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.

What is the 10-step solution to insect problems?

What happens when an area has a lot of natural yards?

A post from a few months ago reported that when a HOA changed its landscaping from turf grass to native plants, it won awards. But that’s just one natural yard. What happens when a small geographical area has a lot of natural yards?

It wins awards.

Last fall, Medina County in northeastern Ohio accomplished its goal of having 400 natural yards. The tally included 360 private yards, 13 gardens at schools, 20 gardens on farms, and 7 gardens in public places. A garden counted towards the total if it provided the four things that wildlife need: food, water, cover, and places to raise their young.

After officially reaching its goal, Medina County received an award from the National Wildlife Federation, honoring them for their achievement in providing wildlife habitat. The county originally decided to embark on this project in order to help pollinators – and, indeed, gardens that counted towards the goal have been observed to host more pollinators and other wildlife.

Medina County doesn’t plan to stop establishing native plant gardens now that it’s had this important success. Rather, the county is seeking to add 100 more gardens to its tally each year for the next several years.

The fact that Medina County wants to create lots of native plant gardens is important. In doing so, the county is making a statement that native plant gardens are not harmful or unsightly. It is saying that native plant gardens should not be tightly restricted in number or size or location. It is expressing its belief that, when it comes to native plant gardens, you can hardly have too much of a good thing.

Native plant gardens are good. More of them is better. You can do your part by adding native plants to your land, and by encouraging friends and neighbors to do the same.

What happens when an area has a lot of natural yards?

What happens when a natural yard gets sold?

“What will you do when you have to move out and can’t control what the next person does with the yard?” That Blogger once asked a dedicated natural gardener who was beyond retirement age.

“Never come back,” the gardener replied.

A pair of natural gardeners in Minnesota took a different approach to this problem: they showed up on their former home’s porch to talk to the new owners about the thriving ecosystem they had established in the yard.

The new owners hadn’t been looking for a natural yard, and hadn’t even realized they were getting one: they bought the home in winter, when snow made it hard to tell that the house was surrounded by anything other than lawn. But just a day after they moved in, the previous occupants dropped by to talk about the eight years of effort they had invested in replacing non-native turf grass with a healthy prairie.

Their friendly outreach worked. The new owners have been tending the native landscape for over a decade now, adding more species of plants and removing the small amount of turf grass that remained, preserving the sustainable habitat that their predecessors established.

One downside of working hard to create a natural yard is that we can’t take it with us. (Some have been sued by their property’s new owners for trying.) It is for this reason that many people, not expecting to stay in their homes for very long, don’t invest in a long-term landscaping plan.

But, with nature being lost all around us at an alarming rate, we must do all we can to protect the nature that we have preserved or restored. Just as it is our responsibility to educate friends and neighbors about why our yard hosts thriving plants rather than a barren lawn, it is our responsibility to educate our successors, when we pass on the stewardship of our land. As leaders in the growing movement towards natural yards, it is our duty to help new homeowners understand that they are inheriting a landscape that reduces waste, combats climate change, requires little maintenance, supports life, and creates joy. Destroying such a self-sustaining ecosystem and turning it back into a needy, labor-intensive, lifeless lawn is as much a loss for the new owners as it is for those who worked so hard to do exactly the opposite.

By sharing our knowledge, we can all work together to restore nature to our neighborhoods.

What happens when a natural yard gets sold?

What is the Anthropocene?

Just as we divide our lives into months and years to help us keep track of passing time, scientists divide the history of our planet into geological eras. We met some of these eras in the previous post: the Permian, the Triassic, the Cretaceous, the Paleogene.

The last post also mentioned the Holocene era. The Holocene has been going on for 10,000 years now, and it’s been very important in the history of our species. While humans essentially identical to those of us living today have been around for 200,000 years or so, human civilization – in the form of cities and farming – only arose about 8,000 years ago. Why is this?

For most of our planet’s history, living conditions have been wildly unstable. Continents moved around. Sea levels rose and fell dramatically. Glaciers advanced and retreated. Nobody could stay in one place for too long.

But all that changed in the Holocene. For thousands of years – a long time for living things, even if not much more than a blink for a planet – the climate was remarkably stable. The weather changed in a predictable way from season to season, and humans were able to learn these patterns and time their farming activities to greatly increase their chances of a successful crop. Once we were able to produce food from fixed locations, we could start living in the same place year-round – and because the oceans remained at consistent levels, we were able to build our cities along reliable shorelines.

Now, though, the stable conditions that defined the Holocene are changing. They’re changing so much that scientists have proposed labeling the present day as a brand-new geological era: the Anthropocene, the Age of Man.

A period of time gets marked off as its own geological era when it is distinctly different from surrounding time periods. Our own time is not in the geological record yet, but scientists are certain that when it is, our own activities will be clearly visible – if, several million years in the future, there is anyone around to look.

The record of our time will include evidence of the mass extinction that is already underway. It will preserve signs of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and of rising global temperatures caused by this increase. It will contain the remains of human garbage. And it will bear the imprints of how we changed the landscape by building vast cities, engaging in industrial agriculture, and destroying ancient forests.

Although the Anthropocene is not really an official geological era yet, there is no turning back from the changes that it represents. Human-scale time is cyclical: we know that March and spring will come again. But geological time goes in only one direction. The Holocene is never coming back.

What is the Anthropocene?

What is anthropocentrism?

When someone thinks their own needs and opinions are more important than everybody else’s, we call that egocentrism (or self-centeredness). We generally don’t find it very flattering to be described that way.

Anthropocentrism is the idea that the needs and opinions of humans are always more important than the needs and opinions of other species. Put another way, it’s the idea that plants and animals are really just here for human use, and that their basic survival requirements can be ignored in favor of satisfying any small desire that a human might have.

When we end the lives of trees so we can print and mail more department store catalogs, that’s anthropocentrism.

When we destroy wildlife habitat to build another golf course, that’s anthropocentrism.

When we think that the most important thing about our yards is how they look to human eyes, that’s anthropocentrism.

The opposite of anthropocentrism is biocentrism. Biocentrism does not mean believing that plants and animals are always more important than humans. It does not mean that humans are bad and should be eliminated from this planet. Rather, it’s the idea that the needs of humans and of other species can be balanced against each other in a way that honors all forms of life.

Biocentrism makes sense for two reasons. First, the needs of humans and of other species are often not at odds with each other: we all need clean air and clean water. Humans do better when nature is thriving, and when we destroy nature to make more room for people, we cause a lot of harm to ourselves as well.

Second, respecting the needs of other species is simply the right thing to do. Many people today think that something is wrong when CEOs pay their employees starvation wages in order to further increase their own salary so they can buy a baseball team, a yacht, or a fourth house. Similarly, it is wrong to deny the basic needs of other beings so that we can have more stuff that we don’t even really want.

When we simplify our lives, our world has enough for everyone – ourselves, other humans, and all the species we share this miraculous Earth with.

What is anthropocentrism?

What is zero waste?

The average American throws away four and a half pounds of garbage every day. We put that garbage at the curb to be taken “away”, to landfills that are rapidly overflowing. Garbage litters our cities, rolls around our national parks, and floats in the ocean, forming huge gyres that are set to outweigh all the remaining fish in the not-so-distant future.

Garbage is a problem.

To address this problem, some people have adopted a lifestyle known as zero waste. While practitioners typically don’t achieve a total elimination of garbage from their lives, some have famously produced only a single mason jar worth of trash over the course of several years.

There are some obvious ways that we can all reduce our garbage. We can give up single-use items such as plastic silverware, disposable straws, and styrofoam cups. We can stop buying things that come wrapped in excessive packaging. We can wear clothes until they are threadbare rather than merely out of fashion. We can borrow items from friends instead of buying our own. We can take care to divert our waste to our compost pile or our recycling bin, rather than sending things to the dump.

But where should we start? One way to answer this question is by conducting a garbage audit.

Strictly speaking, a garbage audit is a scientific study that involves laying out the entire contents of your trash can, and weighing and categorizing everything you find. For most of us, though, a more informal “garbage survey” is enough to answer the question: What am I throwing away a lot of? Once we have that piece of information, we can think up ways to dispose of less of that thing.

We may find that we produce a lot of food waste, or that we throw out lots of everyday items that could be replaced with reusable alternatives. Or, we may notice that we drag a lot of grass clippings and raked-up leaves to the street. The solution to that type of waste is simple: Leave the leaves where they fall, to insulate plants over the winter, add nutrients to the soil, provide places for pollinators to hibernate, and suppress the germination of weeds in the spring. And let the grass grow, to absorb carbon, provide structural support for flowering plants, and ripple beautifully in summer breezes.

When we begin to recognize yard “waste” as valuable resources, it’s easy to reduce our trash.

What is zero waste?

What are co-benefits?


What if climate change turns out to be a hoax, and in our efforts to prevent dangerous global warming we instead end deforestation, create good jobs, and reduce air pollution for no reason? That is the question posed by the audience member in this cartoon. Clearly, this person does not understand the value of co-benefits.

Co-benefits are the additional positive outcomes created when we address some problem. For example, if we decide to eat out less often because restaurants are expensive, the primary benefit is that we save money. The co-benefits might be that we eat healthier food and discover a passion for cooking.

There are plenty of co-benefits when it comes to sustainable gardening. Whatever our reason is for shrinking our lawns and putting more native plants in our yards, we enjoy all kinds of positive outcomes in addition to the one we were aiming for.

If we plant natives because we don’t want to contribute to the climate crisis by running a lawnmower, we also enjoy cleaner air in our neighborhoods.

If we install water-wise landscaping to help conserve limited water supplies, we also save money on our utility bills.

If we stop blowing leaves into the street because we want to use that organic material to build soil, we also experience more peace and quiet in our community.

If we stop spraying pesticides because we don’t want to expose ourselves and our neighbors to carcinogens, we also gain the opportunity to observe more life in our yards.


We all have different reasons for choosing to switch to more sustainable gardening practices. But whatever our entry point, we can hardly help bringing about a whole host of additional advantages for ourselves and others. That is the power of co-benefits.

What are co-benefits?

What is low-hanging fruit?

The phrase low-hanging fruit refers to easy and effective ways to begin solving a complex problem.

This phrase is often used in business. If there is some simple process change that your organization could implement to increase efficiency and make customers happier, that is low-hanging fruit.

The phrase can also be used in our daily lives. For example, consider the problem of cleaning your house. Sorting through all the clutter in the attic is a daunting challenge. But maybe, in half an hour, you could straighten up the stuff that has accumulated on the kitchen table, and make the heart of your home feel neater and brighter. That’s low-hanging fruit.

What is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to solving our present environmental crises? America’s greenhouse gas emissions are mostly coming from the transportation sector, but addressing that means changing the whole way we move people and goods, and that’s a complicated problem. The way we produce food is wiping out wildlife habitat, destroying soil, and polluting water sources, but fixing these problems means overhauling our entire farming system, and that’s a huge, thorny challenge.

What can we do, right now, to help slow or even reverse the damage to our environment?

We can change the way we garden in our yards.

Imagine if everyone just stopped doing yard work: no more mowing, no more leafblowing, no more watering, no more spraying of pesticides. As That Blog has documented for three and a half years, this would have rapid and meaningful environmental benefits: less greenhouse gas emissions, less toxic chemicals in our environment, less water pollution, less water waste, less noise, more wildlife habitat, better human health and wellbeing – and, as we sit back, relax, and solve all these problems by simply letting plants do what they naturally do, there is virtually no evidence that some other set of problems will crop up.

This past October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a working group of nearly 100 leading climate scientists from dozens of countries – released a report stating that we have barely a dozen years to take drastic action to protect and restore our environment. Achieving the targets the scientists say we must reach will mean that we must rapidly make massive changes to the way we travel, the way we produce food, the way we build our houses, and many other aspects of our lives.

If we fail to immediately tackle the low-hanging fruit – if we do not stop burning fossil fuels to prevent plants from growing, if we do not stop using disposable items when perfectly good reusable alternatives are available, if we do not stop spraying toxic chemicals to kill harmless insects – there would seem to be little hope that we will make meaningful progress on the actually difficult challenges that we must solve in order to save our civilization and our planet.

What is low-hanging fruit?

What are shifting baselines?

Shifting baselines refers to a change in what people think is normal.

For most of history, the world around us changed very slowly. People didn’t see things becoming different during their own lifetimes, and didn’t realize that their environment was not quite the same as what their great-grandparents had experienced. The slow change in reality, from generation to generation, without a corresponding awareness of the change, is an example of shifting baselines.

Experts now think that shifting baselines are part of the reason for why megafauna – huge animals – disappeared from North America. Our continent used to be populated by mammoths, giant sloths, camels, and other kinds of big wildlife. Now, all of these species are gone. Why?

Experts think that these animals were hunted to extinction by humans, but very slowly. The early human inhabitants of North America probably only killed a few members of each species every year. But, because large animals reproduce so slowly, even this was enough to cause a gradual decline in their populations.

The key word is gradual – each generation of humans saw the number of large animals they shared their world with, and didn’t realize that that number was somewhat less than it had been in the past. By the time it became clear to people that the animals they liked to hunt were heading towards extinction, it was too late for those species to recover.

Today, we notice that we don’t see many animals in our yards. But most of us are not really aware of how many animals we don’t see. Not knowing that the total number of birds in North America used to be a billion more than it is today, not realizing that the total number of wild mammals on our planet is less than half what it was a few decades ago, we take the absence of animals in our neighborhoods as disappointing but not unusual. Our baselines have shifted.

Now, though, things are changing so quickly that we do notice the differences within our own lifetime. People of a certain age recall that the skies used to be filled with monarch butterflies in the fall, but now we see only a few of these beloved travelers during migration season. People remember when there was more nature in our communities. People remember when there were not so many severe storms.

The speed with which damage to our environment is happening is, in a lot of ways, bad news. But the silver lining may be that we can see the changes occurring. This means that, instead of complacently thinking that the world has always been this way and there is nothing wrong, we can point to the changes we don’t like, remind ourselves that things used to be better, and demand that our society stop moving down a dangerous path.

What are shifting baselines?

What happens when lawns are replaced with thriving plants? #2

The neighborhood becomes more attractive.

Urban greenery “doesn’t just beautify the city,” begins an article published in an Italian newspaper last February. And the article isn’t talking about lawns. It specifies that the gardens in question contain trees and bushes, and the feature image depicts drifts of tall grass. Yet the author seems to take it as an uncontroversial fact that these types of plantings are beautiful, listing this virtue of healthy vegetation right alongside “screening out noise” and “filtering pollutants from the air.”

Crime goes down.

The real focus of the article is an experiment in Philadelphia, in which researchers established gardens in small abandoned lots. In the months after the gardens were installed, police records showed that crime in the areas near the gardens decreased markedly, compared to the months before the planting took place. Thefts decreased by 22%, while shootings dropped by 30%.

Some people think that lush plantings create places for criminals to hide, or that they have a neglected look that encourages criminal behavior. But the article specifically contrasts the new gardens with the “broken windows” conditions that contribute to drug dealing, prostitution, and other unsavory activities.

People’s lives are better.

The improvement in public safety was obvious to the residents of the communities that hosted the new gardens. The article reports that people who lived near the plantings felt less fear of moving around the neighborhood, and were able to visit and enjoy the green space in their community. Exposure to green space is known to have a wide variety of positive impacts on human health and well-being, meaning that people living near the gardens received benefits far beyond a reduction in crime.

And these benefits did not come with a steep price tag. The researchers spent only $5 per square meter for the initial installation of the gardens, and $0.50 per square meter for maintenance over the course of the study. Comparing the costs of these urban green spaces to their benefits, the researchers concluded that law enforcement officials and public health workers alike should invest resources in greening our cities.


Given all the benefits that healthy plantings provide, we all should be transitioning our own spaces from low-value turf grass to air-cleaning water-filtering community-beautifying crime-stopping native landscaping. Moreover, we should be demanding that our local authorities do likewise on city-owned property, and that they create rules or incentives to move our reluctant neighbors in the same direction. When thriving vegetation provides so many benefits with so few drawbacks, there’s simply no reason to delay.

What happens when lawns are replaced with thriving plants? #2