Come on a design journey with us to craft your landscape into an inviting sanctuary – one that fits your goals and doesn’t take all weekend to maintain. This is Part Two of a series to make your space your favorite place in The Woodlands.
Are pests part of your garden design?
No? Make sure you aren’t rolling out the welcome mat by following these 4 tenants to prevent problems right at the source. Good design sets the stage to sit back and let nature do most of the work!
1] Birds the word
Pest management CAN be beautiful, melodious, even therapeutic! Get these insect-eaters on board and they will reward you with natural pest control at every level: robins rooting through ground cover, wrens in the underbrush, and woodpeckers up in the canopy. Bluebirds especially are insect-eating powerhouses worth welcoming with pocket prairies to forage in close to the safety of denser canopy, which can also be a source of their favored berries.
Designing to draw in these avian allies starts with providing a many-layered structure: roots at the foundation, followed by groundcover, perennials, shrubs, vines, understory trees, and canopy trees. In The Woodlands you likely have tall native trees. What other layers are missing or need beefing up? What plants can you add that provide multiple functions – filling a missing level while also providing seeds, fruits, or shade?
Birds thrive in these multi-faceted environments. By bringing in more layers you not only diversity habitat for wildlife, you increase the beneficial interactions between plants and animals, luring in natural insect predators, large and small.
2] Mix it up!
Flowers vary in shape, composition, and seasonality of bloom. Take advantage of their diversity. Have a mix of blooms and ensure they overlap so that something is always blooming. This will help you invite the diversity of insects that you DO want. We call these the three P’s: pollinators, predators, and parasitoids. All benefit from layered perennial beds that have a variety of textures, sizes, and colors so there is always “room at the buffet.”
Let’s focus on predators. In many cases the juveniles are the pest-eating machines, while the adults feed on nectar. So, encouraging a momma ladybeetle to stop for a sip of yarrow nectar and lay eggs is like inviting in a commander for a small army of aphid destroyers. Their small mouthparts need small flowers with short nectaries. Think dill, parsley, cilantro, coreopsis and alyssum to name a few. If you’re concerned about which bug is which, stay tuned. We’ll delve into how to tell good bugs from bad in three more installments. Just know that if you plant it, they will come.
3] Make plants feel at home
It might seem obvious, but plants thrive in the same conditions they originated from. Are you planting something native to a hot, dry area, or a hot, wet area? Fortunately, you don’t have to check passports; it doesn’t take much digging to get at the light and moisture needs of your chosen plants. Check out the list of resources at the end for some reputable sources.
To be successful, group your plants based on water needs as well as sun. If not, you’re likely to overwater some while underwatering others, causing stress for all. Consider trees in this equation, too. Planting water-needy perennials at the base of a drought-tolerant tree is a recipe for problems later on. Do yourself a favor and get thirsty plants conveniently close to the hose, or better yet a downspout, depression, or perpetually wet area. If your planting area sits outside the reaches of your irrigation system and hefting watering cans all summer doesn’t sound fun, go with drought-tolerant varieties.
Now, let’s be honest about sun. We’ve all done it – tried to force fit a sun-lover into part shade. Avoid this temptation and save yourself the disappointment. Just as with water, mismatched sun conditions will cause the plant to stress, making it a prime target for a secondary disease and pest invasions.
And sometimes you just need to throw in the “trowel”. If you’re faced with a recurring pest or disease, don’t fight it, make a change. As famed “Lazy Gardener” Brenda Beust Smith puts it, “if a plant has an insect or disease problem, don’t treat! Replace that plant with one that doesn’t have insect or disease problems in your area!”
4] Build natural antibiotics
Now that your plants are in their preferred spot, feed them! Where does a plant take up most nutrients? The soil. Specifically, through the interdependent relationship between roots, soil microbes, and fungi that pull nutrients in from a much wider area than plant roots can reach on their own. So, loading the soil with a diverse and abundant mix of organisms directly promotes plant health. What’s rocket fuel for these organisms? Organic matter! And the best way to add that? Compost, more compost, living mulches, and natural mulches. Conversely, avoid any “-cides” (herbicides, fungicides, etc.) that by their definition kill life. Did you know that antibiotics used today come from soil-dwelling fungi and bacteria? Good soil life and the practices that promote it inoculates plants from soil-borne diseases through the natural ecology of the earth beneath our feet.
Whether you start at the treetops and work down or build on the soil and work up, these four design elements are essential to a healthy structure, one where natural predators thrive and pests are managed by nature and not you!
Next, we’ll meet some of the beneficial insects we encourage to patrol our gardens, how to tell them apart from the pests they are stalking, and what small changes we can make to roll out the red carpet for these garden superstars.
Until then, hear the story of momma hoverfly from Paul Zimmerman for a sneak peak of where we’re headed…
If you missed Part One checkout these 5 Design Elements Your Yard Might be Missing
Resources to find plant sun and water needs:
Cultivars and some natives
Or search for the plant on the wholesaler’s database, such as Monrovia.