What is a nature-based landscaping? It isn’t more difficult or more expensive. It is healthier for us gardeners and more enjoyable. It is being a steward of the earth.
Many homeowners, gardeners and landscapers think of landscaping as going into battle. Think about all the chopping, chipping, clipping, mowing, blowing, spraying, forcing trees and shrubs in geometric shapes: the motivation is to subdue and conquer.
Human life actually depends on a mix and diversity of plants and animals, that includes insects. The USDA even states that “less than 1% of insects are considered harmful.” We need to learn more about the interaction of the lives of insects, plants, humans, and animals and aim to live peacefully within the system.
Over eons, plants have thrived where they chose to be, without store-bought irrigation or chemical fertilizer inputs. But human landscaping trends have encouraged exotic (often invasive) plants, chemicals to fertilize or to control pests and diseases, fossil fuels for powering equipment to mow and blow, and pruning tools to control the size and shape of the plants.
Nature-based landscaping wants to avoid exotic and invasive plants, aiming for native plants that cope with our NC climate. “Right plant, right place” is the motto. Happy healthy plants are better able to fight off threatening pests and diseases on their own without our help. A good example of a popular exotic is hybrid tea roses, Rosa x hybrida, which does not like our hot humid summers and becomes very stressed here. The homeowner who insists on planting one will be forced to keep their tea rose on life support through chemicals to control fungus, mildew, Japanese beetles and more. Stressed out humans have weakened immune systems in a similar way!
Happy plants automatically reduce or eliminate the need for chemical interference. The landscaper and the beneficial insects, the beneficial soil microbes, the birds, our pets, and creeks won’t need to be exposed to these harmful products because they are not needed.
If you are noticing your plant is being nibbled by caterpillars or insects, investigate what specifically is eating it before you reach for the chemicals. The plant might be a host to the caterpillar of the Painted Lady or Swallowtail Butterfly. I will sacrifice a few nibbled leaves for those beauties.
Do you like birds in your garden? For a chickadee to raise one clutch of babes requires 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars! Each chick needs 350 to 570 caterpillars every day! Chickadee parents are busy from sunup to sundown looking for food for their chicks. Caterpillars are favored for being juicy and plump. I don’t mind sacrificing a few nibbled leaves for baby chick food.
All this is to say, please be mindful in your landscaping efforts. Reach out to the NC Cooperative Extension office to help identify plants and insects to help make decisions about your yards and gardens.