How can we improve biodiversity in our gardens?

Published on May 22nd 2019
A bird sitting on top of a tree
On 22 May we celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) - proclaimed by the UN to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. Biodiversity affects us all and we all have a part to play to maintain healthy biodiversity, especially in urban areas.

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the diversity of life in a habitat or ecosystem and is a great indicator of the health of that ecosystem. Healthy biodiversity has an effect on the number of insects and birds for pollination, the cycling of nutrients by compost eating bacteria, even small mammals and lizards for feasting on crop-eating insects.
“From individual species through entire ecosystems, biological diversity is vital for human health and well-being. The quality of the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe all depend on keeping the natural world in good health.” - António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General.
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How can we keep our natural world in good health?

Start in the garden of course! By creating a biodiverse garden you are not only adding to its beauty but also helping to heal the planet and preserve it for future generations.
Ernst van Jaarsveld gives a few tips on increasing biodiversity in our own gardens:
  • Start by creating a garden with terrain or habitat diversity that will encourage other organisms like birds, frogs, reptiles etc. to move in. This can include a rock garden or a fish pond. Use trees and shrubs as a framework, as well as annuals and perennials.
  • Use locally indigenous plants and geology to encourage biodiversity. For instance, in the Western Cape, you can plant a fynbos and strandveld garden, depending on location.
  • Include native plant species that provide food and habitat to native insect species.
  • To encourage a wider variety of wildlife, plant shrubs and trees that are ideal for nesting, and add feeders and water sources to help attract birds.
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  • Reduce your lawn or replace the lawn with groundcovers. Groundcovers also reduce weeds.
  • Plant indigenous annuals in autumn that not only create beautiful displays in spring but will also attract beneficial pollinators like honeybees.
  • Planting Cape reeds and indigenous perennials that attract insects will, in turn, attract small reptiles like geckos and chameleons.
  • Plant local aloes in rock gardens, their nectar-filled flowers will attract sunbirds, and the dry leaves of the bitter aloe (Aloe ferox) will provide the perfect shelter for geckos and lizards. Attracting reptiles to the garden will help in biological control of insects.
  • Different succulents like vygies, crassulas, spekboom, as well as perennials will attract butterflies to your garden.
  • Old tree stumps do not have to be removed as it serves as a potential nesting site for bees.
  • Old logs and tree trunks are also decomposed by fungi, bacteria and other ground-dwelling organisms, that successively provide organic matter (food) for plants.
  • Humid and moist areas in the garden will promote conditions for the harmless Common Slugg-Eater (Duberria lutrix) that will control snails and slugs.
  • Climbers in trees, even dead tree stumps, provide potential nesting sites for birds.
  • Why not add a bat-box to your garden? By attracting bats to the garden, you welcome these nocturnal insect-eating mammals to control pests that are active at night, like moths.
  • Provide shelter for owls by adding an owl box to the garden - they will aid in the control of rodents.
  • A fish pond provides habitat for aquatic creatures like for dragonflies and damselflies. If mosquitoes larvae are a problem, get indigenous fish to take care of them.
A banana tree with green leaves
  • This water source will also invite frogs and toads that add another level of insect-control.
The best part of a biodiverse garden? It is mainly self-sustaining and, over time, garden biodiversity will increase drastically. By creating a biodiverse, indigenous garden you make a valuable contribution to conservation.
For more information on the International Day for Biological Diversity, visit this website.

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