Healthy Yards Monroe County
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The world’s ecosystems are in trouble…and that also means that we humans are at risk. Scientists have started referring to this era as the Anthropocene – because the impact of human activity dominates the planet, and that impact is detrimental to the survival of the very complex and diverse ecosystems upon which life depends. 

THE CONCEPT:

We are initiating a program to encourage residents to participate in a fun effort – in their own yards – that will help restore our community’s biodiversity, ecological health, and beauty.  The more yards that join, the more connected these healthy plots of land can be.  Such “habitat connectivity” enables pollinator insects and other wildlife to move around among healthy environments in their search for food and water, mates, shelter, and places to nest. 

In the words of entomologist Doug Tallamy: “In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty.  Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators, and manage water.” Tallamy also points out that the combined area of residential yards across the country exceeds the combined area of at least 13 of our largest National Parks.  By transforming even some of this acreage of largely unproductive turf grass into pockets of diverse native plants that are useful to insects, particularly pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, we could restore some of the biodiversity that is so rapidly disappearing.  Small steps like this, taken by LOTS of individuals, can lead to important change.

THE GOAL:

To inspire and help as many residents as possible to convert at least some of their lawn to native, pollinator-attractive plantings. 

In conjunction with similar upgrades of landscaping on town lands such as parks and within farmlands, we will ensure that local wildlife has well-connected, high-quality habitat options.  Our communities will be contributing to the global restoration of ecosystem health that we so urgently need. 

TO GET STARTED: 

Here are the guidelines for rethinking your yard and to get on the map of Monroe County’s growing contribution to high quality pollinator habitats. 

 

  1. Reduce your lawn by planting a diversity of native trees, shrubs, and flowers. You can start small, and consider replacing more lawn gradually each year. As Doug Tallamy suggests, walkways and paths of grass can be used to define flower beds and groves of trees/shrubs. A successful pollinator garden should contain primarily native species ( a rule of thumb for beginner gardeners is 7 out of every 10 plants should be native).
    WildOnes article on Nativars and other resources here
    Shopping guide:  Habitat Gardening in Central New York Native Plant Shopping Guide 
     

  2. Identify native trees you have in your yard.  If you don’t have any keystone native trees and shrubs, we encourage you to plant one or more.  Keystone trees are those that host more native insect species than others, and therefore are essential to successful food webs. Oaks, birch, and cherries are among our local keystone trees.  Look at Native Plant Finder by Zip Code 
     

  3. Choose a diversity of native flowering plants that bloom at different times so that pollinators have food available in spring, summer, and fall.  When choosing plants, buy those that are identified with the original species name. For example, choose coneflower -- Echinacea pupurea rather than Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' (which is a hybrid rather than the original native species).  Include one or more of these keystone herbaceous plants -- goldenrods, asters, sunflowers -- since these fall-blooming plants are an important source of food for pollinators that overwinter. 
    Look at Native Plant Lists for additional ideas.
    This perennial list on the Cornell Cooperative Extension site includes bloom times.
     

  4. Read and follow Fall, Winter, Spring clean-up suggestions.  Fallen leaves provide not only nutrients for the soil but also shelter for caterpillar cocoons and pupae that overwinter.  So it’s important to leave that leaf litter under trees, around rocks, stumps, edges, and on the ground where your perennial native flowers die back for the winter.
    Articles:  Don’t spring into garden cleanup too soon!
                      Leave the Leaves!
                      Nesting and Overwintering Habitat Xerces.org

       

  5. Learn to identify and remove any herbaceous and woody invasive plants in your yard.  There are many beneficial native alternatives to the invasive species that have been planted or have invaded our yards. 
    Articles:  Invasives Overview
                      Invasive Plant Disposal
                      
    Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants
     

  6. Do not use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers!  These chemicals kill soil microbes that keep soil and plants healthy.  They also kill insects that are important food for birds, especially in the spring. Their use is antithetical to the goals of growing a healthy and diverse ecosystem.  Use organic compost and fertilizers. 
    More information on pesticides and pollinators.


GET ON THE HEALTHY YARDS MONROE COUNTY MAP:

Whether you already use these practices, or you are newly adapting your yard to native plantings — once you have accomplished these guidelines to your satisfaction, we want you on the map…to contribute data towards the goal of connectivity of native plant habitat gardens in our communities.
 

 >Please let us know by registering your yard on the form below.  The map, showing where residents have signed on, will be updated and posted regularly.
 

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Register your yard:

Thanks for registering!

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Demonstrate to friends and neighbors your commitment and accomplishment by certifying your garden, and/or placing a sign in your yard identifying it as a native plant habitat garden.  Your achievement will encourage others to join in expanding healthy ecosystem recovery!

  1.  Pollinator Pathway sign

  2.  Audubon Bird Friendly sign

  3.  Xerces Society sign

  4. Work towards certifying your garden under the Master Gardeners of Monroe County Pollinator Friendly Garden Certification Program, and get their sign!

You may also want to visit and explore Tallamy's Homegrown National Park website for more inspiration and information, and to enter your yard on the Homegrown National Park map.