Designing for Habitat
Our final blog in the Beyond Beautiful series touches on what we can do to build habitat for beneficial insects and other garden allies.
Our landscapes are some of the most intensely managed ecosystems on the planet.
Because of that, they have the potential to house and protect critical beneficial populations that are likely to struggle with the effects of climate change.
Given the current ecological crisis and the level of unpredictability it will create, building intelligent and ecologically literate landscape systems is more crucial than ever.
Look out 10- 50 years. What will climate change bring in terms of struggling populations and how does that relate to greater ecosystem health and our own food production? From migratory birds to broccoli, we all need beneficial insects and other garden allies for our survival.
The time of simple ornament has long passed. Our landscapes must be Beyond Beautiful.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Frederique Lavoipierre and ask her some questions about insects and other allies in the garden and what we can do to create conditions conducive to their life cycles.
Frederique is an experienced and pragmatic entomologist, gardener, and educator who has been working at the intersection of landscape ecology, and agriculture for over 2 decades.
Insects in the garden
“When we think of beneficials, we think of bees and subsequently flowers. We need to think beyond that to all the garden allies out there. When you look at your garden, instead of asking whether an insect is good or bad, it’s better to ask what their function is in the landscape.” -Frederique Lavoipierre
Landscapes function as little ecosystems. They contain both predator and prey that all are working in concert within the larger symphony. Long term balance is the goal, NOT the removal of “pest” species. These pest species, such as aphids, are a food source for beneficial insects and are necessary to maintain localized beneficial populations. Long term balance is the goal.
Some easy, often overlooked strategies we can implement to create habitat for beneficials.
Many beneficials, are very small. For example, parasitic wasps.
Their larve feed on pests and the adults are very small and feed on nectar. Therefore, we need to consider flower size when designing habitat for them. the big nectar flowers we plant for bees and hummingbirds can drown the wasps.
Incorporate flowers from the umbreliffei and other small flowered species is a simple and effective step.
Year around food sources for all allies is also important.
Ornamental grasses provide an early pollen source as well as a place for allies to overwinter
Planting Succulents will hold dew, which provide micro-water sources is another great way to foster beneficial populations.
Non plant- based habitat solutions
In addition to the plants, we discussed how else we can look to our landscapes to provide habitat solutions.
· Rocks- beetles, lizards, and more use these for habitat
· Leaf Litter
“Soil and air ecology: the space between air, leaf litter, and soil can be a thriving habitat. It is not mulch, but leaf litter that offers so much. So many beneficials live and feed on plant litter. Mulch is not a replacement for leaf litter. It is too homogeneous.” - Frederique Lavoipierre
· Hollow Stems- these provide shelter and a place to overwinter
· Wind Protectants- Since many of these insects are very small, shelter from the wind in critical
In conclusion, designing a landscape for both beauty and habitat requires much thought and experience but there are some very simple steps we can take to get started.
To start, You simply need to decide to incorporate one additional form of habitiat and add it to your next design.
I am currently finding inspiration in Piet Oudolf’s work and am implementing strategies for garden allies into my California wild meadow design, primarily through plant selection.
Please read more of Frederique’s amazing and informative work in her Garden Allies series in Pacific Horticulture Magazine
On Line- Articles
“Garden Allies” series available through Pacific Horticulture- Frederique Lavoipierre
Check out these sources for more, easy to digest information, information.
Attracting Native Pollinators- Xerces Society
The Bee-Friendly Garden- Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBunn