Where the first settlers came to North Texas in the mid-1800’s they were astounded by the vast prairies of tall grasses and native shrubs and trees; the soil was very rich and was quickly converted to range and row crops. Existing animals including bison were considered as obstacles to progress and also eliminated. When plants, insects, and birds have evolved together over thousands or millions of years they form a supportive relationship, called a Biome, that is adapted to the climate and soil in that region. Over the last 260 years prairie Biome was lost and the plants and animals that depended on it.
Many years ago, I read Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring and became part of the movement to restrict use of commercial pesticides and herbicides. We took it as a call to manage our lawn and gardens using natural methods to protect the environment and to attract butterflies and birds to our yards. Recently, I read Douglas Tallamy’s book Nature’s Best Hope which convinced me that what I also need to do is convert my lawn and gardens to native Blackland prairies by removing non-native plants and replacing them with plants that evolved within the region where I live. Native Insects and birds are declining in number and already several species have become extinct while others are getting close. While imported European honeybees do pollinate crops, most plants are pollinated by native bees, wasps, and flies. Our existence may depend on their continued existence.
There are many examples of large parcels of land that are protected by organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and government established National Parks, National Grasslands, National Monuments, and National Seashores have set aside large tracts of land that protect native forests, prairies, and the animals living within them. While this does help preserve some Biome diversity, those tracts actually consist of a minimal amount of land and are separated by vast distances consisting of paved areas (highways, parking lots, buildings) and monoculture (agriculture and lawns) which do not provide migration avenues or food for native birds and insects. Today, many insects including bees, butterflies, fireflies, and predatory insects are declining dramatically in number, as are many birds.
Saint Augustine and Bermuda grasses are not native to North America and they have seen widespread use in the establishment of lawn turf and grazing pasturage. Today, almost 80% of the plants in your yard evolved in Europe, Africa, South America, and China and they do not support any North America Biome.
It is also becoming more obvious that something is wrong with our global climate and it appears that apparently nothing can be done about loss of habitat, decreasing availability of water/ floods, increasing droughts and decline of pollinators and birds. All these problems seem to be of such a magnitude that an individual can do nothing to prevent or remedy them. Few people can donate a million acres or more to land conservation; however, there is something that everyone can do their own yard, changing one small plot of land (usually under 1/2 acre) to reestablish the integrated Biome web. If homeowners would convert even a piece of their lawn and flowerbed space to native plants, that would represent a huge expanse of land. In fact, some cities have already passed ordinances to eliminate turf grasses and require planting native grasses, flowers, bushes, and trees.
If the environment isn’t enough of a reason to go native, please consider: native plants have evolved to withstand drought which reduces watering (cost of watering); native plants resist native diseases and insect pests (less spraying of pesticides and costs of spraying); native plants thrive on local soils (no fertilizing and costs of chemical fertilizers which poison our waters); native plants require less mowing (less lawn maintenance and fewer greenhouse gases from mowers, edgers and leaf blowers as well as costs); and, finally, native plants have evolved to self-seed.
What I am suggesting is not to till your entire lawn and flower beds under but to dedicate a portion of your yard to a pocket prairie area. Putting this in your backyard might even keep your HOA out of your business. While in the front yard you can plant clusters of native flowers in the beds which look like a deliberate batch of flowers.
If you want to learn how to physically create a pocket prairie, come to the presentation at Lighthouse for Learning at Global High School in Waxahachie on Monday, October 17 at 6:00 pm. Register online at www.WISD.org or call 972 923-4631.
Article by: Rob Franks, Ellis County Master Gardener