Earth Day - Part 1

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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Happy (belated) Earth Day! I meant to post this yesterday but somehow the entire day slipped by without a single moment to sit down and publish it. Oops! Despite my tardiness, I hope that everyone had a wonderful day yesterday and maybe did a little something special for our Mother!

Earth Day is and always has been one of my favorite days of the year. For the last couple of years, Mike and I have tried to do something special in April to celebrate and protect our beautiful planet. In the past, we've volunteered for a few local environmental organizations, cleaned up rivers, picked up trash along the highways, planted trees, made birdhouses, and participated in a few other eco-friendly activities.

This year, we split our efforts into two projects focusing on making a greener home both inside and out. We decided to tackle the outside first. While we still have yet to purchase the plants (our budget only allows so much room every month for outside projects and our garden took up most of that so far), our goal is to make an effort to spruce up our yard with a bunch of flowers and plants that are native to our region. We sat down a couple weeks ago with a professional landscape planner and talked about the kinds of local plants we want to include and he helped us to create a beautiful design that made us both happy. All around our yard we plan to grow azaleas, black eyed susans, red maple, dogwood, chokeberry, american wisteria, holly, and many others. We learned a lot through the process and I like to think our yard will be much happier as a result.

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Why did we use only native plants when planning our landscape? Well, it's acutally more important for the environment than people tend to think.

Plants that are native to an area have been growing and evolving there for thousands of years and have adapted to the local soil and climate in a way that exotic plants have not. They are more likely to thrive there and are relatively easier to care for, using less fertilizer and pesticides. However, one of the biggest reasons it's so important is that it decreases the spread of invasive species which in turn increases biodiversity.

Now, I could easily get carried away here so without giving a complete ecology lesson, I'm going to keep it short and simple for those that may not know.

Biodiversity is good and invasive species are not. A region that has high biodiversity has a wide variety of living things that helps to sustain and preserve the ecosystem as a whole. All of the plants, insects, animals, and humans in that area interact and depend on one another to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem. If the system is disrupted and biodiversity is decreased in an area by say a natural disaster like a flood or tornado, or (in the case I'm describing) an invasive species, the ecosystem suffers. These invasive species tend to spread very quickly because they have no natural predators in the area. The native plants and animals then have to compete with the invasive species to survive and because the invasives are so aggressive, the native species is destroyed.

I actually spent a semester in college working to eliminate invasive species at local nature reserve and learned a lot about how destructive they can be. We tagged invasive bushes for removal, "drilled and killed" a major invasive vine that was strangling local trees, hauled invasive trees for a prescribed burn, and built cages to protect newly planted native trees from hungry deer.

It's important to note that invasive species are not just limited to plants either. There are also invasive animals, insects, and fungi that can take over and totally destroy an area. You may even recognize a few of the common ones...





I know that in the mid-atlantic region, we've been fighting the stink bugs since the early 2000s but it was reported last year that they have spread to more than 40 states. If you are interested in finding out what kinds of invasive species are in your area, the USDA lists the information here by state.

There's also a ton of information on this subject so if you'd like to read more, I suggest checking out a few of these sites:

It All Starts With Science: Invasive Speices Along for the Ride
EPA: Invasive Species of the Mid Atlantic
National Wildlife Foundation: Invasive Species
Nature: Protecting Native Plants and Animals
Stink Bug Info

Tomorrow, I'll be continuing with Part 2 of our Earth Day projects, so stay tuned!

2 comments:

  1. Such a great idea. And it's so important to plant local - so true!

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    1. Thanks! And it really is! I'm just so excited to add some color to our yard!

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