Tag Archive | Let’s Not Be Mindless

Wordless Wednesday–Accidental Pollinator Habitats

20170618_171312

There’s a lot of talk these days about “post-wild” planting. And while I haven’t read that particular book, I have read Larry Weaner’s books and been to a couple of his talks on habitat plantings and succession plantings. From what I can glean from interviews with the “post-wild” author, he has made habitat and succession planting just a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be! But maybe I need to read his book–perhaps I do him a disservice.

Take a look here. These are two native plants that have sprung up under my star magnolia. The Spoiler keeps wanting to “pull out the weeds.” I keep telling him that he’d better not, on pain of death (besides, good luck getting out the goldenrod. Its roots are incredibly deep!)

The taller, darker one on the end with the lance shaped leaves is goldenrod. The one in the foreground is a shorter lived succession plant called either white snakeroot, or boneset, depending on which common name you prefer. It actually migrated here from the edge of our woodlands. There is still a little bit there, but it obviously prefers this sunnier spot. Both of these are pollinator magnets, as I will show you later this summer.

What’s left in the woods? White wood aster, also a pollinator magnet.

And what was under this tree? Nothing. We keep limbing it up to let the plants grow in.

20170618_171300

Here’s another “accidental” habitat that most people never see because they use 4-step programs and those programs kill clover. Clover is prime habitat for butterflies and bees. I am always amazed when I see folks walking barefoot on their lawns. I wouldn’t dare–and not because I’ve poisoned it with pesticides either!  I don’t want to accidentally step on all my precious bees!

20170618_171559

Finally, don’t over look habitat in the most unlikely places. This is an overly broad crack between the slates on my walk. Yes, there are too many weeds here that I need to address. But there’s lovely moss, a fern and some violets. Those get to stay.

If nature is doing your “planting” for you, why fight it?

 

Pollinators and Pesticides Don’t Mix

I am sure that you don’t want to hear the story about why I became an organic gardener again. I re-hashed it just in the last two weeks.

So here’s a different story that I haven’t told in quite some time. Retail gardening was an eye-opener for me, particularly as an organic gardener. The idea that not only was I there to sell an arsenal of toxic products and to advise the consumers on how to use them was difficult, but worse yet, in the box store where I worked, half the customers were absolutely convinced that they knew far better than I did how to use the products and refused to take my suggestions.

This was extremely upsetting because I had customers coming in and saying things like that they were going to put down their crabgrass preventer in February because the bag said it could be applied then (mind you, it’s a national product, so the February recommendation is for the southern regions of the country!). Some of them even said that they were going to apply it over the snow! Sigh.

I don’t have enough time or patience to explain why that is a bad idea other to say that none of the product is going to reach your grass. It’s just going to wash away, into the streets and storm drains and contribute to pollution in our waterways. So for those of you that do that, you are wasting money and polluting our waters. Please re-think.

The other issue with this foolhardy way of using so-called “Step 1” programs is that the preventer in these bags is good for 4 months of crabgrass prevention. Now, crabgrass germinates at soil temperatures of 50 degrees or so (not under the snow!) So if you put the preventer down in mid-February, let’s count forward. Your preventer will be all used up by mid-June–just about the time crabgrass really gets going in my region.

But this is not a post about crabgrass. It’s a post about the many crazy things that folks do to harm our pollinators, our waterways and even ourselves.

Back when I was at that same box store, I had a lovely woman come to me and say that she wasn’t getting any zucchini on her plants. She had flowers on the plants, but the flowers were just falling off and not forming squashes.

So I asked her if she saw any bees in her yard. She had to think long and hard and finally said, no, that she didn’t. So I told her that her squashes weren’t getting pollinated so they couldn’t form the zucchini.

She wanted to know why, so I asked her about pesticide use. Normally, I knew better than to voluntarily bring this up. At first she said no, but then she said that yes, they did use the 4 step program on their lawns. They used a grub killer on the lawn. She also used a foundation spray that claimed to work for long periods of time to keep insects out. And she might even have used something in the garden–I don’t recall now–like a weed killing product.  But even if not, that’s still a pretty intensive pesticide load on the property and it was clearly taking a toll on the bees–there were none.

So you tell me whether pesticides and pollinators mix based on that story. Or, you can learn the hard way and try it on your own. But, quite frankly, I’d prefer that you didn’t. Our pollinators are too imperiled for that!

Stop Right There! Is It Safe to Clean Up Your Garden Yet?

20170415_162244

You’re going to hear a lot about pollinators from me and all the other Garden Writers (yes, I use capital letters because we’re all members of GWA, formerly Garden Writers of America) in the next few months.

For years we’ve been hearing about particular individual pollinators like bats, who were in decline from white nose fungus, or monarch butterflies who were declining because of loss of habitat and perhaps pesticide use and of course the honeybee and colony collapse disorder.

But have we ever stopped to consider that we might be the cause of some of the problem? It’s a dreadful thought, and not one that any of us want to think about I’m sure.

I know that I like to think that I do my part for pollinators. I plant native plants whenever possible. And I am the organic gardener that I am specifically because of butterflies–or the lack that I found when I moved to my current property in 1994. As soon as I convinced the Spoiler we had to stop using pesticides, the butterflies came back (now, if only I could convince the rest of the neighborhood!)

But I recently read this fascinating piece from the Xerces Society about leaving spring clean up in the garden until later in the season to allow the ground nesting native bees to seek shelter on cooler nights and to permit the overwintering butterflies to hatch out.

Whoa! That’s huge! Why does no one ever talk  about this?

I know we’re just starting to publicize leaving leaf litter and twigs, etc in the garden in the fall for just these same reasons–shelter and cover for beneficial insects and native bees.

You’ll be seeing a lot more from me–this month and in June, during Pollinator Week–about this topic.

20170415_162252

The realization that for my climate I still need to be leaving the stems of my perennials standing a wee bit longer was amazing. I’ve been thinking about cutting them back for weeks and only time and wet weather prohibited me (thank goodness it’s raining again!)

If you live somewhere warmer, file this under “to be remembered.” The Xerces Society post has a great chart about how to know it’s safe to do spring clean-up by simple things like whether you have done your first spring mowing or whether the apple and cherry trees in your neighborhood have finished blooming.

Considering that’s a big fat “NO!” for me right now, I guess I and my neighbors will need to look at a messy yard a little bit longer–at least on my property!

How Did the Garden Gift Givers Do?

In the days leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah, I heard and read a lot of different stories about “the best gifts for gardeners.” I may have shared a few on Twitter myself.

But I probably shared very few because for the most part very few of them actually appealed to me!  Call me jaded–or perhaps it’s just that after 20-plus years of gardening in the same location, I have what I need–but lots of suggestions for gloves, pruners, twine and things like that I just didn’t find the least bit appealing.

For one thing, I have very tiny hands–so tiny that I will occasionally buy child-sized gloves. Anyone who buys me gloves is going to have to know me pretty well to get that correct.

And that will go for pruners as well. First of all, after all these years, I have literally dozens lying around the garage–and house. I have them in just about every room (with all those house plants, they come in handy!) But I don’t like just any pruner and when I am outside pruning most things a particular pair of Felcos™ is my go to pruner of choice. I don’t want–or need–anything else.

I did get a gardening book for Christmas but I have so many that it’s one I specifically asked for. Again, unless you know your gardener well–or unless it’s one of the very latest offerings from a publisher, how do you know the gardener hasn’t read it? I adore books as gifts and think winter is the perfect time to catch up on new reads and new gardening techniques. But I wouldn’t just spring a book on an unsuspecting gardener unless I were somehow sure he or she hadn’t read it.

The one suggestion that I heard a few times that I thought was good was a garden gift certificate. Yes, it’s unimaginative–one step above cash–but at least you know your gardening friend will truly be able to put it to good use for plants, tools or books that he or she really wants. Nothing wrong with that.

So if you haven’t finished your gifting yet–and some of you haven’t, with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa just beginning–maybe these thoughts will help you with the gardeners in your life.

 

The Garden Contrarian

There are days when I just feel like a big curmudgeon.  Last season I did a whole series of posts called “Let’s Not Be Mindless…” about different things including how to use mulch.  Most times when I talk about why I don’t use mulch on my heavy, wet clay soil I feel a little like John the Baptist: a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness.

Unlike John, however, my voice is rarely heeded. I think people think I am just a contrarian.

Now it’s “spring” (at least according to the calendar) or what passes for spring in my part of the country: cold, wet damp days on end followed by an occasional nice day or perhaps even an unseemly warm day.  Mud season. People ask my why I’m not out working in the garden.

“Can’t,” I reply. “The soil is too wet. I’ll ruin it.”

Now I might as well be one of those mythical beasts with 3 or 4 heads from the looks I get. Even the magazines are running articles and newsletter posts with titles like “Get Out There!”

Well, yes, and no. Depending on where you live, what your conditions are, and how wet your soil is, you can really be doing a lot of harm if you “get out there” and walk on wet lawn or soil.

So gardeners, know yourselves, your gardens and your conditions. And on a bright sunny day, if those conditions aren’t right for working in the garden, take a walk instead!

Let’s Not Be Mindless About…Pre-Emergents

I’ve saved one of the best for last because this is something that I think too few folks understand. I even saw a garden center recommending that we apply pre-emergents to our garden beds now without any recommendation that the beds be weed free first (or snow free, for that matter–at the time I read the blog post, 6″ of snow still covered most of my beds and the garden center wasn’t too far from me!)

Pre-emergents are just that–for weeds that have not yet come out. If there are weeds already there, forget about it. If you have perennial weeds, forget about it.

What do I mean by perennial weeds? Well, dandelions are perennials. Did you get all those out last year? I know that sadly, most of my weeds are perennial or I wouldn’t be back there going over the same thing year after year after year. And if they’re not perennial, they’re bi-enniel, like garlic mustard, for example. No pre-emergent is going to stop that from coming back.

Worse yet, the advice was simply to apply a pre-emergent with no mention of how to do it correctly. In order for the darn things to work (and please keep in mind that unless you’re applying corn gluten meal, all pre-emergent are not organic) you must water them in. So perhaps that’s why the garden center made no recommendation about how to do it–because they knew it was impossible to water right now.

But without water, the pre-emergent doesn’t work properly so all you’re doing is basically applying a chemical to your garden that will not control even annual weeds–so why are you doing that? Don’t go there.

If you want to control weeds and don’t have heavy clay soil, you’re much better off mulching. If you do have heavy clay, try what I saw one garden writer describe as a “living mulch”–otherwise known as plants or a low groundcover

But these pre-emergents are way over-sold for what they can do. And if you cannot apply them properly and water them in, and if your area is not weed free to begin with, do not expect good results.

Let’s Not Be Mindless About….Removing A Plant Too Soon

overgrown juniper

You may remember this plant–or a portion of it–from a few Wordless Wednesdays ago. There was a robin standing under it.

At that time it didn’t look too bad. Now that you see the whole thing, you think, “Ick! I would have chopped that plant down years ago. What is she thinking?!”

Well, there were 2 different times I almost chopped it down. This thing, if you can believe it, started its life as one of those cute little 5 pom-pom balled junipers. I’m not entirely sure how it got so overgrown but the Spoiler with his electric hedge trimmers hasn’t done it any favors over the years.

The first time I started making noises about “this thing has got to go!” my neighbor erected a playscape for his children directly on my property line (why do people do that?!) and directly in my line of vision from every room of my house. This was the only thing that saved me.

But thankfully, kids grow and the playscape has fallen into disuse and so I thought about getting out the saw again. And then we had a really bad winter. And a flock of robins came through and descended on it and stripped it bare of its berries. And from that year on, the robins have always come back to nest there.

So now you know why I permit this “eyesore.” Sometimes nature trumps beauty after all.