Growing Green: Go native
As an individual, one might think, “What can I do to help our environment?”
There are many things to consider.
Always plant native plants and pollinator plants. Choosing plants native to the Lehigh Valley can improve gardening success since many of these plants have adapted to the region. Many native plants attract beneficial insects which help control pests, so you are creating a habitat for “good bugs.”
By planting pollinator plants we are helping the bee population. Bees are the most important movers of pollen, assisted by flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies and moths.
Plants work hard to attract their pollinators and offer them rewards. They offer pollen, an important source of protein, and nectar, a concentrated sugar solution, to lure insect pollinators. The different flower shapes, color patterns and scents are all part of the plant’s efforts to attract pollinators.
Pollinators are in trouble. The cause of pollinator decline is complicated because of the interaction of many different stressors.
Pollinators face many challenges. The conversion of natural habitats to cropland or for development fragments pollinator habitat and diminishes the availability of floral resources. Nesting sites are often limited in our urban, suburban, and agricultural landscapes.
Non-native invasive plants that have escaped from our yards further degrade natural habitat by reducing plant diversity. Diseases, parasites and a changing climate contribute to pollinator decline.
Exposure to pesticides is also part of the equation. Certain pesticides can kill pollinators outright. Other pesticides can have sub-lethal effects, impairing a bee’s memory and ability to return to its hive or suppressing the bee’s immune system so it is more susceptible to diseases and pesticides.
Pesticides in this category include some neonicotinoids used in systemic pesticides. Because these are poured on the root system and taken up by the plant, homeowners may feel they are safe for pollinators without realizing that the pesticide moves through all parts of the plants, including into the pollen and nectar.
That brings us to Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a systematic approach to pest management that involves a combination of techniques such as biological, physical, cultural, and as a last resort, chemical controls.
Some easy things to consider for insect control without the use of pesticides are rotating crops wherever annual plants are grown. It involves changing the type of plants grown so that closely related plants are not cultured in the same area year after year.
By changing the plant family, pests are less likely to successfully build up to damaging populations. Sanitation is another way to help control insects.
Many insects overwinter or spend part of their life cycle in plant debris around desired plants. Raking and removing fallen leaves, fruits or other plant debris may eliminate certain pests.
Don’t guess, soil test. Take a soil test to determine what nutrients your plants need. Plants and lawns may not require as much fertilizer as you think.
Limit your use of lawn fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. You can reduce your need for herbicides by mowing your grass at 3 to 4 inches. High mowing discourages weeds because higher grass shades out weeds. Use natural fertilizer and time it right.
These are a few of the simple things that we can do without much effort to help improve our environment. As gardeners, there are so many things that we can do to help improve the world where we live.
“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-813-6613.