For centuries, many gardeners and farmers have worked under the theory that nature is something to be tamed or controlled. Humans have bent the natural world to our will. We select which plants we like and pull up the ones we don’t. We alter the soil. And what else can explain the desire for a totally weed-free lawn (which isn’t necessarily a good thing).
These days more and more gardeners are seeing the benefit of working in concert with nature rather than working against it. Now, I’m not saying that you should let your garden become total chaos. But rather, take in mind how you and your gardening practices can produce fewer impacts on the environment and even support wildlife.
Here are a few things you can do:
• Select plants that feed insects such as bees and butterflies and birds. Nectar plants and those that produce pollen feed a variety of insects and hummingbirds. Fruiting plants can offer food to birds and other small animals. For plant lists, visit pollinator.org or Audubon.org. Offering a wide variety of plants, including native plants and introduces species, results in the best availability for food.
• Provide winter feeding sites for birds by putting up bird feeders. You can also feed hummingbirds and other insects in the summer with nectar feeders. Providing a water source if none is near will also attract wildlife.
• Offering plants of various sizes and structures not only is an attractive landscape choice, but it provides varied habitat for wildlife such as songbirds. Animals like birds and butterflies like to have protected areas on which to land and assess their surroundings before feeding on flowers or at feeders.
• Select plants and growing techniques that have lower water inputs, especially in the summer. While we may not have regular droughts in our area, we do often have long periods of dry weather. Selecting plants that don’t require watering all summer will reduce water use.
• Find ways to reduce pesticide use in the garden. While many gardeners use pesticides as a first defense, a good Integrated Pest Management strategy nearly always uses it as a last resort. In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Choose plants and varieties that are disease or pest resistant, use mechanical means such as hand picking if you see a small number of pests, and keep plants healthy to reduce instances of disease. If you must use a pesticide, be sure to use the least toxic one for the job. Keep in mind that an organic option may not necessarily be the least toxic.
• Remember the soil. Much of the health of the garden lies in the soil. We as gardeners often neglect the soil. Be sure to add organic matter where needed, as it helps improve soil texture and hold on to nutrients and water. Remember that most of the life of the garden is found in the soil, so be sure not to overuse pesticides that could fall to the soil and kill all of the good guys, including fungicides that could kill good soil fungi.
When fertilizing, be sure to do a soil test so you add only what you need. Not only does adding more than you need cost extra money, but more of a good thing can turn bad quickly. Not only can excess fertilizer run off into streams, but it can damage soil microbes and even plants.
Compost when possible. Compost is such a good soil amendment, and it basically is turning your trash into treasure. Most of the yard and kitchen waste from this country ends up in the landfill. By composting, you reduce use of landfill space (for something that doesn’t need to be there in the first place) and produce great stuff for your garden.
John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter at @WVgardenguru and online at wvgardenguru.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-720-9573.