To those of us who are plant design driven, this means producing the most while imputing the least. What this means to start with is eliminating pesticides for pest and disease control. Once again it comes back to design. Instead of approaching organics from the standpoint of what do we spray and apply, when and where, we should consider how to reduce the need for any treatment.
The answer is incredibly simple! If we are to reduce the need to control pests (which really means kill things we don’t want), we need to identify what we do want! If what we want is beautiful foliage and flowers without blemishes from disease or insect damage, then we should start with the right plant for the conditions, light moisture, soil, etc. Then maybe select a cultivare that is bred to be resistant to insects, disease etc., next we may want to alter, change or in some way manipulate the conditions. That is what we do as gardeners and designers. So let’s do it! Let’s do it right!
Removing or pruning a tree to bring in more light is an example. Putting in a subsurface drain is another one. Amending the soil with sand or compost to change the structure and improve the biology is another. Anything that we do to strengthen the plants health and immune system will positively affect our gardens’ well being. Think of the garden as a body with living organs, sometimes serving different functions, just as our own bodies work.
Back to design. If we increase the bio-diversity by incorporating a variety of plants we can reduce pest populations by biologically selecting beneficial insects who will act as predators on harmful pests, or balance the populations, thus reducing damage. The advantage being, from a succession point of view, we will increase the overall composition as well as health of the ecosystem. Attracting different birds, bees, bugs and butterflies throughout the season should be a design goal.
Next, cultural practices. As we now know the best way to improve your lawn is…don’t cut it too short! Leaf mulching reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers etc. The root to shoot ratio of biomass for turfgrass is low. So reduce or eliminate the lawn areas! Prairie grasses and wildflowers have deeper roots, requiring less water, typically no fertilizer, little or no pruning and, once established, very little weeding or maintenance of any kind. They also add organic matter naturally to the soil subsurface as roots decay and die, creating food for other organisms and space for air and water.
Don’t forget about watering! You’re going to need it to get things established. Are you going to do it by hand? Are you going to buy hoses, set up timers etc.? Will you hire a professional to install an irrigation system? What kind of system? Drip, mist, pop-up heads? What about passive irrigation or harvesting rain water? Remember, trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals all have different watering requirements. Are they all growing in the same bed? Then there’s the deer! You may need deer repellent or God forbid, fencing. (Deer resistant plants are an option, limiting, depending on the browse pressure).
Back to design again. If you develop a naturalized area or border in your landscape, not only will you invite, see, and enjoy more birdlife, you will reduce your carbon footprint as well as labor and $.
Now you can consider what organic natural products in terms or soil amendments (compost, worm casting etc.), bio-stimulants, soaps, oil, etc. you may or may not use for your “Best Management Practices” in the garden/landscape. For great info, see Rutgers, Cornell, UConn, UMass. Even if you’re out of state, I find them great resources.
Last, if you need help, you can or hire a real horticultural professional. A garden ecologist is something more that a landscaper with a pickup truck.
I’m a guy who loves pickup trucks but there’s a lot more to it! I was recently asked by no less than three prospective employees what they could do to get the necessary skills, over the winter, to join our landscape/gardening division in a supervisory position. It’s like asking how do you acquire the skills to play in the Super Bowl in three months! How do you get to Carnegie Hall….
It absolutely, definitely, pays to hire a ecological landscape professional if your intention is to transform your existing landscape into one of natural beauty, a landscape environment happier and healthier for all living things to share and enjoy.
Jay Archer, President