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Native plants can make the space around your home more resilient to climate change

Posted at 4:32 PM, Sep 21, 2023

As natural disasters become more common, many of us are left wondering what we can do in our own backyard to be more resilient to climate change.

One answer is surrounding your home with native plants.

They can help with extreme heat, flooding, and even wildfires.

Haven Kiers is a professor of landscape architecture at University of California Davis. She says not only do native plants release water into the air which helps cool an area, but they also prevent flooding and erosion after a forest fire because of their deep roots.

"If you have these native plants with the really deep roots holding everything in place, then it's less likely that you're going to have crazy flooding, that you're going to have these mudslides, that you're going to lose all of the plants and everything's going to slide down the hill," Kiers said. "It's actually going to be keeping things in place and absorbing that water."

Even the soil is more resilient because those deep roots engage with fungi and bacteria.

Ecologist Billy Krimmel who retrofitted his yard to be covered in native plants. He says the diversity it led to was incredible.

"You see so many insects," Krimmel said. "I could stand out there and see like 15 species of native bees flying around. Every couple years or so you might see all these insects at once coming out that are totally defoliating the plant, but the plant bounces back because it's co-evolved with these species for so long that the insects tend not to kill them."

Krimmel is fascinated by the relationship between insects and native plants.

"Why does this plant have these hairs that catch little gnats in them?" Krimmel said. "It's because then the little dead ones feed the little baby assassin bugs that then protect the plant when they're big enough to actually kill the caterpillar that's trying to eat the plant. And these are really like intricate networks of interactions that again you really only get that from co-evolved species."

Once native plants are established, he says they need very little supplemental water, and they don't need fertilizer or pesticides. He says they'll naturally be able to fight pest outbreaks.

So now he's helping other people get native plants in the ground through a business he started called Miridae.

Miridae has a mobile nursery filled with native plants that they take straight to neighborhoods.

If you're interested in putting native plants around your home, Krimmel and Kiers recommend you visit a local native plant society or nursery near you. Local extensions for universities also have good resources.