Celebrate World Environment Day & Pollinator Week through mindful yard maintenance

If you enjoy gardening, or own or rent a home with a yard, you’ve probably already begun regular work to improve and maintain your outdoor haven. This June you can celebrate both World Environment Day (June 5) and Pollinator Week 2024 (June 17-23) as part of your outdoor efforts while also supporting native and resilient habitats.

World Environment Day announcement imageWorld Environment Day is observed on June 5th annually. The event began in 1973 and has been led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since its inception. Its purpose is to inspire positive change and raise awareness around important environmental challenges. Each year, a different country plays “host” to the celebration and a different theme is the focus of global outreach efforts. In 2024, Saudi Arabia is the host country and the theme is land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience under the slogan “Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration.” UNEP’s announcement of the theme explains that it reflects this year as the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. The sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will be held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, December 2-13, 2024. According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, up to 40 percent of land on Earth is degraded, impacting half of the world’s population and threatening roughly half of global GDP (US$44 trillion). The number and duration of droughts have increased by 29 percent since 2000, and without urgent action, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.

Although drought and desertification may feel like issues faced in distant realms, especially given the amount of precipitation we’ve received in Illinois within the past month, drier conditions and increasing odds of worsening drought are challenges faced in many parts of the U.S. due to climate change. In fact, 2023 was a much warmer and drier year than normal in Illinois, and the 2012 drought was a relatively recent example of a severe drought occurring in our state. While Illinois is not currently experiencing drought, multiple areas in the U.S. are already facing moderate to extreme drought conditions, according to U.S. Drought Monitor.

Those of us who have yards to manage can show our solidarity with areas facing drought and desertification by including native plants in our landscaping. These plants tend to require less water to maintain because they’re suited to local conditions and have extensive root systems. They also contribute to habitat restoration and conservation for local insects and other wildlife, making them especially useful for #GenerationRestoration.

The University of Illinois Extension offers advice on “Plants for Dry Areas,” and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources also offers plant suggestions for a native garden. “Illinois Native Plants for the Home Landscape” is a resource available from the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Wild Ones Illinois Prairie Chapter offers a wealth of resources on landscaping with native plants, gardening for birds or other wildlife, creating pollinator gardens, information on specific native plants, and creating/restoring native habitat in your yard.

2024 Pollinator Week LogoConsidering native plants can also be part of your observance of Pollinator Week, scheduled to occur June 17-23, 2024. Pollinator Week is an annual celebration in support of pollinator health that was initiated and is managed by Pollinator Partnership. This year’s theme is, “Vision 2040: Thriving ecosystems, economies, and agriculture.” According to the event website, “This year’s event urges us to envision a future where pollinators not only survive but thrive. These essential creatures, including bees, butterflies, moths, bats, beetles, and hummingbirds, are the unsung heroes behind the food we enjoy and the beauty that surrounds us. As we reflect on the interconnectedness of our world, let’s unite in a collective effort to protect and preserve these crucial pollinators.” Further, “Pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1200 crops. That means that 1 out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators. If we want to talk dollars and cents, pollinators add 217 billion dollars to the global economy, and honey bees alone are responsible for between 1.2 and 5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity in the United States. In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.” With all that pollinators do for our species and society, the least we can do is incorporate their needs into our garden and landscaping plans! “Pollinator Garden: Native Plants for Attracting Pollinators,” is a great resource developed by Extension and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Extension also offers a pollinator plant selection tool for various conditions.

Other considerations for drought-resilient, pollinator-friendly landscaping

  • If you don’t already, consider home composting. Not only will you be able to manage yard and food waste on-site, but you’ll create a natural soil amendment that will reduce the need for chemical fertilizers (protecting pollinators, other wildlife, pets, and humans from exposure to potential hazards), and also improve the ability of the soil to retain moisture. Check out last month’s post on International Compost Awareness Week for more information.
  • Consider reducing the amount of lawn in your yard, replacing it with native plants that will support native pollinators and other wildlife. Beyond adding to local resiliency to drought and other environmental challenges, this could have the added benefits of saving you time and money by reducing your need to mow or care for grass with water and fertilizer. Illinois Extension offers suggestions for groundcovers for IL landscapes.
  • Capture rainwater. Reduce your demand for local tap water by setting up rain barrels. In damp areas of your property, consider the installation of a rain garden to naturally manage flooding and reduce associated soil erosion.
  • Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Minimize your need for chemical control of pests by employing IPM techniques, such as creating habitat for beneficial insects, such as ladybugs or lacewings, that will prey upon common garden pests such as aphids or mites. See this guide for some tips.
  • Consider electric alternatives to lawn equipment to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions. For areas that still require mowing or trimming, consider electric equipment to reduce emissions associated with using gasoline. This will in general be better for our shared environment and might have the added benefit of less noise to disrupt your outdoor enjoyment, as electric equipment tends to be a little quieter than gas-powered items. Keep in mind that electric items will tend to cost more than gas-powered items, so you’ll want to weigh options and consider how much you need a particular item. You might end up deciding to share tools with neighbors to avoid owning something you only occasionally use. Consumer Reports offers some advice and five reasons why battery-powered tools may be the right choice for you. (Note that these links are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by ISTC or the University of Illinois).