Do You Have a Healthy Yard?

A while back, we came across a handout from the forestry division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In a simple four-page fold-out, the DNR offers some great ideas for creating a healthy yard. (The handout is from a couple of years ago, but it’s still available online.)

The stereotypical American yard with a few trees (some of which are leaning due to strong winds and being poorly planted), a long asphalt driveway, a bunch of shrubs planted too close to the house and lots and lots of grass doesn’t create much habitat for birds, beneficial insects and other animal life, and it can lead to a variety of problems, such as runoff, expensive maintenance and all the plants dying at the same time.

Drawing from Minnesota DNR;

Drawing from Minnesota DNR; graphic artist: Amy Beyer

It doesn’t have to be that way! By expanding planting beds and adding layers of plants within them — trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers — you can create a healthy yard that’s not any more difficult to maintain than one that is all grass.

Here are just a few of the recommendations from the DNR:

Plant a variety of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants: Native plants tend to handle our extreme climate better, are better adapted to living with the pests and the beneficial insects from the North, require less water and fertilizer and general coddling and are better habitat and food for native songbirds, butterflies, bats, frogs and other good guys. If create a mix of native shrubs and perennials, add a birdbath and maybe a feeder, and you will be stunned at the number and varieties of birds you attract.

Plant in layers: Start with the canopy layer — tall trees — and be sure to includes some evergreen varieties for wind breaks; then add smaller trees and large shrubs — something native with flowers and fruit that provides shelter for nesting birds; add herbaceous plants at the bottom. Site this kind of bed on the corner of your yard from which the wind blows to protect buildings from blowing snow. Think about sun angles, too, and put trees in positions where your house will be shaded during the warmest months of the year.

Add food! If you have a sunny spot, especially one that can be fenced easily, add a fruit and vegetable garden. Raspberries and strawberries are easy to grow and make summer a delicious joy, especially if there are children to pick them. Plant vegetables, too, to give your family the freshest, healthiest food possible.

Pump it up! To really create a sanctuary, add a rain garden or interesting natural features such as boulders, stumps or logs. Conserve water by using mulches and permeable hardscape surfaces.

Here’s the best news about creating a healthy yard: A yard with well-maintained landscaping and mature trees can have a value up to 20 percent higher than one with blah or not attractive landscaping.

What’s your big landscaping project for next year?