“Our privately owned land and the ecosystems upon it are essential to everyone’s well-being, not just our own.”
― Douglas W. Tallamy
As ecological awareness is rapidly growing, you might be wondering how to approach gardening in an ecologically friendly manner this spring. The first step is to stop trying to eradicate ‘pests’ from your garden. Instead, ask yourself how you can work with nature to make your garden a haven for the inhabitants of the ecosystem around you.
Now, more than ever we need to think about our impact on the environment and your garden is a great place to take positive action! Refusing to use damaging chemicals and pesticides is a good start but there are several other ways you can make your garden more healthy and resilient.
Support your native pollinators, insects and birds
A healthy, biodiverse garden is teeming with life. That includes a wide variety of insects! Yes, we know some insects will nibble on your plants but a healthy ecosystem should also be home to plenty of predators that will keep those pests in check.
Insects play a vital role in the ecosystem. They are food for the birds you work so hard to attract to your garden! So, how do you best support native insects and birds? With native plants! Native plants are the absolute best source of food, pollen and nectar for insects and animals as they have evolved together.
Spring is a great time to get those native plants in the ground. Please look for local and organically grown native plants and/or seeds and consider choosing keystone native plants, trees or shrubs. Keystone varieties offer an abundance of food and resources for our many butterflies, native bees and birds.
You can start your search for keystone plants native to your ecoregion (in North America): https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/About/Native-Plants/keystone-plants-by-ecoregion
Hold off on that spring clean up!
You may be excited to remove the standing dead plants from the garden this spring but please wait until it warms significantly and you see the bumblebees! Many pollinators will be hibernating in dead plant material. Give them time to wake up and emerge in spring. Once you are seeing the bees carefully remove the dead plants and move them to your compost bin.
While we are on the subject, many insects and small animals find shelter and protection from the cold under fallen leaves. Where possible leave the leaves as a nutritional mulch for your plants or wait until very late spring to move the leaves to the compost pile
While dandelions are not native to North America they are an important early source of pollen and nectar for bumblebees. If you don’t have early-blooming native plants in your yard consider allowing your dandelions to flower in early spring! The pollinators will thank you.
Instead of feeding your plants, work on feeding your soil.
As you invite more diversity into your garden both above and below ground, your garden becomes more sustainable and supportive of the soil food web.
The organisms that enrich your soil need sufficient food for them to carry out their jobs. Here are some ways to feed your soil this spring so your plants can thrive:
- Compost and/or vermicast is both a wonderful food source for and of beneficial microorganism. Spread a thin layer of compost or vermicast on your garden beds and top-dress your lawn with it as soon as the ground is warm and dry! If you add it to frozen soil the spring rains may wash it away.
- Compost tea is a microbial brew derived from compost via a special controlled process. This brew will also contain beneficial microbes that you can apply directly to your soil and plants. This is a good option if you don’t have a large compost pile to draw from. Read more about compost tea https://www.gaiacollege.ca/compost-tea.html
- Effective Microorganisms (EM) is a commercially available solution of fermenting microbes. These critically important organisms produce a variety of unique metabolic products and stimulate overall soil microbial biodiversity. Apply this solution directly to your soil, lawn, and compost. You can also use it as a foliar spray or to aid in seed germination.
The Organic Gardener’s Pantry carries EM and many more products that are both good for your garden and the planet. https://www.gardenerspantry.ca/
Think ‘peat free’ this year!
When you are looking to fill your planter boxes, raised beds and pots consider a peat free potting mix. There is much concern over the environmental consequences of exploiting peat bogs, mainly because of their global role as carbon sinks and regulators of water flow. Peat bogs grow very slowly, and it takes hundreds of years to replace what is harvested in a short time.
Here are some options to use instead of peat if you are building your own potting mix:
- leaf mould,
- Pitt Moss,
- decomposed wood chips,
- sheep’s wool.
To learn more about how you can make your garden more ecologically friendly this year check out the following courses: