In recent years, specifically during COVID-19, at-home gardening and landscaping saw a noticeable uptick in popularity. Since people were trapped in their homes for months, many decided to bring the beauty of nature into their backyards. If you go online to social media sites like Tiktok, Twitter, and Facebook, you’ll see videos, photos, and stories about people’s beautiful, lush gardens and outdoor spaces.
One particular outdoor landscaping trend, rewilding, has been sweeping online spaces, growing and spreading like a verdant wildfire. Also known as “ungardening,” rewilding makes your outdoor living space an open sanctuary to wildlife. While traditional gardening and landscaping practices use harmful pesticides and strict manicuring, rewilding does the opposite, letting your backyard and garden grow untamed. With rewilding, you can create an outdoor landscape that is both wonderful to enjoy and helps the local wildlife at the same time. In this article, we’ll go over how rewilding works, along with some simple steps you can take to make your outdoor living space more accommodating to the local ecosystem.
What Is Rewilding, and Where Did It Come From?
Originally, rewilding started as a type of ecological conservation conceived by the “Earth First!” movement in the early 1990s. Later, rewilding was refined and more strictly outlined by American conservationists Michael Soulé and Reed Noss in their paper, “Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation.” In this paper, Soulé and Noss outlined the fundamental principles of rewilding; establishing large, protected areas, creating connectivity between those areas (called corridors), and reintroducing and protecting keystone species (mostly large carnivores).
As a conservationist movement, rewilding has grown in popularity, especially in Europe. In the United States, one of the most notable rewilding initiatives was reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Data suggests that reintroducing wolves to the park has created a “Trophic Cascade,” which has led to an increase in beaver populations, healthier and more pronounced vegetation, and a slew of other benefits.
Today, rewilding has become a term that also refers to a smaller, more personal gardening and landscaping movement. When performed by homeowners, at-home rewilding mirrors the goals and methods used by the wider ecological technique. It attempts to create a space conducive to native species. It adds elements to your backyard landscape that attract and support local wildlife. Other similarities persist, such as establishing corridors that allow wildlife to migrate from one location to another more easily. In at-home rewilding, these corridors are often called “hedgehog highways,” which are tiny holes in fences or protective hedges that allow small mammals through.
Benefits of Rewilding Your Property
Besides giving your backyard a wild, free-spirited look, rewilding brings several tangible benefits to your outdoor living space.
Attracting Pollinators and Native Species
It’s difficult to understate the importance of pollinators. Bees, birds, and even wasps are essential in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Unfortunately, most pollinators are extremely sensitive to habitat loss, pesticides, invasive species, and fragmentation. One of the biggest benefits of rewilding your outdoors is that you’ll be providing a haven for these valuable local species. Bringing in pollinators helps your garden, as wasps eliminate harmful pests like cutworms, slugs, flies, and aphids.
Positive Environmental Impact
Aside from propagating pollinators, rewilding helps the environment and local ecosystem in other ways. One of the key tenets of at-home rewilding is avoiding harmful pesticides, chemicals, and other agents that impact local plants and animals. Pesticides can destroy valuable microorganisms in the soil, weakening it and causing damage over time. Rewilding also reduces your household carbon footprints, helps save on water, and furthers local biodiversity.
Cost Reduction Benefits of Rewilding
The final major benefit of rewilding is the money you can save from switching to environmentally friendly gardening practices. For example, composting can transform household and garden waste into sustainable, longer-lasting fertilizers. Furthermore, growing a lush, vibrant garden can offset a surprising amount of money on grocery bills and gas.
How to Rewild Your Property
Strictly speaking, there are no hard-and-fast rules on rewilding. Instead, rewilding is a series of practices, ideas, and aesthetics that help homeowners tailor their outdoor spaces. To further complicate things, each state’s ecosystem is different, and many of the techniques, plants, and recommendations you see online won’t always apply to every region.
With this in mind, we’ll outline the general principles of rewilding and some of the most generally useful advice for beginner ungardeners. However, we highly recommend reading up on your local ecosystem before buying any plants or making any major changes to your backyard. Knowing what thrives in your area and what species are considered invasive is one of the most important steps to any rewilding project.
Allow Your Lawn to Naturally Degrade or Decompose
Allowing your yard and garden clippings to decompose naturally is one of the best first steps any homeowner can take into rewilding. According to the EPA, in 2018, an estimated 35.4 million tons of yard waste was produced across the United States, accounting for 12.1% of all generated MSW (trash). By recycling your grass clippings, prunings, broken branches, and other yard waste, you can reduce the amount of garbage in landfills while getting some high-quality compost and mulch at the same time. Here are some general tips for properly utilizing yard waste:
- Leave clippings where they are after mowing: This can aid in decomposition and provide cover for ground-dwelling insects. Remember that if you have particularly large clumps of grass clippings, you may want to disperse them, so they don’t smother and kill the still-living grass underneath.
- Keep mower blades sharp: Dull blades can tear and damage grass, leading to brown, coarse tips.
- Cut less often and at the right length: Letting your grass grow long before cutting it has many benefits, like improved root length, water retention, better soil quality, and more ground cover for local critters. When cutting, be sure never to cut more than one-third of the total length of the grass at one time.
- Grass has multiple uses: Grass clippings can be used as fertilizer and mulch.
Remove Invasive Plants
One of the easiest mistakes made by at-home gardeners is accidentally introducing invasive species into their local ecosystem. Many plants sold at big-box stores are considered invasive in different regions. These species tend to overcrowd and choke out native plants, making them a serious problem. You can contact local greenhouses or your state university’s horticulture extension for more information on regional invasive species.
Plant Native Species of Grass, Plants, Flowers
Instead of planting invasive plants from big-box stores, the rewilding approach recommends using native species, preferably ones obtained from local nurseries or greenhouses. Since native plants have grown accustomed to thriving in your ecosystem, they typically don’t need as much fertilizer as non-native species. Even better, local plants are also more resistant to pests.
While switching to any native plant is a great decision, opting for native wildflowers and grasses is particularly helpful to local fauna. Wildflowers are some of the best attractants for wildlife, so by planting them, you’ll be drawing in more bees, hummingbirds, and even small mammals like groundhogs. Wildflowers are key in helping improve biodiversity since they’re a favorite of pollinators. As for native grasses, they have many benefits, like needing less water, reducing erosion with strong root systems, and providing cover.
Consider Adding Low-cost Structures To Attract Wildlife
Adding small, wildlife-friendly structures is one of the most satisfying steps in rewilding your backyard. The most common examples include bird boxes, squirrel houses, birdbaths, bird feeders, and ponds. Most of these structures are inexpensive, easy to install, and require little maintenance.
One inclusion we want to mention is bug hotels; these small structures resemble boxes containing hollowed-out sticks, pine cones, mulch, and other lawn waste. While these can be fun DIY projects, we don’t recommend using them. Most, even those sold in stores, aren’t built to last and can be a mess to clean up. Bug hotels are more likely to attract pests you don’t want in your garden, like termites. These kinds of structures are unnecessary in most cases, as native plants and grasses will serve the same purpose and pose none of the downsides of bug hotels.
Things to Consider When Rewilding Your Property
While rewilding can save you money in the long run, it can have a high upfront cost. Buying native plants from local nurseries can cost you more than those from big-box stores. Larger-scale rewilding efforts can require minor landscaping alterations or the installation of sizable structures like ponds, compost bins, gardens, or additional flower beds. These inclusions can cost a pretty penny but aren’t necessary if you’re just starting.
One other consideration on the financial side is the potential impact on your home’s resale value. Certain markets don’t react favorably to rewild homes, and selling a house with a wild backyard and garden may be harder. Additionally, some local building codes and community property standards may restrict your ability to rewild your outdoor space, so it’s always best to check the regulations in your area first.
Pests and Upkeep
Rewilding can be great for your local ecosystem and backyard if done correctly, but it can have serious downsides if not managed properly. Nature doesn’t discriminate, and when inviting it in, you may get critters you didn’t bargain for, such as mice, moles, and raccoons. You can mitigate these animals by taking specific pest prevention steps, like:
- Cleaning up birdseed and properly storing firewood.
- Having sealable, locking garbage bins, and not leaving pet food outside at night.
- Installing an underground mesh fence around the perimeter of your property. These will keep burrowing animals out while letting above-ground critters move freely.
Final Thoughts on Rewilding and its Impact
Rewilding is not only a major ecological practice but a social media movement, aesthetic, and landscaping practice all at once. But, regardless of the approach, be it reintroducing wolves to a national park or letting your backyard grow out a bit, both have the same end goal — to make ecosystems better for their natural inhabitants. In that, rewilding is an amazing practice that brings the natural world to the comfort of your backyard while helping the environment at the same time.