Backyard Biodiversity Tip Three – Leave some of the Wild

With the dire warnings of an insect apocalypse and the potential impact on the food chain, encouraging creepy crawlies has never been so relevant. My garden purposely embraces the wild, but the messiness drives my partner crazy. Over time and with compromise I have managed to convince him of the importance of garden debris for garden visitors. I tolerate his spaces of lawn and he leaves patches of debris for the wildlife. After all, it’s lovely to feel the soft grass on bare feet and the lawn encourages our friendly magpie family as well as the local wild ducks. He enjoys encounters with Bearded Dragons and the many other species that rely on garden debris. It’s a win win compromise.

Leaving fallen logs and sticks provides habitat for numerous species including funguses, moulds and lichens. Scientists are finding that these members of the ecosystem provide more services than previously thought.

So what do I mean by garden debris?

  • Logs and sticks that have fallen from trees
  • Leaf litter
  • Untrimmed dead sticks on plants
  • Dead annuals
  • Weeds that aren’t invasive
  • Broken terracotta pots and tiles
I suspect this Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea) lives under this broken terracotta birdbath that I left in the garden.

What? Broken terracotta pots and tiles? Yes.. They are great habitat for nocturnal creatures like frogs to shelter under during the day and for reptiles to sunbathe on top of. They don’t damage the ecosystem or attract pests like termites. If they don’t stay in your garden, they’ll probably end up in landfill. May as well put them to good use!

Cactus Flies like this one eat aphids, but they need leaf litter for their larval development.

Leaf litter doesn’t just break down and add nutrients into your soil. It hosts beneficial microbes all year around. Bare soil is not good for your garden and leaf litter is better than no cover at all. It is also shelter for many different insects at all life stages. Not least of its benefits is its capacity to keep insects warm and cosy over the cooler months, preparing for plenty of beneficial garden activity when the weather finally warms again.

Lacewing larvae will devour whole colonies of aphids and scale, but they need old sticks and stumps to lay their eggs on.

Many plants naturally have sticks or branches that defoliate and die off. The ordered gardener is tempted to trim these off, but before you grab those secateurs read on. Many garden visitors prize these “empty spaces”. The voracious predators Lacewings use these to lay their eggs that will hatch into larvae that can devour whole colonies of aphids and scale. Many of Australia’s solitary and semi-social native bees will use them as nighttime roosts or, in the case of reed bees, use the dead canes as nesting sites.

This old log left on the ground is hosting a fungal network. Fungal networks are crucial for the health of plants and soils.

Dead logs, sticks and bark provide more cover for the soil and host numerous insects and arachnids. Perhaps more important than this, they offer a development site for fungus, mould, lichen and moss. These are essential to ecosystems and in many cases help support plant health.

Huntsman spiders are predators and food. They hold an important position in the food chain and need old bark for protection and nesting.

Dead annuals can be tilled back into the soil or left until they decompose on their own. The are a great way to offer natural compost to sections of the garden. You can even snip them off at ground level and leave their roots to decompose and enrich the soil.

Shield bugs make a tasty meal for many insectivores but they need garden debris for protection so that some survive to maintain the population.

All this garden debris is now thought to be far more important than it was considered in the past. For many gardeners, however, it is challenging to embrace the concept. Every little bit counts. Even a small section of your garden dedicated to debris will pave the way to a healthier ecosystem in your garden. Make sure you keep an eye on your garden debris and the resulting garden visitors may just convince you to expand its range.

This Native Cockroach is thought to eat decomposing matter. It’s a great nutritious food for insectivores.

A last mention of a very helpful garden helper. Have you ever moved garden debris only to see slaters run in every direction? They are actually land based crustaceans and they perform an important function… they eliminate heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and cadmium from the soil. In this day and age of ubiquitous pollution that’s a beneficial skill indeed, especially in your edible garden!

Wishing you garden visitors big and small,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

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