May 04, 2022
Spring can be slow to arrive in many parts of New England, but it is arriving, and for many of us, it’s time to enjoy gardening. You can do a lot to fight climate change and eco-system collapse just by pursuing your gardening hobby using these ideas and methods.
Whether you are growing flowers, vegetables, trees, or shrubs avoid use of pesticides and fertilizers. Pesticides are toxic to beneficial insects like pollinators as well as the ones you are trying to discourage. Fertilizers are often made from fossil fuel. Good compost and soil amendments can replace commercial fertilizers.
If you really need an insecticide, homemade insecticidal soaps (the internet has easy recipes) are much cheaper than commercial pesticides.
There are also organic methods to control pests. But read instructions carefully even these insecticides should not be used if your plant is blooming and pollinators are visiting, or it is very windy. Most states run Master Gardener programs and these folks are trained in non-toxic pest and disease management. Click the link to find your state’s program.
When it comes to planting trees, bushes and flowers please choose native varieties.
Most beneficial insects eat only a few native plants. For example, monarch butterfly caterpillars only eat milkweed. We are seeing a collapse of insects and birds. They are stressed by climate change and by loss of habitat. If we all plant more native varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers in our yards, we will see more birds and improve our local eco-systems.
If you want monarchs, allow some milkweed on your property. Want more Luna moths? Plant walnuts, birch and sumac.
If you enjoy Fritillary butterflies, encourage native violets. Violets are a good ground cover. They are appearing now; instead of pulling them, move them to a part of the yard where you need ground cover. Natural ground covers come back year after year and are even better than mulch!
Wild strawberry plants, oaks, willows, and other native trees are host plants for many of our most beloved butterflies and moths, while in their caterpillar stage. And caterpillars are the main source of nutrition for baby birds. Baby birds eat mainly caterpillars in order to grow rapidly and fledge, even if the adults can eat seeds and tougher insects like beetles and spiders.
Small birds, like our beloved chickadees, do not stray far from the nest to gather the 1,000s of caterpillars needed to feed one set of nestlings. If your yard is full of non-native plants, they literally cannot nest there and successfully raise a family.
Dr. Doug Tallamy, TA Baker Professor of Ag and Natural Resources in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, has several wonderful books on how we would reclaim more area than all our national parks combined if we all added more native trees, shrubs and flowers (forbs) to our yards. He has several wonderful, easy to read books such as: Nature’s Best Hope and Bringing Nature Home.
Less grass is greener
Reduce the grass part of your yard in favor of trees, shrubs, and native plantings. Grass is non-native. It is basically an eco-desert for most wildlife. Just as we now show disgust for the destruction of the Amazon, long ago development here in the Northeast destroyed our native forests on a similar scale.
And mowing your lawn, unless you are using an electric mower, is very polluting. Gasoline-powered mowing and yard equipment does not have the filters used in automobiles and so an hour of use releases a huge amount of pollution and CO2 gasses. Some sites say one hour of using a gasoline mower is equal to driving 200 miles in a car — and that is just for a push mower. Riding mowers use even more energy.
Finally, beware of planting any non-native with an aggressive habit — Burning Bush, Buckthorn, and Asian Honeysuckles are turning even our forested areas into monoculture, non-native systems that are very unhealthy. They squeeze out native plants, shrubs, and trees, do not provide good nutrition for wildlife, contribute to explosive tick and mice populations, and reduce the variety of native insects, birds, and other mammals.
God gifts us with the beauty of spring and nature; spending time outside is good for our spiritual and physical health. Have fun with your garden and yard! By exploring and planting more and more native varieties of flowers, shrubs, and trees, you will be rewarded with lots more beautiful birds, butterflies, and moths.