The goal in your garden and yard should not be to eradicate all “unwanted” animals but rather to keep a balance. When your garden is filled with beneficial animals like ladybugs, dragonflies, spiders, and songbirds, it tends to keep common garden pests like aphids, crickets and scales in check. A good way to ensure your garden stays balanced is to put native plants in your yard and garden!
A native plant species is one "that occurs naturally in a particular region, state, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions" (Federal Native Plant Conservation Committee, 1994). Many native plants are considered to have “high wildlife value,” which means they provide food and habitat for numerous species including hummingbirds, butterflies and other beneficial insects and arthropods, songbirds, and small mammals. According to the California Native Plant Society, there has been adequate research that shows that native wildlife clearly prefers native plants.
California has a large number of pollinator species Photo credit: Whitley Fund for Nature and by drawing them to your yard, you can improve plant reproduction and spreading of your natives, increase fruit yields in your garden, and attract a variety of beneficial animals like birds, bats and ladybugs to help keep your yard free of mosquitoes and plant-eating bugs. Worldwide, pollinators are responsible for 1 out of 3 bites of food we take each day (National Pollinator Garden Network, 2015).
Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Photo credit: National Park Service
Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Photo credit: HaDesigns/Flicker
Benefits of planting native
Exotic plants are more accustomed to other geographic areas and often require large amounts of water to stay alive in the warm, dry Southern California climate. Native California plants have a natural drought-resistance, and once established, they only require water a few times a year. Help save water and save money by planting native.
Support wildlife and ecosystems
Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service Not only does your yard and garden stay in better balance when you provide native, natural habitats for wildlife, but you can benefit in many ways! Native, flowering plants and shrubs, as well as fruit-bearing trees, can attract countless beneficial pollinator species like bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and moths, and native songbirds. They can also attract animals like spiders and native bees, but these animals add value to the ecosystem as well and should be supported.
Predators in your garden like spiders, wasps and lady bugs will help to keep “pests” like aphids, leaf-eating caterpillars, and scales off your plants! Small mammals like opossums and raccoons take care of rotten fruit and unwanted slugs, snails and carrion (dead animals) in your yard and neighborhoods. Even larger predators like snakes, foxes and coyotes will help keep unwanted animals away like rats, mice, moles and venomous snakes. Every animal plays an important part within an ecosystem!
Each year, gardeners, farmers and homeowners struggle with unwanted dinner guests from the flower beds to the fields. Pests like crickets, caterpillars, aphids and grasshoppers can ruin food crops, flowers and buds, fruit trees and more. The common response is to use pesticides and herbicides to get rid of these pests, but a natural balance can be achieved without the use of chemicals. When beneficial insects are supported in a garden, the other pest populations are kept under control and are more in balance.
Beneficial insects and arthropods are split into two groups: predators or parasites. Garden predators can include invertebrates like lady beetles, lacewings and spiders. These predators actively search out and eat pests in the garden. Insect parasites develop in or on a single “nuisance” host from eggs or larvae deposited by the adult parasite. Common insect parasites are tachinid flies and the braconid wasp. These insect “parasites” will lay eggs on pest insects like the destructive tomato hornworm caterpillar, and as their larvae develop, they literally eat the host alive, and help keep your plants protected by eliminating such pests.
Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service When you encounter pests in the garden and treat with chemicals, you are often killing off the “good bugs” or natural enemies without knowing it. Native plants have developed natural defenses to pests and diseases in the environment, and can often survive “attacks” without intervention. Avoid the "pesticide treadmill" - when you must use more and more pesticides on your yard, lawn and garden because the “undesirable” animals develop resistance. This means it take constantly increasing amounts of chemicals to achieve the original desired effect. Decreasing the use of indiscriminate pesticides in your garden will increase the number of beneficial insects present to combat pests and other issues.
Photo credit: SC Coastal Pesticides Natural enemies are beneficial insects and other organisms that kill, decrease the reproductive potential of, or otherwise reduce the numbers of another organism. They limit pests and are key components of integrated pest management programs. Integrated Pest Management is a combination of practices used to manage “pests” in an agricultural setting, as well as in your yard and garden, in a way that is most beneficial to the plants, the people, the property and the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency shaped current IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practices by using “current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment”. (EPA 2014)
Benefits of planting native
- Saving water
- Low maintenance
- Supporting wildlife and ecosystems
- Attracts beneficial insects
- Naturally resistant to disease and insects
- PDF Benefits of planting native
Resources to explore
- The California Native Plant Society is a great resource for everything native! Need help identifying native plants to grow in your area? Go straight to the CNPS interactive Calscape map.
- To learn more about how to attract the natural enemies of pests to your garden, thereby reducing the need for pesticides or other chemicals in your garden, visit the University of California Integrated Pest Management Natural Enemies Gallery.
- Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens is a community of professionals from all over North America who help spread the word that native plants are vital to healthy ecosystems, and by adding more native plants to our landscapes we will create better habitat for birds, butterflies, native bees, and other wildlife.
Native Gardening for Wildlife
- SoCal Wild
- Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens. “Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Plants.”
- California Native Plant Society
- Pollinator Partnership & the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC)
- UC Sonoma County Master Gardeners
- Presidential Memorandum. “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.”
- Los Angeles Beekeepers Association
- American Beekeeping Federation.
- National Pollinator Garden Network. "Million Pollinator Garden Challenge."
- Pesticide Action Network (PAN), North American
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program
- Environmental Protection Agency. “Integrated Pest Management Principles.”