Gardening for Pollinators: Shifting Landscapes

Replace Lawn With Native Trees, Flowers and Bushes in order to help Birds and Pollinators

By Amelia Aidman

A world without butterflies and fireflies? Fewer birds?  No, thank you! Through gardening to support pollinators we know how to help them flourish and use our yards to reclaim essential habitats. News about declining numbers of pollinators and birds is motivating many of us to learn about and create beautiful native plant gardens.

A shift in typical lawn care practices might seem like an insurmountable task, but cultural corrections in behavior are common and this one is driven by the knowledge that human life depends on pollinators. As a response to the climate crisis, we are seeing paradigm shifts in numerous fields—such as new ways of thinking about energy production and use, public transportation priorities, and preservation of natural resources, to name a few significant areas.  Perceptions of residential yards, the lawn care industry, and the value of helping to restore the natural environment are also generating new considerations and priorities. 

Conversations are happening in the U.S. and abroad about what individuals can do to make our local environments friendlier for beneficial insects, butterflies and birds.  Recently, in my neighborhood, there was a lengthy discussion on one of the local Nextdoor online forums, under the subject title “do less work,” meaning to do less yard work to protect beneficial insects.  The core points were that if we “leave the leaves,” promote wild areas in our yards, and replace lawns with native trees, bushes and flowers, our yards will largely take care of themselves while encouraging beneficial insects and butterflies, that will in turn feed the birds.  This sounds like a win-win idea.

Yet, professional crews are mowing and blowing daily, often with multiple machines blasting simultaneously.  With so many people working from home these days, it can be a challenge to concentrate with the frequent and sometimes long- lasting drone of yard care devices.  The quiet needed for concentration (even inside homes, with windows closed) is disturbed by this noise. Aside from the disturbance, these machines cannot be good for the workers—not for their hearing and not for their lungs, even with protective gear. 

Leaves are often seen as the enemy.  Ironically, it is considered normal to bag up leaves, have them carted away, and then order mulch.  Why not let the leaves that fall from the trees be that mulch?

The idea of a perfect carpet of green grass has been heavily promoted by the lawn care industry for decades. Looking into the history of the lawn in the U.S*, there is growing evidence that having most residential plots surrounded by a carpet of manicured grass is problematic for the well-being of the planet and animals, including human beings. All around the country and the world conversations about these issues are ongoing and intensifying.  Regulations are getting on the books.  Quiet and poison-free yard and garden enterprises are popping up.  Awareness is changing as people educate themselves. 

It is a good time for focused wide-spread conversations on these issues.  How can we create better living environments for humans and other creatures–healthier, calmer, even more beautiful and give greater priority to what we can do to mitigate the climate crisis and extinction of species that our world is facing?  I invite that conversation and fervently hope that more communities can tap into the possibilities of shifting landscapes and be early adaptors of change.

For more information:

*“The Great American Lawn: How the Dream was Manufactured,” David Botti, August 9, 2019, New York Times:

“Why Lawns are not Sustainable in Ecosystem Gardening”

Ecosystem Gardener | Jan 17, 2021 | Sustainable Landscaping:

“How to lower the noise and help clear the air”

Rick Casey, January 19, 2021, San Antonio Report:

“Get Off My Lawn: How a small group of activists (our correspondent among them) got leaf blowers banned in the nation’s capital” by James Fallows, April 2019, The Atlantic: