Ecologist says green gardens can help keep the world together | News, sports, jobs



DNR ecologist Megan Benage explains the importance of creating a green space. This talk was the first of his four conservation-themed presentations hosted by LWV.

NEW ULM – The bad news is that pollinator species are in decline, but the good news is there is time to turn things around.

Megan Benage, a community ecologist with the Department of State Resources, gave a presentation Thursday at the New Ulm Public Library about the importance of creating an environmentally friendly garden.

This was the first of four consecutive conservation-themed forums held by the League of Women Voters (LWV).

Benage said the presentation provided simple tips on how to create a pollinator-friendly garden and conserve water. Before we explain how to create an eco-friendly lawn, we explained why it’s important.

Bennige said there are three pillars that bind the world together. Diversity, connection and community.

“Without these three, we really can’t survive, and we definitely won’t survive.” she said.

However, insect species have declined significantly over the past 40 years, with insect populations decreasing by 40%, but Benesi cautioned that this is based on observed species. The actual decline may be even larger.

Declines in pollinating insects pose a risk to humans. Pollinating insects spread pollen and help other plants grow. Without these, you may run out of certain foods. The loss of one type of insect can lead to the collapse of other animals further up the food chain.

“Every species we have in our environment plays some important role.” Bennige said. The decline in insects has also affected the number of birds, which are also in decline. It is estimated that there are 3 billion fewer birds than in 1970.

“That means we are doing something unsustainable to the environment.” Bennige said. “If we are not careful, humanity could find itself in a dangerous situation.”

But there was still a chance to reverse pollinator decline. One way is to restore green spaces to native vegetation.

“We need to start thinking of every space as an opportunity.” Bennige said. This includes your own garden. By replacing your traditional lawn with native plants, your neighborhood lawn can not only support a variety of pollinating insects, but also reduce water runoff.

Benage explained that every 1 percent of organic matter in the top layer of soil has a water-holding capacity of 0.2 to 1.2 inches. In Minnesota, prairie soils contain 8-10% organic matter. Cultivated grassland soils contain only 3-5% organic matter. This is because grassland native plants have extensive root systems. Gardens with native pollinating plants can conserve more water than traditional lawns. This means less water runs off and goes down storm drains, but it also means less watering during droughts.

Benesi said native plants are drought tolerant. Her garden is home to several native species, and during the drought conditions of the past few years, she was the only one on the block with a green garden during the summer.

When deciding what to plant to create an eco-friendly garden, Benage said it’s important to have varieties and know when each species blooms. She suggests planting plants that bloom early in the spring. These are beneficial to bumblebees, which emerge from the ground in April. Without plants to eat early in the season, subsequent bee colonies can be wiped out. Benage suggested visiting the Minnesota Wildflowers webpage, which lists which native plants bloom each month.

Benage advised anyone thinking of turning their lawn into a pollinator-friendly space to consult their city’s ordinances first. Some communities have strict regulations about what you can put in your garden. She said New Ulm is quite flexible. The biggest limitation is the main street. What happens in a residential garden is open as long as the site appears intentionally landscaped.

LWV’s Conservation Forum Series continues on Thursday, April 4, with presentations on energy rebates, incentives, resources and other conservation opportunities.

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