Homegrown Habitat

Supporting bees, birds, butterflies, and the rest of nature

Climate change, pesticide use, agriculture, developments, wildfires, drought, and invasive species are some of the key concerns associated with the ongoing, drastic decline in populations of native wildlife species. Each of these issues has, in its own way, left wildlife without adequate places to live, feed, and reproduce, and the resulting population declines are unprecedented.

Native insects, including pollinators, are among these threatened species. Because insect larvae are a key source of food for larger animals, including the young of most bird species, insects form the foundation of the food chain. Without these insects, the food chain would collapse.

Homegrown Habitat is working on solutions to this issue. You can help, too.

It's Time for a
Paradigm Shift

What can we do about this escalating crisis?

We can create habitat that supports these insects in our own backyards and communities, and we can spread the word to others to do the same.

What type of habitat do these insects require?

They need local native plants—the plants they have coevolved with for millennia.

Homegrown Habitat Initiative

To help reverse the decline in wildlife populations, the Sacramento Valley Chapter has created the Homegrown Habitat initiative to increase individual, community, and civic engagement in the effort to significantly increase numbers of native plants to support wildlife habitat and a healthy ecosystem.

This initiative was inspired by the work of Douglas Tallamy, a renowned entomologist and author who has written several books about the crucial importance of native plants and the insects these plants support and how we have the power to create native plant habitat in our own landscapes to provide this needed support. He coined the term Homegrown National Park to describe this paradigm shift in the way we garden—to garden not only for ourselves but also for wildlife; to provide insects with shelter, food, and places to reproduce; and, in doing so, to provide crucially needed habitat and bring into our own environments the wonders of the natural world.

“If we were to replace half of all lawn with native plant communities, we could create over 20 million acres of ecosystem to support pollinators and other beneficial animals. Our “Homegrown National Park” would be bigger than all of the major national parks combined.”

–Douglas Tallamy

Read this informative article by Douglas Tallamy that explains the rationale behind using native plants extensively in all landscaping.

Local Native Plants are the Backbone of Ecosystems

Native plants have evolved alongside the native creatures in our region over millennia. The needs of these plants and animals are intertwined, so they need each other to survive. Plants from other areas of the world do not provide local native wildlife with the resources they need.

What are California Native Plants?

All California native plants have the following in common:

Did you know?

Oak trees are a keystone species, and can support more than 300 species of wildlife, including many pollinators. Read more on oak woodland habitats.

Why California Native Plants?

Native plants provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for hundreds of wildlife species, including pollinators. Some native plants are the sole host plant for one species, such as milkweed, which is the host plant of the monarch butterfly. The monarch lays its eggs on only milkweed. When its larvae hatch, they eat the plant before their metamorphosis into adult monarchs. Some native plants are keystone plants, which means they are the backbone for an entire native habitat. Oak trees are a keystone native. 

Many of the wildlife species that depend on native plants are insects, and their larvae are a key food source for birds to feed their young. According to Doug Tallamy, 96 percent of bird species feed their young with caterpillars.

Key Reasons for Drastic Population Declines

Loss of Habitat

California has lost a large portion of its native landscape to agriculture, development, drought, fire, climate change, and the spread of invasive species.

All of these issues remove native habitat, and wildlife species that depend on these habitats for survival have had increasingly fewer places to live and reproduce.

Ninety percent of Sacramento’s ecoregion is used for agriculture, urban development, or energy production. Lands that have a high potential to be conserved tend to receive most available funding. However, much of Sacramento’s ecoregion needs to be restored.

Use of Pesticides and Herbicides

When we use pesticides and herbicides in our gardens to eliminate harmful insects and unwanted weeds, we also eliminate beneficial insects that help keep the garden healthy and provide food for birds and other creatures. We can learn to garden without using these chemicals in most instances, which will create healthier gardens and increase populations of beneficial insects.

Neonicotinoid pesticides

One of the most pervasive groups of pesticides used today is neonicotinoids (also called neonics), which are neurotoxic insecticides designed to kill insects by attacking their nerve cells.

 Neonics are added to garden bug sprays, livestock and pet flea and tick treatments, and food grown in farm fields. They are used on golf courses and in landscaping and are applied to plants sold in nurseries, including plants advertised as pollinator friendly.

Impact on Bees

Bees are insects. Because neonics are designed to kill insects, they kill bees. Neonic use is shown, in a substantial and growing body of research, to be a leading cause of the massive bee die-offs happening around the world that threaten our food security, agricultural economy, and environment. Not only are commercial honey bees at risk, but the more than 4,000 species of native bees that live in the U.S. are also at risk.

The information on pesticides and herbicides comes from the Natural Defense Resource Council.

How Can We Increase Insect Populations?

The key to recovering and supporting our crucial biodiverse ecosystems is to increase native plant habitat in home and civic landscaping, thereby increasing the connection between existing natural areas. We have it in our power to help wildlife simply by redesigning the landscapes in which we live, work, and play; increase habitat everywhere; and stop poisoning insects and birds with pesticides, including neonics.

To accomplish this goal, we can all follow these three guidelines:

Protect native landscape

Support efforts to conserve remaining native habitat.

Increase habitat

Add more local native plants wherever possible, and encourage park districts, water districts, and municipal governments to do the same.

Do no harm

Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Learn about Integrated Pest Management to reduce the need to use chemicals in your landscape.

Homegrown Habitat's Role

In April 2019, volunteers from the California Native Plant Society, California Native Grasslands Association, Environmental Council of Sacramento, Habitat 2020, Xerces Society, Audubon Societyand other local organizations came together to discuss remedies for the plight of our insects and wildlife. Together, they are working to disseminate the key information needed to increase habitat in the region.

Homegrown Habitat is taking a lead in informing individuals, communities, and organizations about the need to increase native habitat in the region. Volunteers are involved in the following efforts.

Regional Government Policy

  • Helping local governments understand the current crisis and the crucial importance of planting local native plants to support local wildlife, including pollinators.

Outreach

  • Identifying groups, such as nurseries, schools, garden clubs, landscapers, parks, and developers, and providing information about the need to increase habitat within communities
  • Researching possible school curriculums to educate children about the issue
  • Providing information through the SacValley Chapter website and social media

Gardening

  • Developing recommended plant lists
  • Developing tools to engage the gardening public

Plant Availability

  • Expanding operations at Elderberry Farms Native Plant Nursery
  • Checking with growers and nurseries for their use of pesticides

You Are Part of the Solution

You can increase habitat for pollinators, birds, and other local wildlife by planting native plants wherever possible. You don’t have to take out your favorite plants or your entire lawn—instead, you can add local native plants, even if only in the back corner of your yard.

There are also many opportunities to get involved with the Homegrown Habitat initiative. You can lend your expertise in any of the following tasks (and maybe ask friends to join you!)

Communication—Native Plants in Public Places

Help develop presentations to increase decisionmakers’ awareness of native plant habitat.

Education

Help establish Homegrown Habitat curriculum in schools.

Plant Availability

  • Help start a native plant nursery.   
  • Ask nurseries to expand their offerings of native plants.
  • Work with nurseries to increase their neonic-free native plant stock.

Creative Engagement

Help develop hands-on activities, using graphic art, to engage different groups, such as students and the general public.

Landscape Design

Create drawings that depict local native plants in various settings.

Social Media

Develop educational audio clips and videos.

Organizational Skills

Help us gather information put it into an easy-to-access layout.

Much of the work can be done on your own. Contact Chris Lewis for more information.

Where to Find Local Pesticide-Free Native Plants

The SacValley Chapter’s Elderberry Farms nursery promotes awareness of the benefits of native plant habitat, encourages community involvement, and provides a source of local native plants for restoration projects and home gardening. The nursery grows over 120 species of local native plants.

Calscape is a unique online tool that lets you discover plants that are native to your specific location. You can use the website to build plant lists for your garden, see growing instructions, and find native plant nurseries near you.