay their eggs and recover from the brink of extinction.

“‘To put that in context, that’s more than three milkweed plants for every man, woman and child in the United States,’ said Karen Oberhauser, professor and conservation biologist in the University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.”

The good news is that milkweed – the only plant monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on – is easy to grow. The milkweed family contains over 100 species. Wisconsin alone has native milkweed species that will grow in wet spots, dry spots, sunny spots, and shady spots. Milkweed is able to thrive in roadside ditches and along the edges of farm fields, and was once so abundant across America that many cities labeled it a noxious weed and forbade property owners to plant it.

Now, attitudes towards milkweed are changing. But attitudes are not enough. If we want to protect monarchs before it’s too late, we need to actually plant milkweed in our yards – and lots of it.

Any native plant nursery should have local milkweed species available as plants and seeds. Right now is the perfect time of year to add some to your garden.

 

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017 #2

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

Two weeks ago, the City of Madison made a change to how it will handle emerald ash borer (EAB).

Previously, the City had decided that it would not give any ash trees that were already unhealthy a treatment to protect them from EAB. What the City did not make clear to residents was that any tree located under a power line would be considered unhealthy, regardless of what condition it was actually in.

In thinking about the impact that this decision would have, the City realized that older neighborhoods in Madison, which have overhead power lines, stood to lose a lot of trees, while newer neighborhoods, in which the lines are underground, would be able to keep their trees. Recognizing the immense value of trees to nearby residents – due to trees’ ability to clean the air, reduce flooding, moderate temperatures, increase property values, and so on – the City concluded that it would not be fair for some neighborhoods to lose a lot of trees while others are able to keep their trees.

Based on this conclusion, Madison’s Common Council voted that ash trees under power lines should be treated to protect them from EAB, provided that they meet the City’s other requirements for treatment.

The full text of the resolution can be read here.

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

What are cultivars?

An important distinction in natural gardening is between native plants and non-native plants. A native plant is one that has evolved in the region where it is planted, and which typically has developed important relationships with other plants and animals in that region. A non-native plant is one that is planted far from where it evolved. It often contributes little or nothing to the local community, because the animals in its new home cannot eat it, or may not recognize it as a potential food source.

cultivar is a type of plant that didn’t evolve anywhere. Rather, a cultivar is the plant equivalent of a domestic animal. The same way that modern cows never existed in the wild and are the result of careful breeding, cultivars have been bred from wild plants to bring out desirable characteristics.

The characteristics that are desirable to people, however, are often of no value to wildlife. Double-flowered cultivars, for example, are considered especially attractive in a garden. These flowers are worthless to pollinators, though, because they are mutant plants that have a second row of petals instead of having the structures that produce pollen and nectar.

Nativars are cultivars of native plants. Well-meaning gardeners seeking to support wildlife are often tripped up by nativars, which are advertised as native plants, but which can be as useless to pollinators and other animals as cultivars of non-native species.

Cultivars and nativars can be recognized by the names on their tags. Plants should always be labeled by their scientific names, which help gardeners ensure they’re getting the right species. A plant that has a second, English name in quotes after its Latin name is a cultivar or nativar, not a true species.

What are cultivars?