Plant food for the bees. Collectively, gardeners can make a difference
I failed on the Christmas-themed column. I am not big on poinsettias and I couldn’t think of anything new to say about Christmas trees. But New Year’s resolutions – these are different. If you are making garden resolutions, you may like to consider some of the following.
Lawns are a shocker when it comes to good environmental practice. There is nothing sustainable and healthy about most lawns but the vast majority of us have them for a variety of reasons. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you cut your lawn really short, it will mean you have to mow it less often. Not true. You stress the grass and open it up to weed invasions. Set the level on the lawnmower a little higher to keep a green sward. Good lawns invariably have longer grass.
Next time you buy a lawnmower, choose one that mulches the clippings. That way you don’t have to remove the clippings to get a tidy finish and if you are not removing the grass, then you don’t need to feed the lawn to keep it looking healthy. It reduces your inputs and therefore reduces both time and cost.
We are encouraging clover back into our lawns. It stays green, doesn’t need mowing as often and feeds the bees
Be cautious about lawn sprays and read the label information carefully. We are not fans of lawn sprays at all here. Year in and year out, we field enquiries about plant damage which is attributable to spray drift from lawn sprays. If you are using a spray which has a six month withholding period before it is safe to use on food crops (and that is common), you may want to think again about how environmentally sound is your gardening practice. Putting it through the compost process will not make the clippings safe for use. It might even be time to move on from the Chemical Ali generation. We are going back to encouraging the clover here. It used to be popular in days gone by and it has many merits.
Mulch. Mulch well, but only after the soil is wet through. If you lay mulch on top of dry soil, it stays drier longer. The rains this week may have been a reprieve for those who missed getting mulch laid in spring. If you lay the mulch on top of relatively weed-free soils, it will save you a lot of work later because it should suppress many of the germinating weed seeds that lurk in all our soils.
While on the subject of weeds, if they really worry you (and they do worry most of us even though, as the old saying goes, a weed is merely a plant in the wrong place), remember the old adage that one year’s seeding gives rise to seven year’s weeding. It is best to weed before the plant sets seed if you want to save yourself work down the track. If you weed with the push hoe, you need to remove seed heads that have formed already. You can leave the rest of the plant to wither in the sun but the seed heads will just continue to ripen and then germinate.
Single flowers with visible pollen and stamens feed the bees and indeed the butterflies
Grow plants with flowers for the bees. This means any flowers with visible stamens and pollen. We all know the bees are under deep stress, here in New Zealand as well as the rest of the world. We need the bees for pollination even more than honey. Every gardener’s contribution counts and collectively, we can make a difference to their food supplies. Fortunately, most of us have moved on from the austerity of the 1990s minimalist garden which contributed a big fat zero to the natural environment.
I am of the view that gardening should be two things above all else. It should be a pleasure. At its best, it can make your heart sing at the beauty. At a more mundane level, it can be quietly satisfying. If you get neither pleasure nor satisfaction from your garden, if it is all a great, big, tedious chore then review what you have and what you are doing.
If you really don’t enjoy gardening, then keep it very simple. It is much easier to maintain, especially if you can’t afford to pay someone to come and do it for you. If all you have to do is maintain edges, sweep paved areas, mow the lawns and do a seasonal round of tightly defined garden beds in order to keep it looking tidy, then it becomes more manageable for the reluctant gardener. Alternatively, move to an upper floor apartment.
Secondly, I think we should be gardening WITH nature, not in spite of it. Gardening shouldn’t be about imposing human will over nature, controlling and suppressing it, establishing dominance. Too much gardening practice is an imposition on the landscape, a battle with nature. Happy gardeners are often those who have managed to carve out a more constructive relationship with the natural world.
On which note, I wish readers a happy gardening year in 2014.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.