The 5 Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening

Now, for the first time in its history, gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to “make a difference.” In this case, the “difference” will be to the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.

~Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home

What is Ecosystem Gardening?

I am available to speak at workshops and conferences about any or all of these topics. 

What the heck is Ecosystem Gardening, you may ask? Ecosystem Gardening was a concept I developed while I was writing my thesis in grad school. It teaches you to conserve natural resources, garden sustainably, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, pollinators, frogs and toads, dragonflies, and other wildlife.

To help you learn to put Ecosystem Gardening in practice in your own garden, I’ve developed a free 15 part course, delivered by email each week. Check out the new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, delivered to your inbox every week.

Ecosystem Gardening is built around 5 core principles, that when you apply all of them in your garden, you will automatically begin to attract more wildlife:

  1. Sustainable Gardening
  2. Soil Health
  3. Use Water Wisely
  4. Remove Invasive Plants
  5. Add more Native Plants

Don’t miss Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife at the Wildlife Garden Academy, A 4-part online workshop series teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitats for wildlife so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, and other wildlife to your garden.

But first see:

1. Sustainable Gardening

Sustainability is one of the words like “natural,” “organic,” “green,” and others that have taken on a wide variety of definitions to suit the purposes of the person using them.

But I boil it down to just 3 simple concepts:

1) Take the wildlife gardener’s Hippocratic Oath:

First, Do No Harm!

2) Manage Your Inputs — You don’t need to bring home huge piles of bags of fertilizer, mulch, and other amendments. You don’t need to use gallons of fossil fuels purchasing stuff that has already been harvested, trucked to a distribution site, and then trucked to your local big box store. You also don’t need to use more fossil fuels “maintaining” your garden with mowers, blowers, whackers, trimmers, or clippers.

3) Manage Your Outputs — Yard waste, leaves, and other organic materials can be composted on site so that you’re not using more fossil fuels to have it hauled away to become landfill.

Be mindful of the environmental costs of what you’re bringing in as well as what you’re sending out, and do no harm.

For further information please see:

2. Create Healthy Soil

Feed the Soil, Not the Plants

Healthy Soil = Healthy Plants

  • Soil organisms maintain plant health
  • Fertilizers and pesticides kill these organisms
  • Soil organisms improve soil structure, incorporating organic matter into the soil
  • Healthy soil is able to fight disease and pathogens, maintaining the balance of soil health
If you learn to create healthy soil with compost, you will never need to haul a bag of fertilizer home again. Your plants will be healthy and happy (and so will your wallet).
One of the best ways to create healthy soil is to leave those autumn leaves in your garden. Spread them through your garden beds and let Mother Nature do her thing, breaking down those leaves, adding organic matter to your soil, and making your plants happy. Plus, you’re keeping more waste out of landfills — a win-win!

For further reading:

3. Water Wise Gardening

In the U.S., 30% of potable water on the East Coast, and 60% on the West Coast is used for irrigation, mostly for lawn irrigation and agriculture. As many residents of southern California and Arizona already know, there is not enough clean water available in these areas for drinking and cooking, let alone watering the lawn. Continued unsustainable use of clean water is already causing serious problems in the southwest, and this pattern is only expected to worsen as time goes by.

When you choose native plants for the right conditions in your wildlife garden, and put them in the right place for their needs, it is very unlikely that you will need to provide supplemental watering.

Plus, all wildlife needs access to fresh, clean water to meet their basic needs. By adding a wildlife pond, a rain garden, or a green roof, and managing rainwater correctly, you will have a wildlife friendly, water wise garden.

For more information:

4. Remove Invasive Plants

I’m in the process of ripping out my entire wildlife garden because invasive plants have gained such a stranglehold while I was away caring for my mom.

Invasive plants are those that have been imported to this country that are now doing great harm to our natural ecosystems.

The majority of my time (and therefore the bulk of what my clients paid me) in various gardens in which I worked was spent removing invasive plants. As a matter of fact, the removal, control, and eradication of invasive plants are a huge expense for many communities, states, and the federal government.

Who pays these bills? Taxpayers do.

This means that a large amount of our tax dollars is being spent trying to control invasive species. In the United States, the estimated cost of controlling invasive species is $138 billion per year, introduced plants cost approximately $23.4 billion in annual crop losses, and invasive species now occupy more than 100 million acres and are spreading at the rate of 3 million acres every year.

Invasive plants also destroy wildlife habitat by outcompeting and overwhelming the native plants wildlife need to survive.

For further reading, please see:

5. Plant More Native Plants

The native insects, birds, and other animals of this country co-evolved with the native plants indigenous to this land. Many native insects are specialists whose lives are dependent on one or a very few species of native plants. A landscape devoid of native plants will also be devoid of native insects, and therefore birds and other animals as well. If you want to invite wildlife into your garden you must start adding native plants.

For more information:

Create Welcoming Habitat for Wildlife

When you adopt the 5 Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening, you will automatically begin to see more wildlife in your gardens. In fact, by simply adding more native plants to your garden, you will begin to see more birds, butterflies, pollinators, and more.

But there are specific ways to help particular types of wildlife in your Ecosystem Garden:

 My Backstory

If you’re interested, here is the story behind how I became so passionate about Ecosystem Gardening and wildlife gardening:

What’s the story behind why you became a wildlife gardener?

Learn More About Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife

Slide5The Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife Value Pack

All 4 Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife Courses for 1 Low Price


–Applying the 5 Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening to Create a Haven for Wildlife
–Planning and Designing Your Ecosystem Garden by Using the 4 Essential Elements
–Beyond Bird Feeders: Birdscaping Your Ecosystem Garden
–How to Attract More Butterflies to Your Ecosystem Garden

Slide3 Applying the 5 Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening to Create a Haven for Wildlife

Using the 5 Pillars to help you garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, find the best native plants for the conditions in your garden, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, frogs and toads, dragonflies, and other wildlife to your garden.

Landscaping for WildlifePlanning and Designing Your Ecosystem Garden by Using the 4 Essential Elements

Do you know the one best tool you need to design a beautiful wildlife garden? You’ll learn that secret, and also how to use the 4 Essential Elements of Ecosystem Gardening to prepare a plan and design a spectacular garden that attracts lots of wildlife.

BirdscapingBeyond Bird Feeders: Birdscaping Your Ecosystem Garden

Let’s move beyond bird feeders to learn how to plant your own birdseed, and create a garden full of everything that birds need. You’ll learn the 7 easy steps to creating welcoming habitat for all kinds of birds in your Ecosystem Garden, how to find out which birds are in your region, and how to attract specific birds to your garden.

Butterfly GardenHow to Attract More Butterflies to Your Ecosystem Garden

Planting lots of nectar plants is not enough. To attract a wide variety of butterflies to your Ecosystem Garden you need to learn to create a habitat that has everything butterflies need at each stage of their life cycle. You will discover that some plants attract hundreds of different kinds of butterflies and moths so that you will get the most bang for your buck in your wildlife garden

© 2012 – 2014, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. Mike Korner says

    Nice job on this Carole. Very, very, very helpful information. Thanks for demystifying the “ecosystem” part because, as you noted, many organizations tweak the definition to meet their agendas. It would be nice if they would share their definitions.

    And thanks for having so much great information here on your site that (true story) I often stop while shopping and and do a search (with my phone) here to check on plants that are trying to seduce me in the garden center.

    As for “giving back”, you inspired me with an earlier post and so far this year I have given back the equivalent of about 1/2 of a football field. It hasn’t magically returned to original/native prairie grass but I’m not mowing it any more so that’s a big start. And I’ve noticed a few “new” birds hanging around and a bit more wildlife (though one of the wildlife is a skunk).

    • says

      Mike, sadly many companies have co-opted some of these terms to try to make themselves look better (even though they’re doing some ugly things). I’m so happy you’re using your phone to check out plants before you buy them. I’m so thrilled that at least one person has gotten that message!

      And kudos to you for that 1/2 a football field returning to the wild. Keep an eye on what’s showing up in there. Some of it may not be so desirable as I have recently discovered in my own garden. But I’m sure you’re seeing more birds and butterflies. They must be having quite a party :)
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Sometimes Starting Over is the Best Option

  2. says

    Amen to the ‘Create Healthy Soil’ part. That seems to be the most difficult thing to get people to understand – they don’t need bag fertilizer. I’ll have people tell me they want what I have yet won’t leave a plant alone to grow as it will. It’s going to do fine without throwing extra chemistry at it (natives anyway). I can get them through all of the steps except to understand leaf litter IS fertilizer. If your soil is good, leave it be.
    Karyl recently posted..Extreme Nerd

  3. Judy Burris says

    What an incredible post ! I’m glad to be learning so much more about native plants.

  4. Bill says

    Will bee balm outgrow or crowd out poison ivy? I have woods near my house full of poison ivy that I would like to get rid of. I also have an area of bee balm that started out as 3 plants and is now several hundred (in just a few years).
    The woods with the poison ivy, runs parallel to my dog run so I cant rent a goat (to eat the poison ivy) because my lab would go beserk/insane.

    Any help/advice is greatly appreciated!

  5. KC says

    I’m really enjoying your information about planting native plants. I wish more people shared your views on creating a natural habitat for wildlife.


  1. […] know where to start? Check out the 5 Pillars of Ecosystem Gardening. Choose one area that interests you and just pick one small thing you can do that will help […]

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