Plan for the spring.

January 19, 2013

Spring is such an enjoyable part of the year. Nature is exploding with new growth, buds, flowers… Gardens come to life again. Birds are in love and ready to start a family. Landscapes become abuzz with life and related activity. It’s also the time of year when things get out of hand pretty quickly. Weeds seek their opportunity to take over the world. Plants hurry to grow and multiply – often ending up in the wrong places, overgrown, reseeding everywhere, out of place. It also means our gardens are hungry –  they Winter garden (6)need the energy to grow, bloom and produce. Winter takes its toll on our landscapes, and spring is the time to make it right again.
The best way to maintain a landscape is to do it regularly, and not wait until things are out of control. Proper trimming and pruning, weed control, amending, feeding, mulching, insect and disease control go a long way when done right and on time. It is easier to prevent problems or nip them in the bud when they arise, then to put out fires.

When thinking about your garden, think about its foundations– soil and balance. If you nurture the soil, it will repay you with happy plants. And happy, strong plants are more resilient, more beautiful, more drought tolerant and better adapted to the Texas heat. Healthy soil means healthy plants. And healthy plants mean less disease and insect problems. Creating a balanced ecosystem in your garden is the key to success. Nature has a way of taking care of its own problems. Plus, a garden alive with plants and wildlife is such a beautiful place to be and enjoy. It is also a great way for the children to reconnect with the outdoors. Provide butterfly food and host source and let them observe a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. Add plants that attract hummingbirds and watch them come back year after year. Start an herb garden and let the kids be hands on. They can pick their own favorite herbs or veggies to grow. Hummingbird (12)Provide shelter for lizards, geckos, and other garden creatures and teach your kids that variety and balance is very important in nature. And in return, they will help you keep your insect (including mosquito!) population in check.

There are so many ways to you enjoy your garden. The same outdoor space can provide the perfect entertaining area for the adults and a secret garden, full of wonder and life lessons for the kids. No matter how small or big your piece of land is, you can make it work for everyone.

There is no need to preach about organic gardening. It is evidence enough to observe the abundance of life and how a healthy bio-diversity creates balance.  Images below illustrate the intertwined nature of life.

Planting the right plants in the right spots, creating food, water and shelter sources enable to create a wildlife habitat even in small urban setting. Our tiny city lot was completely bare when we moved in. We planted a desert willow and Mexican plum among other trees, and added plenty of perennials (Turk’s cap and salvias among many others), we created a veggie garden where there is place for annuals as well. Within a year this completely changed our landscape – from barren and devoid of life to beaming with life. From honey bees to sphinx moths to hummingbirds to lizards and garden snakes and everything in between.

I discovered this year that bees need water, but they drown easily. So I set up a shallow bird bath with stones in it, so that bees have easy access to water and be safe at the same time. They gather around the water source by the dozens every day in the summer.

Desert willow is our hummingbird magnet and never fails. Bumblebees love it too! As well as many other insects. I found several Assassin Bugs on it this year. The veggie garden, with its changing crops and successions of annual flowers, creates an eco-system of its  own. There is always something alive there, busy to gather pollen or lay eggs. We always have abundance of butterflies, which are drawn to the butterfly bush, desert willow, Turk’s cap and salvias, among other things. Damselflies, dragonflies and paper wasps (which are not aggressive and help to control mosquito population) were particularly drawn to the Hyacinth Bean vine I planted on the fence along the chicken run, close to the water source and the never-ending source of pollen – basil.

Lizards particularly like the shade area of the garden, where potted plants are stored on wooden pallets. It also is the favorite hunting ground for Carolina wren.

It is a circle of life – good bugs taking care of the bed bugs, birds, lizards and snakes taking care of the excess of the bugs, spiders weaving spider webs…. Let nature take care of itself… and help only when needed. You will see the difference!

There is not enough awareness when it comes to invasive plants. We tend not to see the harm in planting an invasive plant precisely because it seems so harmless. How can a plant hurt anything?

An “invasive species” is defined as ‘an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental hard or harm to human health.’ (Executive Order 13112). 

An invasive species spreads, establishes its presence and takes over an ecosystem. It does not co-exist, it overtakes, chokes out the native species and diminishes biodiversity. It is devastating to the native ecosystems and costly to control.  Did you know? “Invasive species are a significant threat to almost half of the native species currently listed as federally endangered.”  Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Why should we care? Because native plants and habitats are important to our identity, sense of place and survival. To preserve ecosystems and biodiversity which are vital to our planet’s health.

Information about invasive species is spread out and often confusing. It is important to know the invasives for your particular region. Some website list them by state, some go as far as listing them by county. Below are some useful links to invasives in Texas.

Trees of Texas – Aggressive Invaders

Invasive Plants of Texas

Texas Invasive Species

Eco Alerts by Region

Central Texas Invasive Plants

Invasive Plants in Southern Forests

Some of the invasives are sold by nurseries and many buyers are unaware of the plant’s nature. Purple loosestrife, vitex and nandina are some fairly well known examples. Sterile varieties of some invasive species are available and can be used safely in the landscape.

Create a wildlife habitat.

November 13, 2010

We all strive to have beautiful gardens, but we do not always know how to attract wildlife to our gardens. Here are a few tips to help create wildlife habitat.

Minimize rototilling. Sometimes tilling is necessary. However, once you till and add organic matter life begins to grow in the soil. From this point forward tilling would do more harm than good.

Be careful when working in your garden. When you encourage wildlife, it is very likely that you will come across nests or resting animals when you do yard work. It is a good sign of life in your garden and a healthy ecosystem. Try not to disturb the creatures inhabiting your garden and work around them.

Do not leave your lights on unless absolutely necessary. Lights attract insects that should be feeding or mating. Many kinds of insects are disappearing, partly because of the widespread existence of man-made night light.

Never use a bug zapper. These electrical devices are nonselective, attracting and killing many insects, both good and bad.

Always use white sugar to prepare hummingbird food. A mixture made with white sugar closely resembles the naturally occurring nectar in flowers. Mixtures made with the other ingredients can kill butterflies.

Leave spider webs alone. A spider web is nature’s sticky trap. It is a work of art that helps reducing insect populations. Using pesticides to kill insects is damaging, as it removes links from the food chain. A spider that eats insects becomes part of a food chain.

Provide water for wildlife. No matter where you live, providing a water source in your yard will bring in wildlife that you might not otherwise see.

Provide shelter for wildlife.  Plant a variety of native shrubs and trees. They will serve as nesting sites or shelter during feeding. Evergreens provide shelter in the winter. Low growing plants will provide protection for small animals, such as rabbits.

Do not forget to provide shelter for ground dwelling species, such as toads and squirrels, by placing small piles of rocks, branches, or a decaying stump in your yard.

When placing birdhouses in your yard, determine what kind of bird you want as a attract, as birds have specific requirements for the type of house and the size of the entry hole they need.

Finally, provide building materials. Suitable nest building materials include 8 to 10-inch lengths of string, yarn, strips of cloth, or thread as well as cotton, wool, excess hair from your cat or dog and dried grass.

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