Leave the leaves. Bugs live under them, they provide nourishment (free fertilizer), and they add mulch to plants naturally.
Provide water for birds. Birds like water and they will come by for a visit when you have fresh, clean water (be sure to put it somewhere where you can observe them).
Eliminate some grass. It doesn’t support any good bugs or birds and it takes up all the nice sunny spots that you could use for flowers. Add rocks after you get rid of the grass because things live under rocks and sun themselves on top of them.
Plant native plants because native birds and bugs like native plants best of all. Look for native plant sales in the spring - I know of a good one in April.
Leave a dead tree and any fallen branches if they are safely out of the way. Bugs eat dead wood and they like to live in dead wood. Remember woodpeckers? They eat bugs that live in dead wood. Small reptiles like lizards and skinks also feed on small bugs.
Evaluate what plants you already have that might be native and let good native plants stay. Winter is a good time to spot a common ground orchid called crane fly orchid (Tipularia discolor). In the picture to the left you can see the leaves that you find in the winter; each leaf is a single orchid. The dried brown stalks (see pink arrow) are from the blooms that appear in the summer when the leaves are dormant. Not sure what you have? Look for internet sites that allow you to search pictures, submit pictures or follow identification keys.
When you plant flowers, choose plants that offer the most nectar to attract butterflies, beetles, flies andall sorts of critters. Think yarrow, coneflowers, black-eyed susans, coreopsis, goldenrod, stoke’s aster.
Plant butterfly host plants to get caterpillars growing in your own yard. How cool is that?! Parsley, fennel, milkweed, goldenrod (yep, nectar and host plant in one), passionflower. This snowberry clearwing caterpillar is munching on my native coral honeysuckle; it grew more leaves after he left.
Don’t use pesticides on your plants. Let beneficial bugs take care of the bad ones. I hand pick off Japanese beetles – they fall downward when you touch them so hold a bucket of soapy water below and let them fall right in. Check often, it’s a good excuse to get outside while you do so. Use your hose to blast off pests that you suspect are bad (you might want to look them up first, Google is great for finding stuff such as “orange striped caterpillar). Or use sites like Bug Guide and What's that Bug. Often pesticides kill many good ones, bugs you might not even have noticed there like the sleeping firefly or the baby praying mantis.
Bring more nature into your yard and watch how much fun you can have. Introduce a kid and inspire a love of nature that can grow into an adult passion. And while you're having fun, know that you are providing important support to your local ecosystem.