Sending Nature an Invitation

Bee resting on rudbeckia blossom in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Bee resting on rudbeckia blossom (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Although we may not realize it, every time we step outside our doors during the summer season we are surrounded in an invisible cloak comprised of nature’s tiniest clan members. We take heed if a coyote (or a skunk, or a snake) crosses our path, but the minuscule little critters that flutter about our small back yard universe often go unnoticed.  Worse, we might think of some of these visitors to our yard as nothing but a nuisance, promptly hauling out the six pack of pest spray, ready to blast anything that gets in our way. Yet, if we look more carefully, the insects living in our landscape (with the exception of ticks and mosquitoes) are usually not harmful to us, rather they are incredibly beneficial to our environment as a whole. 

Garden spider waiting for food in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Garden spider waiting for food (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

How are insects beneficial you ask?  Well, I’m no entomologist (for that, you’ll want to look up Doug Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home“), but here’s the basic gist: There are over 900,000 different types of insects in the world today, of that population it is estimated that over 10,000 inhabit each square foot of open land.  And if you include microscopic nematodes, that number slides up in excess of 100,000 per square foot (yes, if you did your math that means there are literally billions of creatures on a single acre). Now, don’t freak out and refuse to step outside again, just keep this number in mind as we think about how many forms of life need insects to survive, whether directly or indirectly.

Grasshopper in the garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Grasshopper in the garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Many of the animals that feed on insects are creatures we enjoy seeing in our back yard, the most popular being birds.  Birds are a great way to hold insect populations down, and the protein in insects is essential for newborn chicks.  Frogs, snakes, fish and lizards all dine on insects, but even moles, mice, ground hogs, squirrels, skunks and bears include insects in their diets.  And bats are the winged night flyers, scooping up thousands of insects each evening while they soar above our yards.  So what can we do to maintain a healthy balance of insects while encouraging native predators to hang around?  It’s all in the habitat my friend. Create it and they will come . . .

Swallowtail enjoying bottlebrush blossom in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Swallowtail enjoying bottlebrush blossom (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Once native plants, shrubs and trees are incorporated into your landscape, the rest will happen without any help from you.  Native plants feed the native insects which in turn feed all the other critters that want to thrive in such a natural, healthy setting.  Biodiversity.  It’s just that simple.  And it doesn’t have to be bland looking either.  There is a big misconception that all, or most, native plants are rather boring and plain.  That they lack the dazzling flowers and sizzling foliage of non-natives.  While I admit to growing some non-natives (no invasives) because I simply adore them, I also grow hundreds of beautiful, dependable natives that flourish in my gardens year after year.  Here are a few of my favorites (all hardy to zone 5):

Aesculus parviflora (Bottlebrush Buckeye): Candelabra flowers, great mounding form

Amsonia hubrectii:  Grow for upright stature and texture, stunning gold fall color

Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry): Spring flowers, great berry producer, red fall foliage

Betula nigra (River birch): Fast grower, the most attractive bark specimen

Callicarpa (Beauty Berry): Unusual vibrant purple berries late summer, birds adore


Garden spider with snack in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Garden spider with snack (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Calycanthus (Sweet Shrub): Fragrant, tulip-like flowers of red or white in spring

Cephalanthus occidentalis (Button Bush): White flower balls that attract bees & butterflies

Clethra alnifolia: Lustrous leaves, fragrant flowers, unusual fall color, winter form

Cornus amomum (Silky dogwood): Spreading shrub, loaded with indigo berries in summer

Diervilla lonicera (Honeysuckle bush): Tiny yellow flowers, lovely red summer/fall foliage

Eupatorium  purpureum (Joe Pye weed): Strong 6 foot stems with massive flower heads in fall

Gleditsia triacanthos (Honeylocust): Delicate leaf clusters, bright chartreuse color

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’: Spring bottle brush flowers, gorgeous crimson fall foliage

Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Variegata’: Creamy yellow and green splashed leaves, fall color


Honey bees dine on sedum flowers in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Honey bees dine on sedum flowers (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Myrica pensylvanica (Bayberry): Lustrous leaves turn burnished red but don’t drop in winter

Parthenium integrifolium (Wild quinine): Bold leaves, long lasting pearl clusters atop tall stems

Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain mint): Spearmint scent, frosty green, attracts swarms of bees


Vernonia (Ironweed): Incredibly tall perennial, dark purple flowers a magnet to butterflies

Viburnum trilobum (American Cranberrybush): Maple leaf shape, berries and fall foliage

For other native plant lists visit:

New England Wildflower Society:

Lady Bird Johnson’s Native Plant Info:


  1. I had no idea we shared the land with that many creatures! Thanks for all the info on our domestic plants…

    • So, knowing how many creatures there are in one small area, think of the potential impact to the environment when large tracts of land are destroyed from chemicals or other unnatural occurrences. It’s like the science fiction movies that claim an entire species could be wiped out if someone traveled back in time and stepped on a bug . . .

  2. I’ve been wondering if the product used on lawns to make them “tick-proof” is injurious to bees and other insects? Would love to have your thoughts on this,
    (rte. 37 S., Sherman, CT)

    • This is a good question, Ann – but also difficult to answer, as there are dozens (if not hundreds) of tick control products out there. That said, I think there are many products that state they are “organic” or “natural” and I can only recommend that you do a thorough research on a company before considering application on your property. I wonder if a product that kills ticks may also kill other bugs unintentionally, and would there be harm to the animals that might ingest the dead insects? Personally, I have chosen not to spray any products on my property and instead use tick repellents (natural whenever possible) on myself and my pets. I hope this helps!

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