Good news! As our spring bulbs begin to awaken, we have new choices for a healthier, more lovely and lively garden this year. We are learning that our gardens, plants and pollinators need exactly what we thought we were supposed to “clean” every year. Surprisingly, less work for you means more health and vitality for our gardens as well as our environment. Even more encouraging, there are simple steps we can choose this season to increase the number of native bees, butterflies, songbirds and fireflies at home. This encouraging news can bring a sprightly step to our first forays into our gardens!
The leaves we thought we were supposed to rake and take out from our gardens are actually protecting the bumblebee nests we want for a season of wonderful fruits and flowers! In the areas below our Oaks and Maple trees, a layer of leaves is protecting the chrysalis and cocoons of the butterflies that formed in these host trees’ branches last season. Even more surprising, the leaves we leave will fertilize our gardens with exactly the nutrients that our plants, trees and shrubs require. Really.
We also thought we were supposed to remove last year’s perennial stalks. But in fact, cutting them instead to varying heights between 12 – 24” creates nesting sites for over 400 species of threatened, native bees. Won’t the stalks look unkempt? No worries, the new leaves and stems will soon hide the older stalks from all but our important, native pollinators for their two-year, nesting cycle.
Well, bark mulch can contain deadly chemical preservatives from former wood pallets. But a thin, top layer of certified bark mulch can help us transition to this new world of healthier, less resource intensive garden maintenance. Shredded bark mulch laid too thickly can reduce the amount of rain and oxygen that plant roots need. Be sure also to remove any mulch volcanoes from your trees with care so that no mulch that is touching the bark of a shrub or tree.
SIGNS FOR THE NEIGHBORS
We want to make sure that our neighbors and community know that we are caring for our gardens. The Healthy Yards organization has a terrific list of many signs we can buy or create which communicate that you are also caring for all of the beneficial insects that feed our birds and wildlife.
Did you know that a mother bird needs 6,000 – 9,000 unpoisoned caterpillars to feed one clutch of babies? This can be your spring to break old, destructive and deadly habits of poisoning the caterpillars and mice that our songbirds, owls and hawks need to live. It is time to conclusively share our plants’ leaves -be proud of the holes left by the caterpillars our mother birds need to
feed their babies. It is time to bring all of our pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and poisons to your community’s next Household Hazardous Waste disposal day.
Wasps are important pollinators as well. Spraying poisons around our homes, however, is not a smart solution. I have been surprised, however, that a simple, crocheted, decoy “nest” hanging in the corner of, you guessed it, the porch has provided two seasons of a wasp-free porch, porch furniture, porch eaves and porch light fixtures. The neutral color of this Etsy purchase is a small, aesthetic price to pay for the completely effective “occupied” sign. I hear of, but have not tried, a similar paper version called “Get Lost Wasp”.
According to the research done in the Department of Physics at Florida Atlantic University, “Light pollution does not just affect plants’ cycles directly – it also affects them indirectly by interfering with the life cycles of their pollinators or other animals that interact with them.” Fireflies, bees and birds will benefit from you choosing to instead mount the now easily-available and inexpensive motion detector and solar downlight fixtures for walkways and entrances.
Don’t bother replacing or putting out your bug zapper. Recent research has shown that their satisfying zap is killing less than 0.25% mosquitoes. The other, over 99.75%, they kill are the same beneficial insects that, once again, feeds our hungry birds.
Consider keeping fluffy inside this season. Poland has recently declared that household cats are now an invasive species for good reason. Our sweet companions are also highly effective bird killers. “In the United States alone, outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year.” At a busy time of year, it’s nice to know that one choice can increase our hearing bird calls, which has been linked to lasting mental health benefits.
Spring, a wonderful time of year for new choices. I hope that these options bring you a new season of less work, more beauty, more health, and more life in your garden!