The latest thinking on ecological landscapes. Useful tips to improve our environment

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

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Pussy Willow_Bee_Kristin Shoe SHoemaker

Gardening Differently This Spring With an Ecological Focus

As spring begins, gardeners and landscape pros take off like runners at the starting line when the gun goes off.   Please pause for just a moment, and consider how you might do things a little bit differently in the landscape this year.

This spring you can make a huge positive impact to the landscapes you design, install, garden or maintain.   This year can be the year you that support your local ecosystem and the many challenged species in it (dare I say Monarchs, bees, amphibians, birds and many others?).

Need some inspiration and a few tips?   Well, here you go:

1)   Do a soil test before you touch a garden tool.  Healthy soil is the cornerstone for a successful landscape with healthy plants.  Why then do most gardeners and many landscape pros skip this step?  You cannot know what to plant unless you know the basic information about your soil.  Acidic or alkaline?  Clay or sand?   High percentage of organic matter or totally infertile?  Missing nutrients or well balanced?   Most cooperative extensions offer affordable soil testing, with online instructions.  If you can afford it, get even more information with a soil bioassay from a company like Earthfort.

2)   Reduce or eliminate the “Green Desert”  (exotic lawn/turf).   For our native critters exotic turf is an ecological wasteland.  Our native grasses are a better choice – but not by much if you mow them and deprive birds of their seed heads.  A monoculture of any kind is far from optimal.  The best ecological practice is to replace exotic turf with a diversity of regionally native plants.

3)   Let biodiversity be your guiding master.  Bio-diverse landscapes have been shown to be more resistant to pests, diseases and extreme weather events.  Can you say “Climate Change?”  Now more than, ever bio-diverse landscapes are critically important, so please plant that way.  A monoculture of 10 species of hostas may look beautiful, but its ecological value is nil.

4)   Find the beauty in ecological function – aesthetic beauty is only “skin deep.”  Consider not only what a plant looks like, but think about what it does (or does not do) in an ecosystem.  Does the plant provide nectar and pollen for pollinating insects?  Is the plant a host for the caterpillar of a beautiful butterfly?  Does the plant offer cover or nesting sites?  How about seeds, nuts or berries for birds?  Multiple-duty plants are the superstars of our landscapes.

5)   Become an “Ecovore.”  Plant more regionally native plants to support your local ecosystem.  Native plants have co-evolved with each other and with the wildlife around them.  Exotic plants have evolved in other countries and will not provide the same depth of ecological service in our local ecosystems.   Go even deeper, and plant native plant communities – those plants which grow together naturally and form the basis for healthy food webs.

6)   Remember that looks can be deceiving – this goes for plants, too.  Although that beautiful double-flowered doozy of a plant may be a visual knock-out, it may offer little or no nectar, pollen or seed to wildlife.  Treat such plants as special indulgences, like that rich chocolate dessert you enjoy infrequently.  Double-flowered plants and overly-hybridized plants are ornaments in your landscape, not ecological partners.

7)   Skip the secret sauce – pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.  Rachel Carson warned us about pesticides in 1962 in her book, Silent Spring.  We have not paid enough attention to her message over the past 50 years.  A healthy landscape attracts and supports natural predators and other beneficial insects that help to keep pests in check.  Scientists estimate that over 90% of the insects in an average home landscape are beneficial or harmless.  A healthy ecosystem will always have some damage – for example, Monarch caterpillars must eat Milkweed leaves to survive.  If you have a severe problem, identify it first and favor narrow-target organic methods.   Remember that “organic” does not mean “benign.”

8)   Show the world what your landscape is doing –  inspire others with signage.  There are many signs to choose from – The National Wildlife Federation’s “Certified Wildlife Habitat” sign, Xerces Society’s “Pollinator Habitat” sign,  North American Butterfly Association’s “Certified Butterfly Garden” sign,  Beyond Pesticide’s  “Pesticide Free Zone” sign.   You will be surprised how many people take notice – and may emulate what you have done.

Be an gardener and an ecological steward this Spring.

Enjoy your spring planting from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Native Bee on Pussy Willow
Photo credit: Kristin “Shoe” Shoemaker_Flickr

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