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As part of an anti-grassroots campaign, Nature center’s program to replace lawns and wildlife habitat serves as a nature center program.

As part of an anti-grassroots campaign, Nature center’s program to replace lawns and wildlife habitat serves as a nature center program.

Many people consider the lush green lawns and beautifully landscaped gardens surrounding their homes to be a slice heaven.

Experts warn that even though gardens may seem beautiful and lush, they are incapable of supporting the ecosystem.

To help combat what environmentalists characterize as “ecologically deserted” lawns, the Latodami Nature Center in North Park partnered with the North Area Environmental Council for a program to distribute kits for people to convert a 100-square-foot lawn space into a wildlife habitat.

The initial season of sales for the kits is over, but all information and videos about the nature center are still available. Here are some tips on how to convert your lawn. This information can be found on the NAEC website., under “Lawn to Nature.”

Latodami naturist Ken Knapp said the “lawn to nature” movement was developed by Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware. He promotes a concept he calls “lawn to nature”, National Park from HomeThis challenge asks people to help restore biodiversity by converting a portion a lawn into wildlife habitat.

The “one lawn at a time” approach is important because such a transformation won’t happen if it is limited to public land, Knapp said.

“Only 20 percent of the land in the U.S. is public,” he said. “So this problem has to be solved on private property.”

Beth Dutton, president of the North Area Environmental Council, said members of her organization became interested in Tallamy’s work at about the time Latodami contacted them about working together on the wildlife habitat kits.

“We thought it was a great idea and decided to help them by promoting it along with our annual seedling sale and donating some funds toward the project,” Dutton said.

Latodomi will distribute $20 kits this spring in conjunction with the North Area Environmental Council’s annual seedling sale included seeds to plant a 10-foot by 10-foot plot of wildflowers, instructions on how to prepare the soil and a sapling to grow a red oak or chokecherry tree, which is also a critical part of restoring the native bird population.

“Native trees like oak, cherry and willow are called keystone species because they are host plants for various butterfly and moths’ larvae and can help support more than 400 different species,” he said.

“Having one of these trees is like having a cafeteria for birds and a great way to bring nature to your home,” Knapp said.

Knapp states that increasing the number of native insects is the key to improving the ecology and wildlife habitats.

“Insects are the basis for everything,” he said. “As our insect population has plummeted, we’ve had a dramatic decrease in the bird population.”

Latodami is helping to support the park’s bird population with a program to provide hundreds of nesting boxes to increase the species’ population.

According to the National Audubon Society (NAS), North America was home in 2019 according to the National Audubon Society. In 2019, there were 3 billion fewer birds than in 1970.This is a decline of more that 1 in 4 birds.

The proliferation of lawns — and the way they are tended — along with ornamental gardens planted with non-native species are a recipe for killing off wildlife, Knapp said.

“There are 40 million acres of lawn in the United States that don’t provide much ecological value whatsoever,” he said. “And they’re really bad if you are throwing down fertilizer and herbicides.”

He said the best thing a lawn can have is the thing that people are spending money and time to eradicate: “We’re killing weeds such as dandelions and clover, which are pollinators and the only thing of any value in a lawn,” Knapp said.

Lawns also do a bad job at managing stormwater.

“The root system of typical sod grass is really shallow,” he said. “Rainwater runs off a lawn so easy that it’s almost as bad as impermeable surfaces like asphalt and concrete.”

Ray Morris, 80, of Pine, who volunteers at Latodami, said after retiring, he “upsized” from a townhouse with almost no land to a home on a more than 1-acre plot.

“The agent told me it was the worst landscaped lot in the neighborhood, so I decided to turn a portion of it into a pollinator garden instead of putting in grass or plants that serve no purpose,” he said.

Morris took a section of 5-foot by 60 feet and removed the ground cover. He then planted a variety f wildflowers like cosmos and brown-eyed susans.

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“I have bluebird nesting boxes on my property, so I was already seeing more wildlife, but after putting in the wildflower garden I started seeing a lot more butterflies and bees showing up.”

Morris said that sometimes it takes an entire season. So seeds that have been planted have a chance of being destroyed during the winter-to–spring freeze-and–thaw cycle.

However, seeds can also germinate indoors and be replanted after the weather changes.

Morris stated that while some people choose to plant wildflower gardens in random areas, others will simply scatter the seeds around. However, the seeds can be planted to create effects and features in a garden by being arranged by height and color.

Many ornamental gardens are also home to many plants, shrubs, and flowers that do little to promote biodiversity.

“Most of the pretty stuff being used isn’t from around here, which means insects don’t recognize it and don’t feed on it or live in it,” Knapp said. “It might be attractive, but it serves no ecological purpose.”

Dutton stated that it is also easier to convert a portion of a lawn into wildlife habitat.

“There’s no other plant besides a lawn that requires weekly pruning,” she said. “And if it’s being done with a gas mower, it’s producing more air pollution than a car.”

Dutton admits that the movement towards reducing lawns will require a shift in our perception of beauty.

“There’s such a tidy aesthetic when it comes to yards, especially in the North Hills,” she said. “But people can work with a landscaper to create a wildlife habitat that is both useful for the environment and beautiful.”

Tony LaRussa works as a Tribune-Review staff journalist. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, or via Twitter .

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