Tips for Growing a Biodiverse Garden

A garden full of biodiversity is teeming with life – plants, animals, and insects. A biodiverse garden is abundant in flowers, ground cover, structures, and water features, built to attract beneficial insects, birds, and other animals.

It can be overwhelming to create a biodiverse garden, but following one, some, or all of the tips detailed in this article will help you create a garden oasis for those necessary garden friends.

First, forget the tidy, portrait-ready gardens. Tidiness often hinders the wildlife that exists in your garden. Embrace the chaos!

As flowers die off at the end of their season, do not hurry to deadhead them. As flowers die off and create seeds, those seeds often provide food sources for birds when other food is scarce.

Leave those dead leaves in fall and winter because they provide a habitat throughout the winter for many beneficial insects and pollinators.

Consider putting perennial herbs and flowers into your existing annual vegetable spaces because they also provide food and habitat in the winter.

As a final touch of embracing chaos, do not be in a hurry to get the lawn mower out in the spring. Those early blooming ‘weeds’ like dandelions are often the first food source for bees when the weather begins to warm.

A bee feeding on a dandelion in late winter | Vego Garden

Second, incorporate native plants into your garden space. Native plants are those that grow naturally in your area. Texas is often known for the wildflowers and grasses that grow in the prairies, like our famed bluebonnets and rudbeckia.
Do research for native plants for your area and add them to your garden. The best way to attract native wildlife to your space is to have native plants to serve as food sources or habitats.
Next, think vertically when planning your garden space. Add shrubs and trees to your garden, especially those that flower or produce fruit or nuts. Adding in those additional food sources will attract other beneficial wildlife, like native birds.
Another component of thinking vertically involves planting for different root depths. Adding deeply rooted plants like kale and alfalfa can help improve poor soil and affect which minerals become available to other wildlife within your soil.

As strange as it may seem, create small piles of sticks and rocks within your garden space to encourage wildlife. Some species of birds prefer to spend time in those stick piles, and birds eat many bugs that plague our precious vegetable plants.

As icky or scary as it may seem, small piles of rocks make delightful locations for snakes to sunbathe. Some species of snakes will eat slugs, which can cause issues for our young plants. Other species of snakes will eat rodents like rats, and no one wants those. Learning how to identify the snakes in your area can help alleviate fear and granting them safe spaces helps ensure your garden space is free of unwanted pests.

If you have learned to embrace the chaos at this point and have adapted your garden to be a little wild and unruly, one more tip for biodiverse spaces is to add a log and simply let it rot. A rotting log can support several microorganisms within your soil and allow fungi or mushrooms to grow. Some creatures may also find haven within the rotting log throughout winter. If a rotting log does not seem like your style, perhaps adding your compost directly to your garden will suit your fancy. A traditional compost bin or trenches within your garden space will bring beneficial wildlife to your garden.

One of the most obvious tips for planting a biodiverse space is also the most beautiful. Plant your garden with variety in mind. Plant multiple varieties of flowers in varying colors, different sizes, and different shapes of plants.

Even if you are just planning a basic vegetable garden, incorporate multiple types of tomatoes, or multiple colors of zinnia, mixed with different herbs and different sizes of each variety. If you have one raised garden bed, plant your space intensely with as much variety as you can manage. 

Vego Garden raised bed with a variety of herb and vegetables | Vego Garden

 Tulsi basil, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers fill a raised bed

When planning for the next garden season, opt for a no-till method. There are tons of microorganisms within the soil, and tilling is often a detriment to them. Converting to a no-till garden also lessens the occurrence of disturbing your soil, which slows the progression of weeds in your garden space. Minimizing soil disturbance also means soil erosion slows. Instead, opt for using different types of mulches, compost, and organic fertilizers to improve your soil health.

Another tip for creating a biodiverse garden is to utilize ground covers instead of manicured grasses or bark mulch. Some examples of low-maintenance ground covers include creeping thyme, yarrow, and clover. Clover is nitrogen fixing, so it will improve soil health, while also being mowable, and pollinator-friendly. There are native grasses that can also be planted that require less water and provide habitat for native wildlife.

While it may seem like common sense if you have already done this much to plant for biodiversity, avoid the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. The chemical options damage all wildlife, whether intended or not. Create a habitat that encourages insect and bird predators to assist with pest pressure. Improve soil health to encourage healthy plants to slow down other pest pressure. Densely plant your garden to discourage weeds.

Praying Mantis snacking on okra | Vego Garden

A praying mantis looking for a snack in the okra

When planting your garden, plant your vegetables and flowers in squares, not rows. This will maximize food production, minimize weeds, and increase the biodiversity in your space.

You can plant squares even in your raised beds by creating checkerboard shapes with your squares and throwing squares of herbs and flowers within your squares of vegetables. The result will be a visually appealing variation of heights, colors, and textures while also confusing pests and slowing their pressure.

Last, remember to add a water feature to your garden. This can be as elaborate as a koi pond or as simple as a bird bath. Every living creature requires water, and including this much-needed resource within your space will encourage wildlife to live in your garden. When considering water for pollinators, a saucer filled with water will serve fine, although it will need to be refilled frequently in the heat of summer. 

Final thoughts

Planting a garden to be a biodiverse space does not need to be complicated. Remember to embrace the chaos, embrace variety, and embrace adding a water feature and you will tackle the most important elements, and encourage beneficial wildlife to live within your garden space.

Sources: 

https://www.foodabundance.ca/community/public/posts/175704-11-easy-and-practical-ways-to-create-a-biodiverse-garden-let-a-little-wild-in

https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/how-to-make-your-garden-more-biodiverse

 


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