WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- As the New Year begins, let’s not forget our landscape – so much more than a combination of trees, shrubs and perennials, but complex systems that support nature, and us!
Here are 5 simple resolutions you can make to increase the health of your own yard:
1) Reduce or eliminate the “Green Desert” - turf lawns.
Traditional turf lawns are ecological wastelands that fail to support our native wildlife. And, they squander valuable resources like water, while lawn maintenance pollutes the environment. Keep only the lawn that you actually use and replace the rest with a diverse mix of native plants -- perhaps a meadow-like garden or a mix of native trees, shrubs, and perennials.
2) Lay off the secret sauce – pesticides.
Chemical pesticides often kill not only the pests that you are targeting, but many beneficial insects as well. Valuable insects, like bees, can be your unintentional victims, and so can birds – especially when adult birds feed poisoned insects to their young. Although organic pesticides are often less problematic than their chemical counterparts, some can also be quite toxic. “Organic” does not mean “benign” so use only when absolutely necessary and only after doing your research.
3) Support nature’s pest control - beneficial insects.
Plant a diversity of native plants to provide beneficial insects with the habitat and food sources they require. “Natural enemies” will help keep the real pests in check. Avoid buying imported beneficial insects that can introduce diseases from other regions. It’s far better to attract and support local populations of beneficial insects with diverse plantings of the native plants they have evolved with.
4) Tolerate some messiness in your landscape to support wildlife and soil health.
Dead logs, tree snags, leaf litter and brush piles are homes for many creatures that inhabit our ecosystems. A dead tree snag can be a valuable home to a woodpecker; a brush pile, a home to a rabbit; a dead log, a home to a salamander; and leaf litter, home to millions of invertebrates. Although many people treat fallen leaves like toxic waste, removing and disposing of them, dead leaves are actually nature’s mulch and compost and contribute enormously to soil health. Leave fallen leaves in place as much as possible.
5) Tolerate some plant damage in your landscape.
Valuable insects have to eat too, and they usually don’t eat very much. While we enjoy seeing butterflies in our yards, we forget that most butterfly caterpillars eat the leaves of specific plants (host plants). A “perfect” landscape is an unhealthy one. It’s all about nature in balance.
Happy 2015 from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial. When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.
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