Have you ever thought about the things in your garden outside of the varieties you’re planting? Believe it or not, there’s a whole ecosystem out there that's constantly working to make your outdoor spaces the fantastic places they happen to be.
When you hear about things like "symbiotic relationships," your mind probably goes straight to the most exotic example: those little birds that sit in the mouths of crocodiles to eat the leftovers and clean the crocodiles' teeth. Both animals get something out of this transaction in that the crocodile receives a dental cleaning while the bird gets a meal. In short, it’s a win-win for everyone involved. In reality, there are symbiotic relationships like this unfolding all around your garden. Knowing about them can help you nurture the links between different plants and animals.
The most well-known symbiotic relationship that takes place in the garden is probably the one between plants and pollinators. You know that your plants need to be pollinated, and the easiest way to to take care of that is to attract more pollinators to your yard. This means creating a welcoming environment for bees, birds, bats, and the rest of the beneficial critters that sometimes come into your yard. Bees provide the best example of a symbiotic relationship. They collect nectar and pollen from your plants and disperse it to others while taking what they need back to their hive for honey making. As with the bird and crocodile, everyone gets something out of it.
Taking Advantage of Pollinators
A good way to take advantage of your local pollinators is to plant flowers that attract them among the other plants in your garden. The pollinators will be sure to stop by their favorite plants, but they’ll also visit all of the other flowers along the way. You should also think about giving them shelter in the form of bird and bee houses.
Predators and Prey
Another relationship you’ll want to consider is the one between predators and prey. In more exotic locales, the sheer thought of predator and prey relationships might bring to mind wolves hunting elk or a pride of lions taking down a zebra. Of course, there are smaller predators and prey living in your garden. Predatory insects like ladybugs and braconid wasps are great for naturally reducing the number of unwanted pests in your garden. That way, you won’t ever have to spray anything harmful on your plants. Birds enjoy eating slugs and will happily clear them out of your garden if given the chance.
Taking Advantage of Predators
When it comes to taking advantage of predators, it’s helpful to think about what attracts them to your yard in the first place. Setting up a bird feeder and working plants that ladybugs like into your garden are just a couple of ways that you can take advantage of these natural pest removers.
Do you have a pond or natural water source in your yard? Have you ever wanted one? When you think of having water in your yard, you're probably turned off by the thought of mosquitoes breeding. However, there are some easy ways to reduce the potential for mosquito larvae in these places, including keeping koi, frogs, and toads in them. Adding a natural water source to your yard makes for a great offering, as it brings in wildlife that might not usually stop by. More often than not, this is the wildlife that's going to help you keep pests at bay.
As a gardener, you’re typically the primary agent of seed dispersal in your yard. That is, you put out your seeds and seedlings exactly where you want them to grow. Still, it’s interesting to learn about the ways animals can spread seeds for you. For instance, ants are excellent seed dispersers for some wildflowers. Violets, trilliums, and bloodroots can all be dispersed by ants. Squirrels are often seen moving nuts from here to there, and these nuts are sometimes planted rather than saved for later. The next time you notice something growing in a spot where you didn’t plant anything, remember that some helpful seed dispersal agent was probably helping you out. You can find some really amazing things growing in your yard that you never intended to plant but ended up there thanks to the mischief of a squirrel or some other animal.
While you can’t urge animals to disperse seeds for you, you can take full advantage of it when it happens in your yard. It’s often a happy accident.
Now that you’re aware of some of the relationships between the different animals and plants that make up your garden, you can start to take advantage of them and reap a slew of new benefits.