Top 10 Ways to ReWild Your Garden

Douglas Tallamy, world renowned and influential ecologist/entymologist, urges Americans to go native and go natural.  Many people shorten this and call it ‘ReWilding’.  For a great article on his philosophy, read  all about him in the Smithsonian magazine.  For tips on ReWilding your own garden, read on.

Meadow plants at Longwood Gardens
Longwood Gardens meadow

What is ReWilding?

ReWilding, returning your landscape back to nature, is possible for even the most urban of environments. Stepping back and allowing natural processes to occur – in the process reducing management of your yard – you can encourage wild plants and insects to return. ReWilding begins with recognizing native plants as the basis of the local food web that is essential for populations of native insects and other wildlife.

Looks fearsome, but this common Yellow  Garden Spider feeds on flies, and other flying insects
Staghorn Beetle

Even if you only have a tiny yard, these ReWilding principles are useful and easy to put into practice. If you don’t have an outdoor space to manage, consider adopting a street tree, tending a sidewalk strip or community area, or planting containers with natives.

Strip between the street and sidewalk can be your space to rewild
  1. Forget Tidy– Nature isn’t tidy, and by being neat and cleaning up all our garden debris, our properties become a desolate and sterile landscape to other living things. Leave those seed heads up and don’t clean every last leaf off of your lawns and planting beds.
Leave your seed heads up for wildlife

2.Ditch Chemicals-Homeowners are the biggest culprit of over-using chemical deterrents for pests which can remain in the environment long after they are used. This includes pesticides, weed killers, slug pellets, and fertilizers. Look for seeds and plants that are free of chemicals.

Don’t use chemicals and let your neighbors know
Use chemical free seeds and plants

3. Plant Vertically– If you have mostly concrete or a paved property, think about growing native vines in containers or squeeze a vine into a crack in the concrete to grow up a wall. Several native vines, like Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla) or  ‘Amethyst Falls’ Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), are frequented by hummingbirds and long-tongued insect pollinators and is a host plant to many native insects.

Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’, a better behaved native wisteria
Dutchman’s Pipe Vine planted on fence

4. Add Water-A small basin or built in pond with some pond plants can greatly increase the biodiversity of your property. Native salamanders, frogs, toads, and other aquatic life will find it. Native toads need water, even a water filled ditch, to reproduce. I have a pond and frogs and toads populate it without me having to do anything.

5. Stop or Decrease Mowing-Set aside an area of your lawn or the entire lawn that can grow up without mowing. This will increase the biodiversity with grass seed heads and wildflowers taking root and eventually trees. You can also mow pathways through your lawn for better access throughout the year or simply decrease the number of times that you mow. Oxeye daisies, goldenrod, and other wildflowers will quickly move in. Let your weeds flower in the lawn if you cut it. Blooming clover is a great nectar source for honeybees and native bees.

Meadows can be beautiful and full of life
Dandelions in your lawn are a great nectar source when resources are scarce

6.Set Out the Welcome Mat for Animals-Install bird houses, bug hotels, and underground nests for bumblebees. Leave a pile of debris like sticks alone as animals will use it for shelter. Keep pithy stems up, like sunflowers or teasels, so insects can overwinter in them. Go to Bumblebee Conservation Trust to see how to make a simple Bumblebee habitat.

Create a native bee habitat
Bumblebee nest made out of an old terra cotta pot

7. Encourage Others-Talk to neighbors and persuade local schools or governments to become wilder, with less mowing and maintenance. Your ammunition is that rewilding can save money by reducing the time and manpower to cut lawns every week.

8. Diversify-The more species of plants we plant, the more insects and other animals we entice in. Instead of planting a large screen of Green Giant Arborvitae, plant a mix of deciduous and evergreen shrubs as a hedge. Aim for at least 70-80% of native plant species.

Mixed variety screen

9. Plant Native Trees– If you have the room, planting native species of oaks, cherries, willows, and poplars, is one of the most important choices we can do in our backyard space. Native trees produce habitat and food for insects that in turn feed our songbirds that have catastrophically declined in numbers.

An oak tree is one of the best things that you can plant

10. Set an Example-Set up a yard sign that informs others what you are doing and encourage curious passersby’s to stop and ask questions. Others will be inspired to follow your example.

Set up a yard sign to tell your neighbors

For a great visit to see some meadow plantings, go to Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer, Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center, or Delaware Botanic Gardens.

Aerial view of the meadow at Delaware Botanic Garden, photo from DBG

5 Replies to “Top 10 Ways to ReWild Your Garden”

  1. I’m glad you are spreading the word about rewilding. Too many people’s ideal is a sterile landscape in which nothing flourishes. Even in the rural area where I live, farmers cannot stand to have native vines climb their fences or “weeds” grow in the margins of their fields. After harvesting trees, instead of leaving the unused branches and such to rot, returning carbon to the soil and feeding many species in the process, timber companies pile them up and burn them. I do what I can to enlighten my neighbors.

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