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/
Why is it important to think of your suburban property within the larger ecological context of your neighborhood?
Even though many Long Islanders live in what could be called the suburbs, the physical landscape of the North Shore does offer opportunities to promote the growth of native species; which provide food, shelter and habitat for native pollinating insects, birds, and animals. Deciduous woodlands abound across the North Shore of Lond Island, New York; stretching across from Flushing Meadow, through Bayside, Douglaston, and Little Neck, in Queens. Then into Nassau County, enveloping Kings Point, Sands Point, and Plandome, though the former manses and horse farms east of Glen Cove, and encompassing all of Lattingtown, Brookville, Oyster Bay, Laurel Hollow, and Woodbury. And further east still, into Suffolk County; entire swaths of Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, Centerport, Northport, Fort Salonga and Kings Park are enveloped in the lush, green woodlands that hold sway over these morainal soils. So even though our governmental systems have imposed property boundaries on its citizens, mother earth is not quite so rigid in its structure. The glacial deposits from the past, clearly have set the tone for how our ecosystem works today.
What drainage watershed does the runoff from your residence flow toward? Believe it or not, the water has to flow somewhere. Naturally, it will seek to flow down hill. So learn about the local watershed in which you live. This information is readily available online. Currently, researchers at Stony Brook University are investigating ways to remediate the algae blooms caused by groundwater degradation and contamination of our adjacent waterways from the direct infiltration of cesspool effluent and lawn fertilizers. As Suffolk County residents, the majority of us are not connected to public water treatment systems, and thus contribute to this problematic and ongoing water pollution from cesspools. Our government has extended possible economic relief for upgrading our waste disposal systems, but ultimately, it isn’t enough. We must all reduce our point-source water pollution from whatever sources we can control.
Environmentally considerate landscaping seeks to help to maintain and conserve resources, so we are not consuming them unnecessarily. Water resource mismanagement has lead to crises such as those seen abroad in South Africa, as well as the contaminated municipal water in Flint, Michigan. It becomes necessary to incorporate a change in expectation and incorporate a new paradigm when it comes to appreciating a natural landscape. Understanding our role within a much larger, interconnected web, is requisite before fully embracing an eco-friendly approach to landscape design and landscape management.
What is an ecosystem?
As a former educator, I prefer to use established definitions: : the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit – Merriam-Webster Dictionary So when we think of our neighborhoods, it does not serve us well to consider our boundaries by property lines. Legally, we can only make changes to our properties. So what we do in our yard will impact those around us, and vice versa. So we must think larger than ourselves. Spraying for ticks might just kill your neighbor’s prized Koi. Placing Roundup along your fence line to kill weeds may also kill your neighbor’s perennial garden. And so it goes. Be mindful of others before making big changes to your local environment. Our environment IS complex, and made up of many living actors, all working in concert. Our actions can upset the ecological balance. So we need to be mindful stewards of the small portions of our ecosystem that we have entrusted ourselves to care for.
How does the geology, climate, and history of land use shape the physical environment in which we live?
As a historian, everything has a story, and one of great importance is the geologic development of the earth, and how geothermal and geophysical changes have provides the underlying structures of our soils and aquifers. Does water drain quickly or slowly? What minerals are present and how do they influence pH? Is humusy soil present, or scarce? Has the topsoil been removed entirely, leaving only clay, sand or sub-soil? Understanding the geologic history helps to know what will thrive and what will not.
Our region’s climate is a bit dreamy in some ways, a real nightmare in others. living on an island, we are bathed daily in tempering breezes, that keep the heat at bay in summer, and moderate the chill of the polar north during the winter. Thus we can have sparkling clear summer skies, periods of rain and wind that seem to last days on end, and mountains of snow that never end. For the gardener, it can be quite enticing to grow plants that do not always thrive anywhere else in “the north”. So we can grow Crepe Myrtles, Cherry Laurels, Acuba, Southern Magnolias and Hydrangeas with glee. But our winters can be hard on these plants, and they can look pretty wretched come Spring. Needless to say, it is a great environment in which to establish native species. Most are deciduous, so they don’t get ravaged by snow loads and broken branches. Their hardiness and adaptability to the vagaries of our climate make them well suited to the woodland landscape.
When considering your own portion of the local ecosystem of your community, consider what humans have done there prior to your arrival. Was your property a part of a subdivision? Was it a farm? A manufacturing site? A forest? Was the soil stripped and removed, or do there appear to be areas of (virgin soil)? Often, hilly properties have undisturbed soil. Soil testing is a great way to find out about the structure, and characteristics of your soil. Be sure to pull soil from several areas to get a representative sample. If you plan to grow food for personal consumption, get the soil tested for hazardous materials such as lead. In days gone by, many an old, dilapidated car rusted out and leaked fluid in old town and village lots. If environmental problems are found, its best to know in advance.
What can you do?
By adopting environmentally sustainable practices that help to mitigate water pollution, we also create healthier environments for our families, children and pets. We lower the risks of illness caused by excessive use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. By incorporating eco-friendly landscaping maintenance techniques – like raking leaves – practiced by the entire family, we engage in cooperative experiences which provide physical exercise, skills development and family time. We learn to incorporate the familiar idea of “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” into our landscape maintenance practices.