Fall is upon us with a host of activities, football games, county fairs, and festivals. The smell of autumn greets us on crisp mornings, and we indulge in pumpkin lattes and ginger snap cookies. For us, as well as for nature, it’s a time to prepare for the upcoming winter and for many lean months. It’s a difficult time for the insects and birds that share this space with us, yet there are things that we can do as homeowners, or avid gardeners, to help them out over the coming months.
We humans use the term “beneficial insects” to mean that they are valuable for the services they provide to us, versus pests, which damage things that we want. Nature doesn’t really make the distinction—we do. So when we say beneficial insects, we mean insects that either pollinate (e.g. bees and wasps), control pests for us (e.g. ladybugs), or provide some other service that is in our best interest. We should also include several species of arachnids here. We gardeners, farmers and now a growing body of homeowners find it in our interest to keep their numbers up as well, ensuring that their winter habitat protects them from the elements and predators. There are several things that we can easily do to help them out. Birds also benefit from some help during the winter, as food is scarce and expending energy is costly.
Ways to help insects and birds are many, and the writer of this article suggests that you employ as many as you reasonably can, given your property limitations, other restrictions (e.g. Homeowners Association rules), and your comfort level. It is a process, and you may find that over time you employ more practices. These practices are also great teaching tools for kids to engage them and increase their powers of observation within the natural world.
While there are several things that you can do, I would suggest that a great starting point— fundamental to everything—is to employ native plants, shrubs, and trees as much as you can. It is these indigenous plants that will attract the insects you want to protect. Their presence will also help feed birds throughout the year. Now let’s get started.