Nature-Friendly Yards

Your outdoor space – whether large, small, or just a balcony – can be beautiful while fighting climate change, saving birds, butterflies and other pollinators, and keeping our air and water clean. Learn more about how to make your outdoors a nature-friendly space.
Sustainable Yards Ambros photo

Photo: Mary Beth Ambros

Click the images below to read more about the topics.

Get Involved Audubon  Compost  A hammock on grass
            Description automatically generated with medium confidence  Healthy Creeks
Audubon Bird Town
 Composting Lawn Care
 Healthy Creeks & Stormwater

Cheltenham is for the Birds
Cheltenham is an Audubon Bird Town. You can join more than 40 Cheltenham property owners who have turned their yards, large and small, into bird habitat. A few simple changes can attract birds, butterflies and other pollinators while helping them survive the effects of climate change. Bird habitat, compared to a typical grass lawn, can reduce stormwater runoff and air pollution. 

Watch this video to learn why suburban yards are crucial to support birds and insects.

Getting started is easy:

1. Choose native flowers, shrubs, and trees whenever possible. You’ll be rewarded when birds and pollinators visit your yard to use them for food and habitat. Native plant species occur naturally in our region and are adapted to our soil, temperatures, and rainfall. This means less work and less water to keep them happy. Many local garden centers now carry a wide variety of natives. For information on selecting plants and how to use them, visit Audubon’s Native Plants Database and National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder

2. Avoid pesticides. Pesticides will kill butterflies and other pollinators attracted to your native plants as well as other insects that birds, especially baby birds, need for food.

3. Add water. Even a simple bird bath is important for birds—just follow these 5 tips to keep mosquitoes away. Bird feeders and birdhouses will attract even more birds.

4. Convert lawn to bird habitat. Replace some of your lawn with a nature-friendly alternative like flower beds or backyard meadow. Read about getting started here. Lawns don’t provide food or cover for birds. In addition, lawns absorb only a little more rain than pavement, which means fertilizer and stormwater washes right into our creeks. 

5. Tell your neighbors. Register your bird-friendly property with Audubon Pennsylvania;  download and instructions on this form. You will get a yard sign and a Habitat Discount Card good at businesses throughout the state. 

6. Protect birds from windows. Up to a billion birds die every year from window collisions. Learn about protecting birds from striking glass and see how to install bird safe decals. Start with high-risk windows (near feeders, large picture windows, without screens). Bird Window Decals

Composting…Garden Gold from Garbage

CompostFood waste is almost 25% of a family’s garbage and is really heavy. Composting food waste in your yard means less gas burned in trash trucks and less garbage sent to incinerators. Use the finished compost to add nutrient-rich plant food to your garden. Composting is a simple skill to start and master and can be done on a large or small scale. Buy a fancy bin or build your own, even out of an inexpensive plastic bin. Learn how to get started: 

Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences Composting

Philly’s Backyard Composting 101

EPA’s Composting at Home

Keeping Animals Out of the Compost

Lawn and Yard Care

A hammock on grass
Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Even the most bird-friendly yard owner may want a piece of soft, green grass to enjoy now and then. Do not fear, there are ways to make that green lawn more sustainable and nature-friendly. Start with these five tips

Go electric–According to the EPA, gas mowers cause 5% of US air pollution.  Electric lawn care equipment reduces pollution and is quieter, too. Your neighbors may just thank you for ditching that gasoline powered leaf blower. Many new models are available with rechargeable batteries, so no need to worry about running over that lawn mower cord anymore. Popular Mechanics has some advice to help you find the best mower or other tools.

Control weeds naturally and avoid pesticide and herbicide use – Pesticides and herbicides harm native plants and pollinators and wash off into streams. They may not be so great for you either. To control weeds more gently, start by accepting a not-so-perfect lawn, mow less often and at a higher setting, and cut off weeds at the ground by hand. For more tips and tricks visit NRDC and TheSpruce.

Fertilize with care – Fertilizer washing off the land into our water ways can be toxic to animals and people. Use organic fertilizer, read package instructions, and do not apply more than needed. When you are finished, sweep up any fertilizer from the pavement.

Healthy Creeks

Photo: TTF Watershed

Stormwater runoff from lawns, roofs and pavement is a major source of water pollution and contributes to flooding all over Cheltenham. Every property owner can help reduce runoff and reduce pollutants in the stormwater.  

Reduce salt use – All that winter salt washes into streams, harming plants and animals dependent on that water. Learn how you can protect our streams from road salt

Avoid pesticides and herbicides and fertilize with care— Like salt, these substances wash into local streams, killing insects that frogs, toads, fish and other animals depend on for food. See the Lawn and Yard Care section for more information.

Install a rain barrel—These barrels, placed under a downspout, capture rain so it to be released in drier weather. It can even be used to water plants. Order one today from the Tookany-Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF). Sign up for the TTF email list to learn about up-coming rain barrel workshops, or visit one of these sites for DIY instructions: Conservation Foundation, Build Your Own, and Lowe’s How To.

Plant a rain garden—These specialized gardens use water-loving plants with deep roots to catch runoff in a low-lying area then direct it deep into the soil. This helps recharge our aquifers – nature’s underground water storage – and filter pollutants from stormwater runoff before it reaches our creeks. Visit Cheltenham Elementary School and the new green parking lot at Curtis Arboretum to see two local, large scale examples. Watch this Nature Conservancy’s video about rain gardens featuring a local Philadelphia project by high schoolers. Learn more to get started on your property here

TTF Rain Garden

Photo: TTF Watershed