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Happy Earth Week!
As a gardener, you’re likely more in touch with nature than the average person. All those hours spent pruning and planting and watering and weeding have bonded you with the plants, birds, insects and other wildlife you’ve encountered, so you’re in a unique position to understand how all the inhabitants of our environment work together — and how important each is.
Our native insects and birds evolved alongside our native plants, so they naturally recognize them as food. Nonnative species – exotic plants from Asia, Africa, South America and Europe and, to some degree, from distant regions of the U.S. – either are the equivalent of junk food or — in many cases — aren’t even recognized as food by native pollinators. Planting them creates food deserts for essential insects and wildlife, which are necessary for a healthy ecosystem.
The good news is that you’re in charge of deciding what you plant, whether in the ground or in a container. And your plant choice matters.
In my latest AP gardening column, I explain the how’s and the why’s, and provide some wonderful resources to help find native plants for your landscape, however big or small. Give it a read.
📬 Ask Jessica
Today’s Q&A comes from an email I received in response to my latest AP column about native plants. I’m publishing it here because it’s a really good question that I’m sure others have, as well.
DEAR JESSICA: I am a little surprised at the notion that pollinators don't recognize nonnative plants as food sources.
My wife volunteers at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum in California, which specializes in plants from Mediterranean-climate countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. I see a huge amount of pollinator activity when I visit.
We also have many plants from the arboretum in our garden, and we see the pollinators going about their busy work all the time. Maybe California or the plants from these Mediterranean climates are an exception? — Peter Haworth
DEAR PETER: I understand the confusion. I also see pollinator activity on introduced species (butterfly bushes, for instance). But often, although the insects may be attracted to a nonnative plant, they cannot access its pollen (due to flower structure or another cause).
In other cases, the insects can access the pollen or nectar, but it provides low-quality nutrition.
Then there are chemical defense systems: Native plants evolved along with our native insects, so the insects recognize them as a food source. But because nonnative plants have not evolved into that relationship, their chemicals repel insects, which pass them by without noticing they are food -- or even plants.
One example of this is the pyrethrins present in chrysanthemums flowers. Pyrethrins are so effective at repelling certain insects that they are sold as pesticides.
It's fascinating, isn't it?
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Replace (or enhance) the lawn with micro clover. It requires little or no watering, doesn't need regular mowing, never needs fertilizer, stays green all summer and doesn't turn brown and die from pet urine. It also chokes out many lawn weeds and is suitable for full sun to part shade. Plus, it attracts pollinators, so the rest of your garden will produce more fruit, vegetables and flowers. That’s a win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win!
MOTHER’S DAY GIFT ALERT
For more great gardening tips — 365 of them! — get a jump on the growing season with my Day-by-Day Gardening Calendar. It’s like a complete gardening course in a wall calendar! By the end of the year, I promise, you’ll have earned a green thumb! Plus, your wall will be adorned with award-winning photography provided by The Weekly Dirt readers. And I’ve extended my 20% Off Welcome to Spring Sale for moms! Take a look:
👏 Sunday shoutout
Linda Silverman of Queens Village, NY, shared this beautifully detailed shot of a wasp checking out a flower in her hometown.
Send in your photo, and you could be featured next!
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, though, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
Go Native! If your idea of the perfect garden includes abundant plants that do well with little human intervention, while attracting and supporting all manner of pollinators, plant natives. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Annuals to plant for old-time nostalgia: Longing for grandma’s flowers? Here are 8 vintage garden favorites.
Filling raised beds? Save money—and grow better—with Hugelkultur: Hugelkultur is a different, more natural (and cheaper) approach to raised beds or mounds that doesn’t require so many bags of top soil or compost. Instead, you fill the space with organic matter that gradually decomposes, feeding the soil and plants. Here’s how.
Growing veggies in small spaces: Smaller new varieties can yield great results for vegetables grown in containers.
Plants to plant in spring for a beautiful garden next winter: When you’re planning and planting your spring garden, think ahead to next winter too, and include plants that will create interest in your landscape in the so-called “off season.”
Black innovators who reshaped American gardening and farming: The achievements of 19th-century scientist George Washington Carver have landed him in U.S. history textbooks, but many other agricultural practices and innovations that traveled with enslaved people from West Africa or were developed by their descendants remain unsung. Here’s a look at five.
Tips for indoor seed-starting: When to start planting seeds indoors? First, check your frost date.
Holey leaves and vines! A look at houseplant trends for 2022: A look at trends in houseplants for 2022. Popular varieties include fenestrated plants, that is, those with leaves that are split or contain holes. Vines are another hot category.
Let’s be friends! Follow me @JesDamiano on Instagram
📧 How’m I doing?
I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.
And if you’re enjoying this newsletter, please share it with a friend!
Thank you for the clover suggestion. We were just discussing this today at an Earth Day program.
You mention replacing grass with "micro-clover". What is micro clover ? Is it the short white clover that they sell at Agway ? Or something else ?