March is here and all our little and big springtime dreams are marching right along beside her, if not ahead of her, straight into our imaginations. Thoughts of gardens fill our heads as we gaze out upon dreary landscapes, and all the sprouting that’s going on isn’t helping keep that at bay.
Unless you live under a brick basket, you know that all over the world people are trying to make sane choices about what they use on their lawns and gardens these days. The days of pouring poison on weeds and bugs by the gallon and souping everything up with an overdose of nitrogen are hopefully in the past.
A smooth green lawn is a sterile aberration of nature, no matter how used it to it you’ve become. A real lawn has a mix of flowers and grasses and offers homes and food to a large selection of worms, bees and butterflies. It is low maintenance, fairly drought resistant and a pleasure to look upon.
Dandelions are among the first wildflowers to bloom in our area. You’d think they were tiny yellow toxic bombs the way people go after them, however. The amount of poisons used in the last 50 years to eradicate a small yellow flower would boggle your mind. Those who have mindlessly poured all that toxic waste into the ground and our water supply may wish to have a glass or two themselves, since they’ve shared so selflessly with the rest of us all these years. And by the way, there are still plenty of dandelions around in spite of all that effort.
Dandelions are not only bright and cheerful, they are the first food for bees. In case you haven’t heard, bees and other pollinators are pretty important to our survival. Without them our food sources will dwindle and die off and, well, so will we. So, put the poison down, enjoy the bright yellow and the buzz of the bees.
And by the way, don’t be fooled by natural controls such as Bt and vinegar, both of which are touted as safe and organic. Bt targets all lepidoptera, just as the man on TV says. He says it like a lepidoptera is a terrible thing. Truth is, some of them are not great but lepidoptera is the name of the order for all butterflies and moths, not just one or two bad ones. When you treat for gypsy moths or winter moths, your application needs to be done at a certain time of day under careful conditions for a reason. The wholesale use of Bt on corn crops to control the corn borer caused a huge outcry as the milkweed that often grows alongside corn is the host plant for the monarch butterfly. The Bt kills all, not just a chosen few.
We are living in tricky times for gardeners and lawn lovers. Many have turned to vinegar to kill weeds. Guess what? Vinegar will kill all the worms and good organisms in the earth where the plant is growing just as effectively as any poison. Kermit was right. It’s not easy being green.
So what are we to do? Invasive plants get seeded in our yards regularly, dropped in bird droppings or blown in by the merry breezes. Must we handpick all bugs, weed until the moon rises and hope for the best? It’s a choice many of us don’t really know how to make.
As you dream of your garden this year, educate yourself. Most local garden centers are now hosting workshops on organic lawn and garden care. They offer many tips on how to remain sane while bunnies are eating the lettuce heads right under your nose as well as how to identify good bugs from bad.
As we turn the corner from winter to spring, consider going a little greener in your own yards this year. Every little bit counts. Ask your landscaper to rake, not blow the leaves. Blowing leaves at high speed destroys the habitats and microbiomes that are necessary to healthy soil. Ask what they use to treat and fertilize your lawn and gardens. Most are happy to discuss options with you, and if not, maybe it’s time for a new landscaper.
Your yard may not be as neat and trim as you’re used to but in the end you’ll be rewarded with more nesting birds, beautiful butterflies and busy bees and they’ll all thank you. While you’re at it, make a wish or two on a spent dandelion head. We have a long summer ahead and a little whimsy may help us get through it.