Summer Garden Hints!
Here is a round-up of very simple changes – many of which you’ve likely already made – to choose among when preparing for summer in your yard! For specific details on how to create or install new features, ask around the club as many members have already done these things, or check out local workshops at sources like the Botanical Garden or Nature Center. Cynthia and I can also help you with ideas; just call.
1. Never use pesticides or fungicides in your garden, as these kill pollinators as well as many microorganisms that keep garden soil healthy. It has been proven in recent years that the earth is suffering from a mass die-out of pollinators, which are essential to plant growth, and plants are essential to human life.
2. When mowing your lawn, set the blades at 3” or even higher, and allow shredded lawn cuttings to lie on the lawn. They will decompose and feed the soil.
3. Use organic mulches in your flower and food gardens. As these decompose, they too will feed your garden soil. Meanwhile, mulch will deter weed growth and tend to hold moisture in the soil on sunny days.
4. Never use colored or painted wood mulch (red, orange, black) that is available at big box stores and some garden centers. This is usually made of shredded wood pallets, which have often been treated with chemicals and which do not offer much in the way of soil improvement as they rot, which they do very slowly.
5. Do not use plastic blankets or plastic sheets to deter weed growth in your gardens. If you want to smother weeds between garden rows or plants, use undyed cardboard or multiple sheets of newsprint if you must, as these will eventually rot into and feed the soil. But as plant materials collect on top of the plastic, they will simply create new, shallow beds of soil for weed seeds to grow in, while keeping water from reaching the soil beneath. This will starve micro-organism growth in the lower levels of the soil, thus “killing” the soil’s health.
6. If you are preparing a new garden site, consider using the “lasagna garden” plan. That begins with starving underlying grass (no need to kill it in advance) with newsprint or cardboard, then layering the materials to build new, healthy soil on top. The “smother” layer will rot away with time, allowing insects from below to circulate, aerate, and feed the new soil layers.
7. When you purchase new plants, whether at the multiple wonderful sales we have locally or at the farmer’s markets, at the garden centers, or from mail order sources, please make certain that these plants have not been treated with pesticides such as neonicotenoids. If they have been treated, they will kill any pollinators who come to your garden. If labels are not clear, ask the salesperson. They should know. If they don’t, buy your plants elsewhere.
8. If you need to purchase a new garden hose, check the label to be sure it is not made with phthalates or BPA; some even include lead! You do not want these materials watering plants that your family may eat!
9. Consider reducing the size of your lawn. If you have an area that tends to hold water, plant a rain garden to deter rainwater run-off. If you have a vast amount of lawn, think about cutting it back into beds of simple native ground covers, or true gardens if you like. Less energy spent weekly on mowing; less pollution if you use power mowers; less noise pollution from mowers also; less temptation to use lawn chemicals that you do not want to use; better habitat options for pollinators, birds, and small mammals.
10. If you are starting seedlings for your garden, use re-usable trays or pots, or choose natural options that deteriorate in the garden. The latter biodegradable pots allow you to plant the seedlings directly into the garden, pot and all. Be sure not to leave the pot standing above soil level, though, as it will tend to wick water out of the soil and away from roots.
11. Consider adding a water feature to your yard. Even a birdbath provides an important water source for birds and insects. Butterfly puddles – the best are rocks with a very shallow concave surface that holds shallow water – also bring beauty to the garden. A small pond may bring frogs as well, or you could add fish if it is deep enough (42” or more in our area). No need to buy pricey koi – when my cousin Nicholas built a backyard pond in frigid USDA Zone 4, his young son brought home goldfish from the pet store for a Father’s Day gift. Thirty years later the fish are still flourishing!
12. A water feature of a different kind may come in handy in your garden as well – a rain barrel that captures clean, fresh, untreated water from the sky for you to use watering your garden. Some plants suffer from the chemicals used to treat our local fresh water supplies, and rain water tends to please them best.
13. Make your own compost! This is the best food you can provide for your plants and for your soil, and it’s free. Simple piles are easy, but there are many methods of composting and tools available online. Select what suits your life best. And smile as you save coffee grounds, eggshells, teabags, and kale stems from going to the landfill!
14. If you have children or grandchildren of an age to be fascinated by butterflies, frogs, and fish, they will also enjoy raising a few easy vegetables in the garden: give them their own spot and seeds! Pumpkins are a special favorite, as the plants are big and dramatic and great at Halloween. Older children may be interested in building mason bee houses, batboxes, or birdhouses as well as taking on more complex plant growing. The eldest kids may be fascinated by beekeeping, and our club includes a number of specialists. Sharing times with kids you love in the garden can be one of the greatest joys of summer – so I suppose that makes it a major win for our personal environments!
15. Kids also love paths that lead through gardens – these are natural play areas, especially if parts are hidden among tall growth. In my larger garden in Maryland, I used mulch paths in and out of gardens and woods, and was astonished when our neighbors’ children would come ask “May I play on your paths?” or “May I throw a doll party in your fairy circle”? I planned those gardens for my own pleasure, but found that the local pirates, cowboys and Indians, and American Girls enjoyed them at least as much as I.
16. Certify your garden as a Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation or as a Certified Butterfly Garden through the North American Butterfly Association. Probably it already fulfills all requirements. The group will send you a small sign that may interest neighbors or passersby into adopting the same good gardening habits you already have.
17. Finally, indulge in an ice cream cone! Cones go right into your tummy, whereas cups go into the trash. Go for the cone!