It is finally spring for those of us who live in 4-season climates. Earth Month and Earth Day are upon us. Really, should there ever be a non-earth day? Of course not, but that is exactly how we treat our planet. We don't value it's condition like we do our own personal health but if we continue to behave like this, the planet will die and so will we. This is the first winter I can ever remember where we had 0.0 inches of snow. As relieved as I was at not having to shovel I know it means trouble for the planet. It is not a good thing.
We shouldn't need a special day to celebrate our home. Every action we take should consider the impact on our precious planet.
Back to the positive! For warm weather inhabitants of the planet, the ideas discussed in this post still apply. However, most of us moving from cold winters to warm summers want to burst free from the heavy clothes, the warming foods, and the flannel sheets to wear sandals, eat light salads, and open the windows!
Segueing into the topic of this post is how to enjoy these wonderful seasons while helping to heal our planet in small ways and live in harmony with the co-habitants of our earth.
Some of these suggestions have been covered in other posts but deserve reminders.
As you go garden shopping and start planting, here are some critical things to remember!
FLOWERS, SHRUBS, TREES
Most of us pick our plants based on appearance such as color and size as well as location for the plant (sun, shade etc), how much maintenance it will need, and whether it is an annual (blooms for only one season but usually continues blooming for the entire season) or perennial (comes back year after year but only flowers for a specific period of time).
These are important of course but certainly not the only considerations. Here are some overlooked ones that are equally important.
Buy plants, shrubs and trees that are native to the area where you will be planting. You can find your planting zone map here:
What zone you live in will help to determine the hardiness of what you are planting and when the best time is to plant.
The USDA and the Forest Service among many other gardening sites have lists of native plants for your area. Most conventional nurseries carry what sells, not necessarily what is native to the region. Even if they are native, it is worthwhile to ask the vendor how the plants were obtained and grown. When plants are purchased outside of your region they can carry diseases and non-native and/or invasive plant seeds with them. Once seeds get loose, it can be hard to stop or control the growth. Do a little research on where to buy your plants - try to find a place that cares about the native environment and about sustainability. Even better, attend private plant sales or sales at arboretums, local CSAs ( Community Supported Agriculture), local farms, sites recommended by a Master Gardener.
Some other questions to consider:
Do they compost their waste?
Do they use herbicides and insecticides? (If they do, move on).
How do they ensure their plants aren't contaminated with invasives?
Before spending a fortune on plants, see if you can:
a. Ask a friend or neighbor in your area if you can 'steal' a perennial planting if they have a large section of the plant of interest. I planted black-eyed Susans this way and now share them with anyone else who is interested. They are native to my area and very prolific.
b. Save seeds from your plants once they stop blooming. I saved seeds from my native plants last fall and sprouted them indoors and just planted them outside (make sure frost threat is over). So far, so good!!
c. Bring your outdoor plants inside for the winter. A little research is required to prep them for being indoors. I did this for 3 plants at the end of fall. I didn't expect them to thrive but I was hoping to sustain them enough to get through the winter. All have done ok and are now outside again. Yeah!!!
d. Try growing from seeds - seed packets are very inexpensive and therefore less painful if an attempt at growing a particular species, whether edible or not, is unsuccessful. By experimenting and being patient, you will find the magic.
e. Consider growing your own fruits and veggies. With food prices being so high, this can save a lot of money and many are super easy to grow like scallions, garlic, potatoes, onions and lettuce.
Trees are critical to our survival. Deforestation has been monumental, 80% of which is the result of clearing the forests for agriculture. This may sound like a good tradeoff, but it isn't. It is a complex topic and therefore cannot be described in a few paragraphs. If you have an interest in learning more, consider reading:
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
Any literature by Doug Tallamy
Consider planting 1 or more native trees on your property. Avoid removing trees unless it is absolutely necessary. Trees provide us with shelter, they cool and clean our waters, they are food and habitat sources for many species, and maybe most importantly these days, they store carbon and therefore reduce greenhouse gases. The more trees we have, the more carbon is sequestered, staying buried in the earth and not polluting the environment.
Plant and animal species that are non-native to your area can be very destructive. Since they are out of their natural habitat they have no predators,
so their populations grow unchecked. They can force out native species. An example of this is the Spotted Lantern Fly. As insects go, it is colorful but that is as far as the goodness goes. These 'buggers' are killing our native trees and are extremely prolific. Their favorite tree to consume is the Tree of Heaven but they have many other targets. The picture below shows a fully mature insect. Learn more at: https://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/prog/pests-diseases/spotted-lanternfly/about/.
What are pollinators? These are animals/ insects that are capable of spreading pollen of plants to ensure continued growth of the source plant To have lush healthy continued growth, pollinators are necessary to spread/propagate seeds. The most common pollinators include:
Bees and Wasps - Yes, we desperately need healthy bees!
For pollinators to flourish they need; a source of clean food, water, and habitat, and the appropriate climate.
The problem is that we are killing off our pollinators via many means including ( not a complete list):
Planting non-natives that do not provide nutrition to our pollinators.
Destroying native habitats.
Cutting down trees.
Encroaching on all natural areas.
Polluting our air, water and land.
Using herbicides and insecticides that kill the pollinators.
Night lighting. With cities and residences trying to keep their properties lit at all hours, flying species get confused by the light and are not be able to find food or habitat.
Killing insects - our perception is that insects are bad and annoying. Consider again. As annoying as bees, ants, flies etc. can be, they pollinate our plants. They are also food sources for other species. Try to live in harmony with birds and insects.
Instead, consider doing the following:
Provide food and water sources for birds. Bird feeders and nest boxes as well as a water source that birds can use are a great addition to any property.
Learn more about your natural environment and volunteer to participate in one of the many nature-oriented ventures run by environmentalists.
Become active in an environmental group within your community.
Plant natives natives natives.
Remove a portion of lawn you may have and replace with native plants - there are so many ideas available.
Keep your property dark at night.
Minimize ground disturbance on your property. Make sure any soil or fill material you use is free of weed seeds. I recently learned that it is better to cut a weed at the soil level than to pull it out. This minimizes the possibility of spread.
Use mulches and compost instead of fertilizer which also fertilizes invasives.
Plant one or more of the Birdy Dozen. The Audubon Society has published the “Birdy Dozen”, natives that our birds love, in addition to the “Dirty Dozen”, plants to avoid.
In summation, the cliches, 'kiss the earth', and 'hug a tree' are more apropos than ever.
We are temporary inhabitants of this planet. It doesn't belong to us. You may think you don't have to worry or care about these things, but it is very unfair of us to leave a damaged space for future generations. Don't we wish our ancestors had done more to protect the health of our planet? Let's not repeat the mistakes of the past.
"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home." -Gary Snyder
"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more” - Lord Byron