Tag Archive | Sustainable gardening

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?

 

It’s Pollinator Week–How Can I Help?

Pollinator Week occurs every year this time.  You can find out more about the initiative at the website, pollinator.org.

It was designed to draw attention to our dwindling pollinators like the monarchs,  originally.  But then bats became affected by white nose syndrome and it became clear that honeybees were in trouble, and our native bees were becoming more scarce and so Pollinator Week has really expanded to include all sorts of pollinators and to bring awareness to ways of gardening and backyard living that can help them.

Another cool thing that Pollinator Week does is draw attention to all the other different types of pollinators besides the ones mentioned above. Birds, flies, beetles, my beloved ants and insects–all of those can be pollinators and some of these can be endangered as well.

So how can you help? First, check out the website.  It will have resources for your part of North America  (sorry if you aren’t in North America–perhaps you recognize some of the plants mentioned for a similar latitude?)

Next, even if you can’t add any plants to your garden, practice responsible pesticide use in the garden you have.  We use no pesticides–& a pesticide is defined as a fungicide,  a herbicide or an insecticide–on our property. We don’t even use algacides in our pond.

But if you do, please use them responsibility.  Read and follow the label directions.  If you are spot treating something,  try to do it at a time when no or few pollinators are present–dusk is often a good time. And that is usually better for the plants (& the gardener) as well since it is cooler and causes less stress.

Finally if you are adding plants, consider natives.  It is a proven fact that they feed all wildlife in all stages of their lives more often than ornamentals.  But don’t feel that you must go crazy.  I will show you why  ( I hope) on Friday.

Mulching With Grass?

20170530_163922

You have probably heard of mulching your plants with grass clippings. This is a good way to use up clippings that may be a little too long to leave on your lawn. If, however,  you choose to do this,  you’re going to want to evaluate how “weed free” your lawn is. There’s no point in introducing lawn clippings that are filled with weed seeds.

And you definitely can’t do it if you have treated your lawn with a four step program.  The “Step 2” part of that program contains a herbicide that definitely has the potential to harm your plants. And perish the thought that you might think of using lawn pesticide treated grass around your edibles!

20170530_163929

This year I am unfortunately growing my own grass as mulch. It wasn’t something I planned–not like my moss and fern gardens in other words. But just as the gardening season started,  I have needed some more surgery for skin cancer, this time in a tricky spot on my back.

So I was able to get a little bit of planting done early, and now I am done for several weeks. My neighbors are just going to have to put up with the “grass mulch” look.

But heck, so long as they keep catching all my cancers early, I will put up with some gardening inconvenience!  I am grateful.

 

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!

Sustainable Planting

On Monday I said that it was just about time to get out and start plant shopping. Our weather here in Connecticut can be finicky–we’ve had snow as late as May 15–but most people use Mother’s Day as a safe planting date. I usually plant by the “oak leaves” adage: if the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, I know we’ve had our last frost and I will do things like put my house plants outside (at least everything that’s not really tender). I never plant the vegetable garden until Memorial Day. Why borrow trouble?

But I certainly shop, and if I am able to tell what needs to be replaced after another season of drought (because lately, it’s not cold that’s killing my plants, it’s drought!), I will look for something that might survive both drought and cold. It will be native, and it will probably be something that is going to have to establish itself without any extra “anything” from me: no extra water, and definitely no extra fertilizer or pesticides.

And that, my friends, is the idea-at least to me–of sustainable planting–at least in my region. Your idea is going to be something entirely different. That’s why the word “sustainable” is a little “squirrelly”–it will have different meanings for different folks. Does that mean that the word doesn’t have value? Absolutely not!

The idea that I could take my same criteria and transplant it to the south or southwest is ludicrous. No extra water? Not going to happen!

And I have a friend in California that insists that she cannot battle aphids without pesticides. I don’t know. I don’t live there and I don’t have her long growing season. My aphids are relatively benign. But if I didn’t have a really long cold period to kill them, maybe I couldn’t either.

So your “sustainable” isn’t going to be my “sustainable,” just like your invasive plants aren’t the same as mine and your native plants aren’t the same as my native plants. Does that mean “sustainable” doesn’t have any value?  Only if “invasive” and “native” don’t have value–and I am going to leave those battles for another day!

But for our pollinators, we need to do what we can to plant sustainably. Here are some resources from the Million Pollinator Challenge site.

Support Pollinator Friendly Businesses

Readers and shoppers, this one is for you! This is free rein to go out and support those businesses that engage in pollinator friendly practices.

Now, how does one measure that? As with everything, one has to be sure that there isn’t “green-washing” going on. If a retailer is selling plants, or seeds, make sure they are appropriate for your area.

You remember I talked about knowing how to read a plant tag and knowing what was “perennial” back in March when I was discussing plant shopping. Just because a plant is labeled “perennial” at a large national retailer, it does not mean that it will necessarily be “perennial” for your area.

So one way to avoid those issues is to definitely shop local. Another way is to look for plants that are locally grown. Many of the plants will have their place of origin–or a grower–listed on them. At least at some of my garden centers, some of the plants will say “Connecticut grown” right on them. Even some of the national retailers sell some of these.

But “Connecticut” (or where ever) grown does not indicate that the plants are pesticide free, of course, and if you want a pollinator garden, that’s what you should hope for. Many retailers have started phasing out the neonicotinoids, which are believed to be harmful to bees, but they still may use other pesticides.

You will see some seeds now labeled as “organic” but it’s still rare to see a plant labeled as organic, even plants that we regularly buy for our vegetable gardens. I wonder what it’s going to take to get to that?

And of course, these smaller retailers often have a selection of gardening books. So even if you don’t want to necessarily go out and garden, you can often find interesting books on their shelves. You can perhaps help support the cause in that manner by buying a book–or two. As an avid reader myself, I know that I rarely buy just one (sort of like the old Lays potato chip commercial–no one can eat just one?)

So it’s just about plant shopping time in my area. This year, when you’re out shopping, please consider those garden centers and retailers that engage in pollinator friendly practices. I am not going to tell you what they are–but if you get there and don’t see a lot of local plants, native plants, or any organic plants, then I think I might find a different place to shop!

Planting a Pollinator Garden

On Friday I talked about the Million Pollinator Challenge and I linked to the site. Today I am going to get more specific about one aspect of that challenge, planting your garden.

You may already have a garden that is a habitat garden of sorts. Or you may have a garden full of native plants. You may have one that you have designed to attract butterflies or bees or birds–or perhaps all three. These may already be pollinator gardens.

 

To decide, go to resources about planting your garden.

If you’ve ever done any sort of habitat garden, it’s very similar to that. Pollinators need exactly what any other “wildlife” needs: food (i.e., nectar), shelter, cover (in this case, it would be protection from wind, because they are sensitive to wind) and places to raise their young (so in the case of butterflies, you know that that means caterpillars and tolerating chewing damage–and not cleaning up the garden in the fall and cleaning it up very late in the spring, say). A nice sunny site is also desirable because in the case of butterflies, for example, many can’t fly until the temperature reaches 70 degrees.

A couple of other things–common sense to me but not always to everyone. If you read my “intro” at the top tab of this blog you’ll see that I became an organic gardener because when I moved to my property (24 seasons ago now,) there were no butterflies. A little bit of research told me that butterflies were highly susceptible to pesticides, so we went organic.  Within 2 years, we had 27 different kinds of butterflies and moths–a success story if ever there was one! So it is critical to avoid pesticides to every extent possible. That clover and those violets in your lawn are actually butterfly nectar food sources. And bees love them too!

Finally–and I talked about this when I talked about “don’t try to “get the garden done in a weekend!” It’s critical to have something in bloom for the longest time possible. At my house, it starts with snowdrops–or maybe hellebores–and it goes through to goldenrod and asters in late fall. Try your best to keep something in bloom during all the months of your growing season.

Our pollinators need–and deserve our help. With some of these tips, we can not only help them but grow some beautiful gardens as well!