As expected, the local Home Depot was a madhouse this past Saturday. A beautiful weekend day in the spring inspires people to put their old shoes on and work in their yard, stopping by the local garden and yard store to get the necessities. What are your necessities to keep your yard looking like a fairytale? The way we treat our yard reaches beyond the sidewalks, is affecting the ecosystem and can even impact your next trip to the grocery store. Heading into this year’s green season, here are a few reminders on how to treat your yard well and have the positive impact on our urban ecosystem.
Before you head to the store to buy fertilizer, test your soil to see if you even need it. The amount of weeds in your grass can actually help you determine what your soil is lacking or has an abundance of. For $10 you can ship off some of your soil to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension lab to complete a routine analysis for basic fertilizer recommendations. Visit soiltesting.tamu.edu to view the more specific analyses available. Getting your soil tested first will save you money and reduce the amount of fertilizer entering our water supply, which can cause eutrophication (increasing nutrient supply in water ecosystems leading to low dissolved oxygen, fish kills and unsafe water).
Your soil is living and needs the same necessities you need: air, water and nutrients. Aerating your soil can bring life back into severely compacted ground found in the city. Roll an aerator armed with pointy metal stakes around your yard to open up your soil to air, water and nutrients gaining easier access. This process gives your grass a chance to grow strong roots leading to stronger plants without the use of any chemical.
Check your pesticide for neonicotinoids, which are a potent class of pesticides falsely thought to be safer for bees than other pesticides. A new pollinator assessment report recently came out from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity Ecosystem Services warning that up to 40 percent of pollinators face extinction. Pollinators from bees to bats and hummingbirds are essential to our agriculture systems with at least 450 crop plant species dependent on pollination. An estimated $235-$577 billion worth of annual global food production is on the line due to pollinator declines, roughly a third of our food supply. Maryland just became the first state to ban the consumer use of neonicotinoids, which appear in products such as Knockout Ready-to-Use Grub Killer, Ortho Bug B Gon and All-In-One Rose & Flower Care.
Reduce your insecticide use, and grow more plants to support pollinators. The wider variety of plants you grow, the healthier ecosystem support for all pollinators. I was targeted at the store on Saturday and suckered into buying the “Texas Garden Mix” of wildflowers that apparently is “Great For Pollinators.” I was blinded with an idea to fence off a portion of my yard as native prairie habitat and encourage wildflower growth with new seeds. The front of the bag listed a mix of “Texas Favorites” and on the back I had little knowledge of the individual plant names — turns out a few of them are exotics! They are not native to Texas, but do serve as a good plant for native pollinators. Yikes, a catch 22.
Mix up your yard to maintain a high level of diverse habitats to support ecosystem health and feed yourself. Have areas of just grass, plant a flower bed, grow some trees, leave some areas as wild natural growth and plant a garden. This year, I dug up the middle of the yard. Last year’s potted urban garden was a fail, so I decided to go into the Earth this year. With the addition of two years worth of compost material my soil is looking healthy, plants are in and hopefully will survive the next random hail storm. To water your garden or yard, you don’t need a fancy rain collection barrel to harvest rain water. Throw out all the large buckets you have, or the kiddie pool, and utilize the water falling from the sky to grow your plants.
It’s great to connect back to Earth this spring and get to work on our yards, let’s just make sure we make decisions that support the long-term health of our ecosystems at the same time.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.