Susan Handjian is a garden educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was a contributing editor of Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates.
By: gardencoach, 9:44 PM GMT on March 04, 2012
It’s easy to become discouraged these days as we’re bombarded with disheartening news about our natural world. Climate change, polluted water, depleted water supplies, loss of habitat and the creatures that depend on it - the list of parts of the web of life under serious threat is depressingly long.
It makes one wonder if there’s anything to be done, if there’s anything a single person can do.
But gardeners can make a significant difference in restoring the health of the planet by adopting practices that protect habitat and encourage natural vigor and resiliency.
It’s the healthy practices of millions who share this view, taken together, that can have a significant impact. And there are growing numbers of people all over the world who want to help make a difference.
Changes are already taking place – clean water programs, municipal restrictions on the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, water company rebates helping people turn sterile lawns into lush paradises filled with the sights and sounds of life.
When you decide to take a more natural approach to gardening, you’re taking a stand against pollution and destruction of habitat and for protection of the planet for generations to come. This speaks to the heart of sustainability – the current generation meeting its needs without sacrificing the needs of generations to come.
You don’t have to do this all at once, and if you’re wondering where to start, here are some suggestions:
-Stop using pesticides – today. The single most important thing you can do is to gather up all the pesticides you use in your garden and take them immediately to the hazardous waste facility – put that part of your gardening life behind you.
Pesticides can wreak more damage than the insects they purport to control by killing beneficial insects and polluting the soil and waterways. Insects have a remarkable ability to adapt, and survivors of a chemical assault will pass on a resistance to their many offspring, making the “bad actors” increasingly difficult to control. The alternative, Integrated Pest Management – starts with the least toxic method and using chemicals only as a last resort. With a balanced approach to gardening, it is rarely if ever necessary to use toxic chemicals.
-Use fertilizers sparingly. Replace synthetic, high-nitrogen fertilizers with natural, organic, slower acting soil amendments. Turn your attention to building healthy soil as the source of nourishment for plants. Feed your soil by mulching and composting and it will provide for the plants.
As long as there is organic matter feeding them from above, the soil in your garden is brimming with billions of microorganisms engaged in constant activity beneficial to soil and plants. With some attention to protecting and enhancing the quality of your soil, you help the good guys win.
High-nitrogen fertilizers also can promote excessive plant growth, requiring constant pruning and hauling of “waste” to overburdened landfills while making plants dependent on artificial support and often hastening their demise.
-Rethink your lawn. Lawn has its place, but there’s just too much of it. By reducing the size of your lawn or even replacing it entirely with native or climate-adapted plants, you’re accomplishing several things: reducing the amount of water used in your landscape, eliminating nitrogen residue from fertilizers that may be washed into the water supply, and doing away with the need for gasoline powered equipment to maintain the lawn.
If you replace the lawn with natural plantings, you’ll also be offering a home to the beneficial insects and birds that are key to the vitality of the environment.
-Attract beneficial insects and birds by planting natives. Almost nothing else you do has as much impact as bringing pollinators and beneficial insects into your garden. Once you stop using chemicals and allow natural processes to take over, you may be surprised how many beneficial insects will come.
And what brings birds? Insects! What does that have to do with plants? Insects and plants have very specific and delicate relationships, and many native insects cannot survive on non-native plants.
-Plant a tree – or several trees. Providers of oxygen, shade, beauty, and food and sequesters of carbon, trees are much loved but we don’t always give them the respect they deserve. One of their greatest values is as lodging and food for countless animals, mostly birds.
Birds, not chemicals, are the best insect control we have. Trees and large shrubs are the lynchpin of animal habitat. A healthy oak woodland, for example, can support as many as 450 species of animals.
-Use water wisely. Of the three elements of garden ecology - water, soil and plants – it is water that completes the circle. It’s as crucial as the air we breathe. Water supplies are under assault, mostly by pollution, overuse and development.
By understanding how to irrigate efficiently, favoring plants that get along mostly with the water provided by nature, we can make a huge dent in this decline of fresh water supplies and water quality. Every positive step we take ensures that generations to come will enjoy the same abundance of clean water we have today.
We’ll be discussing each of these steps in greater detail in weeks to come, and you’ll begin to see how interrelated they all are and how much impact they have when taken as a whole. We’ll also be talking about the wonderful organizations that foster healthy, sustainable gardening practices all over the world.
Imagine - accomplishing something so powerful while doing what all of us love – working in the garden!
Updated: 7:15 PM GMT on March 06, 2012