Within the last week or so, spring has pushed forth; new shoots of daylilies, onions, dandelions and iris poking out from the leaves. Daffodils, crocus and forsythia, following. Now is the time to pull back the leaves on the ground, which have lain there since last fall. The soil underneath has been covered with a new layer of compost. As the leaves and debris is collected into the compost pile, seed heads, twigs and mosses are scattered by the wind, where they can renew the woodland floor with fresh seedlings. It’s best to rake leaves now into the compost pile, before the spring plants are fully emerged from the soil.
Now is also, the time to observe the “bones” of your garden. Where will the sun be obscured by shade during the summer? Where will future understory trees and shrubs benefit from morning, or late afternoon sun? Are there invasive species such as English ivy, vinca, pachysandra, euonymus, Bradford pear or Norway maples on your property? These species overrun native plants, which deprives local birds, native bees and other insects of the foods which they eat in order to survive. You may want to consider replacing these plants with species better suited to the north shore of Long Island.
Last month, I attended a seminar presented by the Xerces Society in Brooklyn, NY, on how to help support invertebrate pollinators. Topics included an in-depth examination of specific, solitary native bees, such as the mason bee, which have demonstrated to be more effective plant pollinators than European honeybees. It was evident from their presentation that our current landscape industry of “blow, collect, and haul away” leaves is a really bad idea, environmentally speaking. Some pollinators can spend a great deal of their life cycles in leaf litter, so collecting leaves and bagging them effectively kills pollinator larvae, preventing them from reproducing. These pollinators need our support, not removal. Read more about bumblebee conservation here:
As homeowners, it is time to change our habits in order to enrich our local environments with native plants while protecting pollinator habitat. Replace lawns, especially in areas where they perform poorly (dry shade), and plant other ground covers and perennials which will prove to be far more attractive, and beneficial to invertebrates. Mother Oak’s Garden creates lovely garden designs utilizing native plants for your property. Please sign up to receive our email at: http://motheroaksgarden.net/contact/
What impact are your current landscaping choices having on your quality of life? Are you paying a lot of money each month for “maintenance” of a lawn, that in reality you are not using very much? Are you concerned about the products being applied to the lawn to “control grubs”? Do you know what these products actually do? What about the impact that all those landscape maintenance machines used by crews have on human health and the environment? If you are concerned about what impact these suburban lawn care practices are having, you should be. Most of our current landscape maintenance routines consume a great deal of fossil fuels; just to have all the leaves and grass clippings bagged and hauled away to the landfill. Something’s not right here. Why on earth do we bag yard waste and throw it away? It makes no logical sense.
Instead, we need to assume custodial care of the land to which we have committed ourselves in the form of property ownership. We need to apply the concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle” in our home landscapes. We can compost our grass clippings, leaves and kitchen leaf waste on-site. There is no need to collect, bag, and toss out this precious material, that when bio-degraded, adds nutrients back into the soil. It becomes a win-win, as we are able to lower our household carbon footprint while reducing our contribution to the waste stream. By taking steps towards using ecologically sound practices in our yard maintenance, we can make five improvements to our overall quality of life.
1. and 2. Eco-friendly gardening reduces air and noise pollution in the environment.
By eliminating the use of gasoline-powered lawn maintenance equipment, we can reduce carbon emissions from our yard maintenance routine. Older lawn mowers and leaf blowers often do not meet any kind of meaningful emission reduction standards, and can be highly polluting. Switch to maintenance techniques that require your manual labor, such as a push mower for cutting grass, or using a rake for leaf cleanup. This will reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the use of fossil fuels to power mowers and blowers. Remember, electric powered machines are generally charged by electricity that was created by burning fossil fuels at a power plant, so switching to electric power tools does not necessarily reduce your carbon footprint. Learn more about your carbon footprint from this article from The Guardian, What is a Carbon Footprint?
3. Gardening provides a built-in fitness program.
As an outdoor enthusiast, I’ve always preferred to be outside working in the garden than exercising in a gym. Nothing beats accomplishing a satisfying workout, along with the feeling of a job well done from preparing a new garden bed! Digging, raking, heaving forkfuls of compost: these physical activities will give you an aerobic workout, along with exercise of key muscle groups in your legs, abdomen and upper body. Check out this Cooperative Extension site for the fitness numbers: Calories Burned During Gardening
4. Gardening provides family’s time for engaging in a meaningful activity together.
In these busy times, it can be difficult for families to find time to participate in an group activity together. However, we all recognize need to set aside time to take care of weekly household chores. Family yard work can be an additional part of that routine. When a family establishes a regular pattern of sharing responsibilities for gardening together, this provides an opportunity for them to grow in their knowledge and experience in a memorable way. Planning and creating a family vegetable garden is one way of setting aside a special time to work together in the garden. As children grow older, they may assume more complex responsibilities to assist their family with the yard work. and eventually, they will pass on their knowledge and skill to their own children.
5. Eco-friendly landscaping creates a healthier play environment for children and pets.
The “perfect, green” lawn, if that is one’s goal, comes at a great environmental cost, not to mention the deleterious effect it can have on the health of all living organisms. The regular application of chemical (inorganic) fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to lawns is a multi-million dollar a year business for Big Agriculture. The cumulative effects of these chemicals on the human body are not fully understood. However, an increase in algal blooms in our waterways, the result of nitrogen and phosphorus infiltration into our aquifers, has demonstrated negative effects caused by excessive, point-source pollution. In Suffolk County, New York, the primary contributor to this problem is homeowner cesspools. But lawn fertilization also contributes significantly to this pollution. By going “natural” and forgoing fertilization, baby steps are taken towards reducing the excess nitrogen and phosphorus the flows into our drinking water aquifer. For more information, see Nature Conservancy Long Island – modeling nitrogen source loads on the north shore.
And you know those grubs in your lawn that are supposed to be so evil (according to lawn care experts)? Well, they transform into many different insects that provide food and sustenance for birds and other wildlife. So why are we killing these creatures? We need to learn to live with some levels of imperfection in our landscapes. Yes, grubs do eat grass roots. However this generally only becomes a problem where the ecosystem is out of balance. So let the birds do their job, and leave the grubs alone.
These small changes in your landscape maintenance routine will definitely help to improve your family’s quality-of-life, and the health of your neighborhood ecosystem. We welcome your questions and comments.